As I’ve mentioned before in this column, I retired not long ago from a great company where I spent the last 16 years of my career. I loved my job, and was regarded as very proficient in my work. I was regularly offered new challenges that kept my job interesting and enabled me to learn and practice new skills. I was part of an HR team that I regarded as more than mere coworkers—they were, and still are, good friends. I made a comfortable living, and enjoyed both my work and my leisure time. I thought long and hard about when I should take that big jump into retirement. Turning away from my work life was not going to be an easy decision!
About the same time I was wrestling with my decision, I was also aware of another employee’s struggle. Mike had worked at our company for over 50 years, and was greatly beloved. He was long past the age of retirement, and was financially ready for retirement, but he just couldn’t let go of his job in tech support. He expressed concern about what he would do when he retired. His whole life had been the company and raising his family. His kids were grown with lives and families of their own. Mike just wanted to continue with that other part of his life that had been so important to him for so many years. He just wanted to work as he had for so many years in the past. And therein lies the key phrase—in the past! Mike wanted things to be as they had been, and was not willing to accept that times and the world of work had changed. He still did things in ways that were successful for him years ago. He struggled through his last few years before very reluctantly announcing his retirement. As much as he was loved by all, there was still a great sigh of relief that he was finally gone. Mike didn’t know when it was time to go. And he had not prepared himself with something to go to. He could not imagine a fulfilling life for himself after his job.
It’s hard to leave something that has been so important to our lives, and that we have worked hard at and enjoyed much pleasure and success from. But ultimately we have to leave everything sometime.
Mike’s situation caused me to think long and hard about timing my own retirement. I hired and trained the person who would ultimately replace me. I spent time developing new interests and challenges outside of work that would bring me pleasure and satisfaction after I left my job. When I finally announced my retirement date, I was confident that I was ready, that my team was ready, and that I would not be guilty of overstaying my welcome. Everything was in order. It was time to move on.
We approach similar thresholds many times in our lives. Our life history is full of times when we were faced with moving on. I remember starting school as a child. It was a scary and exciting time to be leaving the security of my home and mother and getting on a big school bus. I was ready for it, though. I had new school clothes, and a book bag (as they were called in those days) and a lunch box. I had pencils and crayons and paper and glue, and a box of tissues. I was ready!
When we were kids, someone was always there telling us what we needed to do to prepare for the next big step.
Sometimes as adults, we forget that we have to prepare ourselves for our next challenge, whatever that challenge may be. We don’t have supporting parents behind us reminding us to pack our pencils and box of tissues, and not to forget our lunch. We don’t always have the security of loved ones waving us off and promising to be there for us when we return.
As an adult, we sometimes deny the inevitability of challenges that surely lie in our future. Consequently, it becomes easy to neglect preparation for them. Young adults may not begin saving for retirement—that’s so far off! Older adults don’t always take steps necessary to maximize their health and comfort in old age—exercise, regular checkups, making decisions about our living arrangements, and so many other things. Almost as if denying the possibility will prevent challenges from catching up with us.
In order to get the most out of our life, we need to get and to keep those things in order that are going to make a difference for us. An important part of living today is preparing for tomorrow. It’s so much better to look back and say, “I’m so glad I did,” rather than “I wish I had.”
When I find myself procrastinating, sometimes I tell myself, “Just do it!” Often it turns out to be easier than I thought, and later I can say, “I’m so glad that’s done.” We must live for today, of course, but we also must live for tomorrow, as well.
For those important and needed preparations in your life, whether they are for enhancing your career, or improving your health, or safeguarding your financial security, I say to you: “Just do it!” The time when it will make a difference in your life will come, dear reader, sooner that you think and you’ll be glad you did.