What will Matter Most at the End of Your Career?

This story was written 61 days before Retirement.

I cleaned out my office today. Actually I’ve been cleaning it a little at a time throughout the past few weeks. But this week my replacement was named and it was time to get out of the way so she can move in.

Some of the stuff was typical – I filled the shredder box with decade-old budget plans that were hundreds of pages long. Other stuff was sentimental and much harder to part with.

One Last Move

I moved many times in my career – three times I relocated more than 1,500 miles. This time I was moving about 30 feet – to a smaller office down the hall for my final nine weeks at work.

There were practical items – staples, paper clips, pens, note paper. For that I was on auto-pilot. For other items it presented moments to pause and reflect.

There was a disaster plan that I’d created 25 years earlier for another location of my company. I remember taking weeks surveying, then hand drawing precise instructions (if CAD RAM existed back then we didn’t have it). The division President even sent a hand-written note to thank me for the effort.

One last glance and a pitch into the dumpster.

Cleaning out the Office at the end of career
And this doesn’t count the thousands of pieces of paper sent to the shredder.

There were newspaper and magazine clippings about my department’s success. OK, maybe I’ll keep some of those – but I really don’t need five copies of every article.

Then there was my dictionary. Full Stop. For a writer, a dictionary is much more than just another reference book. I found there was a story in my heart, so I paused the office cleanup and wrote about it.

The Personal Notes

On the top of my credenza I took down personal notes from my colleagues. There were more in a file folder. And on this office clean-out Saturday, one more had been placed on my desk. It was from a friend who was leaving the business to pursue a new passion. The notes had similar themes – thanking me for my help, guidance, coaching – but each truly unique and heart warming.

In the end, my office full of stuff was reduced to two small boxes. While I was slightly melancholy, even that felt forced. Some emotion was there but it was not overwhelming. I did not cry. I wasn’t even too terribly sad.

This puzzled me.

What Really Mattered

Then I suddenly realized that my career was more than what was in those two small boxes. But something in those boxes encapsulated my career.

The notes.

In the end, what mattered most was how I touched the lives of others – playing some small part in helping them become who they are today.

This job and portion of my life may be ending, but in those friends my career lives on.