I take any opportunity that presents itself to speak to professionals who’ve retired from their careers. I want to know what their perspectives on work and career look like from the “other side”. Retirement, for many people, is far off (I’m working on the “Freedom 85 Plan” myself), and I often wonder what wisdom looking back has to offer. So, I ask those in the know…retirees. Everyone I spoke to had a unique story.
Like the woman who had just left a corporate job at 59. She had no regrets and said her best career decision was to get off the treadmill of climbing “the ladder”. Over time, she feels she likely did as well there as she would have done if she kept moving up in a much bigger company. “Not financially, of course!” she explained “but in terms of my own happiness. I got to raise my kids my way because of a predictable schedule and great working relationships with the leaders at the company. I never missed a birthday or a recital, and now my kids are doing well in careers of their own.” Her parting wise words were “Happiness is up to you, never leave your happiness up to someone else, especially at work; they’ll screw it up because they are not you!”
I spoke with a 76-year-old plumber who started with his Dad, and then ran the business himself until he retired about ten years ago. “Was my work meaningful? That’s an odd question. I never thought of it that way.” He said, and then added “But I seemed to meet people at a very stressful point, when their toilet was overflowing, or they had water in their house from a burst pipe. It felt good to help them out because I knew what to do to make the plumbing right.” He also raised a family on his earnings. “It was different in my day, my wife looked after all the home stuff, but I can tell you, I wouldn’t have been able to run my business like I did if she hadn’t been there to manage that…we had a real partnership that way.”
A 67-year-old retiree wondered aloud if his relationship with his kids would have been more like the ones he now has with his grand kids (who were happily running around the living room as we chatted). “I worked a lot, it’s what you did in my day, but I guess in looking back, and now seeing what I missed with my own kids through my grandchildren, if I had to do it all again, I’d have spent more time with them.” He then added “but then I wouldn’t have been able to support paying for their education, living in the bigger house, and having the things we did…so I guess it’s all about your priorities.”
In all the conversations I’ve had (and I strike one up with anyone I meet who tells me they’re retired), not a one of them wished they’d worked more hours, or climbed higher in their careers. Many had regrets about what they missed by prioritizing work over other things, or that they waited too long to move out of jobs that were not good for their souls, and into jobs where they were appreciated and supported.
What do you want to see in the rear-view mirror of your career? In the rear-view mirror of your life?