Seven Great Things about NORGs

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1. NORGs are well-meaning. Nice Old Retired Guys gave me lots of advice. I was NORGed for all of the nineteen years when I was the only female faculty member in my department, which shows that NORGs don’t actually target young faculty, just faculty who were younger than them. If I closed my door so they wouldn’t happen by, the NUGs, nice unretired guys, would comment that I’d be serving our stakeholders better by having my door open. Thus my door would stay open–although my male counterparts didn’t always have their doors wide open, or even open at all. And they didn’t have the NORGs, either.

2. NORGs have a wealth of experience to share. They wanted me to feel better so they told me how things worked. They’d say not to worry about the projects that piled up, because it was just a matter of learning to be more efficient with my time. When you go home and dinner’s not ready, or after everyone’s in bed, for example, or on Saturdays when people were all out shopping or whatnot, that’s when you catch up.

3. NORGs set an example for how to relax. They’d stand at my office doorway to model how to slow down. They’d put both arms on the door frame, and then sag, like a captured jumping jack with plastic creep. They weren’t going anywhere. And I wasn’t either. They didn’t have answering machines or e-mail back in the day, just Xerox machines that jammed and secretaries who weren’t always on top of it, especially if you didn’t sweet-talk them. When I’d nudge my monitor so they couldn’t see it and I’d suddenly say, “I have to run to exercise class,” they could tell me there was no reason to run around “like a chicken with its head cut off.” I’d be doing myself a favor to write my deadlines in a planner, use the office help, and just be late. Or not show up. For example, this was only an exercise class.

4. NORGs have seen it all, and survived. They’d tell me about the times they didn’t get the grant but got money from someone to tide them over, they got a bad teaching evaluation and it wasn’t their fault, or they overspent their budget and got, wink-wink, forgiveness. I don’t believe they mentioned being asked to take care of committee-work because they were so collaborative and good at it. I don’t believe the NORGs talked about being invited to take administrative roles because an administrator dearly needed help. I don’t believe the NORGs had extra opportunities to give those talks or guest lectures to help round out the perspectives. The NORGs were sweet, there in my doorway, and giving me a chance to chuckle at what “seeing it all, and surviving” really meant.

5. NORGs have rich family stories. They’d tell me about their sabbaticals in Denmark and Germany where the wives learned to cook new foods. The work environment was great, and the families always came around after they settled in. They’d tell me about their adult kids and grandkids, and that they survived their father’s professoring years. How they’d elk-hunt every year and how they’d fly-fish on Fridays. I’d think of my own husband half a mile away. I’d wonder who would get to come back to work that night, me with my deadlines or him with his. I’d wonder who’d put on dinner, herd the kids through homework, clean the kitchen, run out for groceries, move the laundry, put the kids to bed, and if there was time, plan the next expedition around a meeting or to his relatives’ or to mine—then I’d put my attention back to the NORG, who I’d remember was there helping me with his stories.

6. NORGs have a great familiarity with medical and anatomical terms. They could regale me with stories of their personal problems of articulations, plumbing, and nerve transmission delays, for an hour at a time. If they had no new issues, surely their spouse or granddaughter did. It was like a serial story: the NORGs could always give updates even when there were no new stories or lessons to share.

7. NORGs just need someone to talk to. It might as well have been me.

Lessons learned! A couple years ago I moved to a department that had made some recent hires: folks who could do with a little mentoring. I’ve been careful to leave space at the doorway when I happen by. I’m mindful to give only advice they’ll need. I tell them–with real-life examples–to work less, learn from my experiences, keep a steady pace but be easy on themselves, “dare to be average” (and I promise to e-mail them a pdf on that), keep in touch with colleagues, make time to exercise and relax, and most of all, spend time with their parents, children, and current spouse–or drop him or her if the writing’s on the wall. Careers are important but families are what it’s about “at the end of the day.” And if they ever get one of those NORGs wedged in their doorway, I tell them, just listen. For lots of reasons, including that NORGs just need someone to talk to. It might as well be them.

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