I was hardly a joy to be around and knew it was time to go

The pandemic gave a US-based Dubliner time to think about his work-life balance

Martin McGovern in his office at Stonehill College, in Easton, Massachusetts before he retired

Martin McGovern is from Dun Laoghaire, but has lived and worked in Massachusetts for the past four decades. He lives in Mashpee, but considers himself fortunate to have had the flexibility to make trips back to Ireland

Like millions of older American workers last year, I took stock of my work-life balance and made the decision to retire.

When the pandemic began in early 2020, I was 63 and immersed in my role as Director of Communications and Media Relations at Stonehill College, a Catholic liberal arts college in Easton, Massachusetts.

A scholarship had brought me to the college in 1979 and I went on to serve Stonehill as a communicator and spokesperson over four decades, roles I really enjoyed. While studying political science at University College Dublin, I had worked nights as a copy boy at the Irish Press getting a practical grounding in journalism, media and communications, skills that have served me well in my career in the US.


Within six months of the pandemic, however, I began to think seriously about stepping away from my roles at the college. The pace and intensity of being a communicator in a period of non-stop crisis had started to tax me like never before. Private higher education in the US has become a more competitive, complex industry than it was when I started in the early 1980s. There are fewer traditional college-age students but more students with greater need. Tuition is expensive, but it is often discounted, which means the quest for funding in support of scholarships, better resources and new facilities is relentless. Many students graduate with significant debt.

Furthermore, colleges are not exempt from issues such as gun violence, sexual assault, town-gown relations, equity and inclusion challenges, protests and more. In the age of social media, what were once campus issues can now erupt into broader public disputes, which the media covers closely.

Increasingly, I felt there were so many responsibilities to juggle simultaneously and breaking topics to address, all of which had tight turnarounds and deadlines. And, there was no end in sight to the enhanced demands of the position, which is on a 24/7 alert. As my head spun, my sanity slipped.

In addition to all this, due to the pandemic, I no longer physically worked at the college. Instead, I operated remotely from home. The upside was not having to commute. The downside was a much longer workday, stuck in my basement consumed by crisis and wedded to the phone, laptop and Zoom meetings. Suffice to say, family wise, I was hardly a joy to be around. I had hit a professional wall and knew it was time to go.

I remained in my position until July last year, soon after I turned 65 and was eligible for social security. I made the most of that last stretch at the college, which has a great sense of community and stood by me during a battle with cancer in the mid-1990s and also when I needed flexibility and time to help my brother care for our parents in Dublin during their final years.

As sad as it was to leave so many good colleagues and friends, and a home away from home, where I met my wife, Helene, I welcomed the change. In essence, the pandemic helped me realise how the job was consuming me to the detriment of health and balance. I had completed my shift.

In retirement, I am adjusting to a slower, less regulated pace, regular and more enjoyable exercise, catching up on reading books that I had put aside for future attention, getting to know my neighbours better and trying to navigate the US’s polarised politics. But that’s another story altogether.

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