Happiness in Retirement — Walk out of Boring Meetings

Yesterday I walked out of a boring meeting.

Since I am no longer paid to sit through mind-numbing — or, perhaps, mind-dumbing events — I did something that I’ve not done before. I  gathered my things and left.

Walking out is not my usual style.  I never skipped school. My formula for getting through grad school was to go to class. In 40 plus years in the workforce, I had excellent attendance.

During my career I sat through and often chaired, endless meetings. I confess that I was the power point and discussion type of presenter at many conferences.

boring meetings -- photo courtesy of mccun934
boring meetings — photo courtesy of mccun934




Attendance at this all day event was ‘required’ part of one of my volunteer gigs.

To get to mid-town Toronto for an 8 am start, I got up at 5:30 am as I needed over an hour for the rainy, damp Monday morning commute. Many others had left their homes to travel using personal time on Sunday evening to make the start time.

Things started badly. The event did not begin on time as fog delayed one of the consultant/presenters.  About 30 people were left checking blackberries and iPhones until 8:55 am when she arrived.

Since this was the tenth run through of the same presentation (different cities to accommodate the geography of Ontario), one might have surmised that the other presenter, an accomplished and knowledgeable man, could have started things.  After all, this was his tenth time through and he should have been able to give the presentation in his sleep.  Instead, about 30 people was left to drink coffee and make small talk.

The room was filled with smart, accomplished and experienced people. From the introductions (that took another 35 minutes after the late start) most identified themselves as holding senior executive positions or having recently left senior roles for retirement.  Most would have earned at least one graduate degree.

Once the presentation began we were subjected to a ‘deck’ of power point slides with the presenters alternating at the podium.  While neither ‘read’ the slides to the audience, they followed the pre-packaged presentation carefully with a couple of stops when those at table were to have 5 minute discussions and ‘report back’ (regurgitate) the discussion to the larger group. This was the ‘interactive’ part of the morning. I doubt that any of the material or discussion provided new information to the participants.

The lack of energy in the room made the morning pass slowly.  Neither presenter engaged the audience.

I looked around at the other participants and would bet good money that all had done a mental ‘check-out’.  Nobody was drooling or napping but most people periodically checked hand-held devices catching up on emails or playing games.  Others just looked zoned out — especially the bureaucrats who were responsible for the meeting.

To get through to lunch I practised the meeting survival techniques that I had perfected during my career.   I tried creative thinking which worked for a time as there was beautiful art in the meeting room.  I reviewed the  shoe choices and clothes sense of the presenters and others in my visual range. I made a few ‘to do’ lists.  I read the paper copies of the slides and took notes on some of the slides in trying to stay alert.

By lunch time I knew that I wasn’t ready to waste a precious day of my retirement at this event.  I ate a couple of the mayonnaise-infused sandwiches that brought memories of many similar lunches all of which had resulted in me weighing 10 pounds more when I worked than since retirement.

I looked around the room again and did a mental tabulation of the meeting cost.  A number in attendance were retired so for about half of the attendees, there was no direct hourly cost although some may have billed a per diem as the presenters would have.  Staff in attendance were a direct cost.  Other costs would have included room rental, coffee, drinks, snacks and lunch. Those who took time away from their professions lost money. Everybody lost time!

For my sanity and self-esteem, I decided that the most respectful action would be to leave before I revealed my cynical assessment of the event. In my earlier list making I had thought of other productive uses for my time including an afternoon nap.  
As I gathered my coat and brief case, a lawyer sitting near to me said that he was next to leave.  I’m sure that many who stayed wished they had the same exit courage.



6 Replies to “Happiness in Retirement — Walk out of Boring Meetings”

  1. Another terrific (and honest) blog. My experience wasn’t a Board Meeting but a Monthly Meeting for Volunteers for a Corporation. The corporation were supposedly asking for suggestions towards forward planning and invited input from various groups – including volunteers. Unfortunately some of us felt a little cynical and to add further insult – we were divided into groups and suggestions written on big sheets of butcher paper…… eeeeek! Brought back very dated memories. My point is – finding the positive balance between ‘ feeling insulted or being genuinely valued’.

    1. Hi Janet,
      It sounds as though the corporation did not put enough thought into treating its volunteers like the valuable resource that they are. I wonder how the executives were treated during their forward planning session. Too bad that so many of us have used precious time in unproductive meetings.
      Be well,

  2. I have declared retirement to be a meeting free zone! Other than a couple of meetings I have to attend every year for my sons, I have politely declined all other requests that involve meetings. However, when I did have to attend meetings that seemed like a waste, I figured out ways to make them interesting and productive. I used to bring my quilting project to a recurring meeting. I could sew and still pay attention. In another meeting where the quilting would not be appropriate, but I didn’t really have to participate, I would run through mental exercises. Or sometimes I would just meditate. Your solution is another option–walk out!

    1. The idea of making retirement a ‘meeting free zone’ appeals. One of my former colleagues tells me that he did something. When his church or rotary club asks him to participate on one committee or another, he declines but quickly volunteers for tasks that might involve some manual work or kitchen duties! The workshop last week has made me think hard about how I use my precious retirement hours.
      Be well,

  3. MARILYN VON ALLMEN says: Reply

    I really can relate to this story Jeanette. I owned my own photography studio for several years and recall attending a workshop which was billed as the best thing since gravy in the latest digital photography advances and how to bring your photos in to Photoshop and make them shine. The workshop was the most disorganized event I ever attended. I had driven two hours in the early a.m. just as you mention only to be very disappointed. I “disappeared” after the first break.

    Thank you for your posts. I just recently discovered your blog and really enjoy your posts.

    Marilyn Von Allmen
    Wisconsin, USA

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      Wasting time is life wasting life. It’s so disappointing when expectations were high — and annoying when you’ve paid to participate. For last week’s event, I was an invited guest but I resented using my time with no payoff in learning. It takes guts to get up and walk out. I hope you felt good when you walked out of the workshop.
      Be well,

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