American Advisors Group, CC 2.0
Source: American Advisors Group, CC 2.0

Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.

Charlie watched the clock: 4:58…4:59… 5:00.  He’d finished his last day of work…forever.

What went through his mind is in italics.

Now’s it just the retirement party and I’m out of here.

Charlie entered the cafeteria to his coworkers' applause.

Are they clapping because it’s expected, in appreciation, or in appreciation I’m leaving?

At the dais, Charlie’s seatmates made perky talk: “So whatcha gonna do?”

Should I be honest and admit that the first few months will be easy—clean up the apartment, read some books, take a trip, and then who the hell knows?

He said the aforementioned but omitted “and then who the hell knows?”

The emcee began with the requisite joke: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.”

Geez, I first heard that when I was 20. He sure didn’t make much effort to prepare.

Then came the requisite exaltation: “For 35 years now, Charlie has been a fair-minded banker: meeting the needs of borrowers while protecting our depositors’ money.

Big deal. Even if all our loan officers screwed up all the time, the taxpayer—the FDIC—will cover the bank’s ass.

After more puffery, the emcee exclaimed, “Now, it is my distinct privilege to give you the man of the hour—well he at least deserves one hour—the man with the last name like an eye chart, Charlie Szymanszki!"

Smile more. You’re trying to go out leaving a positive image. You’re supposed to be gracious, even though some of members of the bank’s “community,” the Springfield Bank “family” weren’t always so gracious. Smile, dammit!

"I want to thank you all for making Springfield Community Bank my second home."

So I’m lying but what good does it be to be honest at this point. Yeah, they can’t fire me but if I say something “inappropriate,” they’ll think I’m going senile or something. Somehow my image here still matters to me more than being authentic.

After Charlie’s speech, more small talk, dessert.

I can’t wait to get out of here. I don’t need to be the last one to leave. Maybe after three-quarters do.

And at that three-quarters mark, Charlie pasted on a smile, shook the hands of those he should, avoided everyone else, and strode, not trudged out.

I want them to think I’m still vital. Who knows? Maybe they’ll call me back to do some consulting or something.

Charlie kept up the high-energy act as he left. Only when he closed his car door did he sigh and allow his shoulders to relax.

So, I’ve passed one more stop on the conveyer belt. I don’t want to think of the next stop. Stop thinking about it. Think about your grandkids. I wish I were excited about seeing them more. Think about your ex-wife. I’m definitely not excited about seeing her more. Meet someone new? I still don’t think I’m up for it. That’s a good pun.

Charlie put the CD of the Beatles’ Help album into his car stereo and flipped to Yesterday:

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they're here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be.
There's a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Why she had to go, I don't know, she wouldn't say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

The takeaways

Even after Charlie no longer had to fear getting fired, his desire to be perceived well still trumped his desire to be authentic. Are you more or less authentic than you want to be at work? With key people in your personal life?

Many people suppress thinking about retirement life after the first few months. After all, that’s scary: Retirement is usually a one-way street to the hereafter. It's like the Roach Motel: You can check in but can’t check out. How about you? Is it time to craft a first draft?

If you want to defer retiring because you’d rather work or you need the money, should you do more to boost your chances of remaining well-employed: Learn a new skill? Build your relationship with key people? Change your attitude? Work on your mental or physical health?

Thinking about retirement has the silver lining of encouraging reflection on how we want to use our limited time.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books, including his just-published Modern Fables: short-short stories with life lessons, are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net.

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