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Before Retiring

What to consider before hanging it up.

Key points

  • What do you want your legacy to be at work?
  • What kind of retirement do you envision?
  • How to think about finding meaning once the obligations of work disappear

The advice here isn’t for employees that have been dumped. They might be wise to go quietly, perhaps offering a bit of statesman-like feedback. They might want to refuse a goodbye party, which are often awkward affairs. And if the party is thrown by the employer to mollify worried or angry co-workers, the employer might not want to provide the employer cover.

Sebastian, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Sebastian, Flickr, CC 2.0

This post is for the person who has spent some time in an organization and decided it’s time to retire: for health reasons, fatigue of the accelerating BS, or the altruistic sense that it’s a younger person’s turn, someone who could probably do more good.

Your micro legacy

Some people care little about whether they’re perceived positively but most people do care. Fortunately, even if you haven’t always been a saint, people’s memories are short. Want to try to be better in your worklife’s final period? If so, it’s hard to change everything, so, what’s one thing you want to focus on, relentlessly focus on?

Your macro legacy

It may or may not be too late to start a big grand-finale project but is there a major work-in-progress that you’d like to help with, getting at least a credit in your career movie? Or might your macro legacy be in your work's totality, a self-bestowed lifetime achievement award? Or might your macro legacy lie, at least in part, in your succession plan? Should you have one? Should you document your technical or institutional knowledge so it lives on? Have input into your replacement?

Your good-byes

As mentioned, gold-watch parties tend to be awkward for everyone. If I were retiring, that would be the last thing I’d want. Rather, I’d meet one-on-one with the people I cared about, share memories, maybe propose visions and projects, perhaps take two or three out for a drink, or even to my home for dinner. I’d write an exit-interview note to leadership with copies to everyone. Unless my workplace was hell, I’d offer mainly positives but some "challenges," or “areas for growth,” stated tactfully enough to preclude unnecessary defensiveness but directly enough to motivate action.

What next?

In the movie About Schmidt, as Jack Nicholson is about to retire, he watches the clock tick from 4:59:50 to 5:00. He really hadn’t thought a lot about what he’d do in the mass of unstructured time he'd, in a few seconds, have.

You have some time. What do you want to do? Veg for a week? For a year? Forever? Do the stereotypical: putter, travel, see the grandkids? Or something more like the guy in the photo above: play sax in a tunnel? Do you want to write what needs to be said but were too afraid to when it could damage your reputation or cost you your job? Be feistier in the usually genteel get-togethers with friends or family? Go gentle into the good night? Or fiercely?

Personally, I hope never to retire. I’d like to die writing my next Psychology Today post. So yet another option is to use the hourglass’s sand dropping to fuel you to accomplish as much as you can, while you can.

I’m fond enough of the following anecdote that, although I’ve used it before, I believe it’s worth repeating here. Isaac Asimov had published 450 books and an interviewer asked him, “What would you do if you had six months to live?” His answer: “Type faster.” Me too. But the important question here is: "What do you want to do?"

I read this aloud on YouTube.