With the many changes occurring in retirement systems across the country, I have watched many of my friends make that career-ending decision in the last few years.
For some of them, it arose quite unexpectedly. Others had been plotting it out for years.
Either way, they all seem to go through several phases, including curiosity, investigation, assessment, realization, rationalization, and then decision.
You’d think it would be done there, but it’s not. The biggest stage is yet to come, and it doesn’t arrive until all the previous stages have been fully exorcised and completed.
This is after the parties are over, songs have been sung, watches and plaques have been tearfully accepted. After the spouse’s speech and acknowledgement of all they gave up during their better half’s career. After the co-workers explain that they don’t know what they’ll do without them.
After all that, the retiree is left at home to reflect on “what it was all for” and what it was “all about” and most importantly, was it all worth it? Certainly, this is the roughest stage of all.
Should you have taken a different path? Perhaps that one opportunity you almost took 20 years ago; would that have changed the way things played out today?
Were you aggressive enough with your career? Remember that one boss you backed down to all the time that wound up getting fired himself? You should have stood up to him when you had the chance …
Were there missed opportunities? Seminars, trips, retreats that should have been attended but you bypassed for some other priority; perhaps a Little League game where your son was pitching? Perhaps a Girl Scout wilderness week you agreed to chaperone? Were your priorities right?
What I have found in talking to newly retired folks is one very important thing: The conversations they had with these friends, the moments they shared while they were on the same trek, the smile they provided, the wish of good luck, the shoulder during a tragedy…it all mattered more than any of the other things and considerations.
Those gestures were what they will truly be remembered by and that which makes them the most proud as they reflect on the years.
This makes one thing very clear: The little things we do for each other each and every day–it all matters. It may not seem like it at the moment. It may even be unnoticed as you plow forward with your day.
But I cannot tell you how many of these people have made comment to me as they depart saying, “I’ll never forget the time you took the time to listen to me.”
Or, “I’ll always remember you sticking up for me when I didn’t have a friend in the room.”
Or, “It helped to know you were behind me when nobody else was.”
One of my grandsons called me the other night. He had missed the deadline on a book report, but the teacher gave him one more night to complete it because, to his credit, my grandson had read the whole 200-page book, he simply did not complete the report.
He asked if I would help him with the report (seems when there’s writing assignments in the family, Papa Ron always get the call). I said I would help him, but it would take a few hours to do.
He hesitated–I could hear it over the phone. A few hours of school work to a 10-year-old sounds like an awfully long time. But then he relented and agreed, and his mom dropped him off.
We sat down and I asked about the book. He told me some details; he had a good grip on the plot but was clearly stumbling through some of it, which was a sign to me he had turned the pages but not really digested the material.
To make a long story short, we walked through the whole book again, and in no time he produced a solid, admirable report. I could see he was proud of the work he had done, so I thought the moment was ripe for a “life lesson.”
At the table where we were sitting, I lined up the salt and pepper shakers, a bottle of ketchup, and a bottle of hot sauce.
I said, “David, this salt shaker is you. These other things are your friends. I think you have a couple advantages over them. You’re a pretty smart kid and I think you have a good head on your shoulders.”
I moved the salt shaker ahead two steps. “But this week all your friends got their report in on time and yours is late.”
I moved the other objects ahead a space and his shaker back one. “See what happened? They caught up with all your advantages just by being on time. Now they are right there with you, whether or not they are smarter or even as capable. You let the rest of the group catch up to you just by being lazy.”
He just stared at his salt shaker silently.
“I don’t want to lecture you, buddy, but this is how life is always going to be. You are either moving forward or moving backward; it’s not often you stand still.”
He attempted a defense: “I told my mom about this a week ago.”
I smiled and said, “So? Then it was her job to remind you and make sure you got it done?”
He sat quiet again, knowing how weak it sounded.
“Do you get what I am showing you?” I asked. He nodded, and with that I gave him a hug, Grandma gave him a cookie, and Mom came to pick him up.
I didn’t hammer him or belittle him–I just took a minute to point something out. I do it for my friends, why wouldn’t I do it for my kin?
I fully believe those few minutes made an impression. He called the next day. He got an “A” on the report, but it was recorded as a “B” since it was a day late.
“I’ll never let that happen again,” he said, acknowledging that he got the other message. I smiled into the phone and said, “I believe you!”
See? It all matters.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at email@example.com.