Saved from What Could’ve Been

This story was written 58 days before Retirement.

Before Retirement: The Office
Ready for shut down

“Are you sure if I turn this off it will turn back on?” I asked Bryan from IT. I was shutting down my computer for the last time, in the office I’d called home for the final six years of my career.

Bryan smiled – catching the line first used by Apollo 13 Astronaut Jack Swigert, as he was turning off the command module computer before moving to the lunar module which would get the crew home.

Shutting it Down

As I write this hours later, I realize it was the perfect analogy.  I was moving from my office which was the biggest on the floor – bigger than my job status should allow (the command module) – to one just a few feet away, but long, narrow and… let’s just call it ‘cozy’ (The lunar module). My successor would move in, and I’d be close by to help in the transition.

My “Lunar Module.” For Temporary Use.

But in reality, at that moment I was turning off my career. I wondered what would turn on in retirement.

I had cleaned out my office the previous Saturday. Now, as I sat there one final time waiting for the computer to be set up in my new cozy confines, I wasn’t sure how I felt.  I think I was supposed to feel sad. I suppose I was a little. Mostly I felt tired. 

I’m not going to miss the job much. After nearly four decades. the fun and excitement had faded, and the remaining passion was ebbing away.

I know that I will miss the people.  A lot. Throughout the morning, three of those who I’ll miss the most, dropped by to either ask a question or seek advice. Thinking back on it, they were really just checking up on me to see if I was OK.

Becky, Jen, Quincy – I see what you did there. Thank you. I am truly blessed to have such caring friends.

The End of a Dream

Like the Astronauts of Apollo 13, a dream is ending. Theirs, landing on the Moon. Mine, simply the dream of what was – and could of been – my career.

For the past few weeks I’ve been playing a song by Matt Hammitt on the way to and from work. The title is “Could’ve Been.”

I had my eye out on everyone else,

I’d say someday I’ll be there as well.

I’ll join the movers and shakers

Once I get a few things straight…”

As I’ve listened in my car, I’ve thought about opportunities I grasped onto, and those that I missed. No one could be perfect or anywhere close to that in their career decisions. But mine were more right than wrong. And I was fortunate to lead teams and departments that were always very successful.

Oh, it’s crazy how the time flies, I just watched it go by,

Grass was growing greener, but I was on the wrong side,

Losing my way

Wishing that the world would change…”

If I’d been a little more driven and a lot more political, I could have climbed higher up the ladder. Would it have been worth it? Would it even have been better? That’s what the song is about.

Did I fail to reach my destiny, or was I always destined to be exactly where I was?

I knew I was made for more,

To live every day like a new beginning.

And I thank God now, that dead end is what could have been.

You saved me from what could’ve been.”

Matt Hammitt – “Could’ve Been”

Jim Lovell and Fred Haise could’ve been the fifth and sixth men to walk on the moon. But they weren’t. Instead, along with Jack Swigert, they were celebrated and immortalized for what they did do, not for what they didn’t.

When it’s all over, I hope I’ll be celebrated for what I did as well.

Because I realize now, that really is better than what could’ve been.

Postscript – 20 months later

In the final few months of my career I struggled with putting the previous 40 years in perspective. What did it all mean? What was my impact? Did I matter?

I’m not alone.

Retirement is said to be the 10th most stressful event in our lifetimes, even more than the death of a close friend or losing your home to foreclosure. And it often comes with additional stressors, such as moving to a new location or social and financial changes.

I sought professional counseling during this time and I’m glad that I did. It helped me sort through my feelings, realize that I was not unique and gave me tools for moving forward with the next chapter in life.

If you are approaching Retirement and have similar feelings, I urge you to seek out a professional counselor who you can trust. Ask H.R. if your company offers an Employee Assistance Program to connect you with someone. Often, it’s free.

It makes the months before and after Retirement much more enjoyable.

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