“Pharmaceuticals to the left, sir….bathrooms to the right, Ma’am. Thanks for coming in, folks. Clearance items are all in the seasonal items area, straight ahead. Here’s a sticker, kid….Have a nice day.”
Could this be me in twenty-five years?
Odds are, yes. In fact, I’ll wager money that in some form, it’s my destiny. I may not be wearing the blue vest of happiness with the smiley face plastered on it, but somehow, somewhere, I’m convinced I’ll be working.
A lot of that comes from the realization that I’ll never be able to fully retire as it’s not realistic. I’m not independently wealthy and I don’t have a nest egg that even remotely rivals Donald Trump’s “small loan” from his father when he invested in his first real estate venture some years ago.
And like millions of Americans, I’m faced with the rising cost of living and the pain of having to deal with an ungodly expensive and out-of-control healthcare system that continually siphons more money than it reasonably should from my budget. The words “company sponsored healthcare” sometimes seems no more valuable than if I were to be paying for it on my own. Both equally rob me of the opportunity to spend it on frivolous and extravagant things, like food for my family and heat for my house.
Granted, retirement is all a long way off. I’m still in my early fifties and have plenty of time to consider what I’ll be doing when the right time comes. I’d be lying, though, if I said I’m not starting to think more about what my options might be. A lot of that comes from a recent string of family and friends who’ve made the move or are currently jockeying for position.
You can call this brewing sense of pensiveness whatever you want … a mid-life crisis, advanced planning, impending empty nest syndrome, perhaps even a modest contempt for “working for the man.” All of those reasons and many more drive me to the same place. It’s time to consider it seriously, cause I’m not going to be working 40 plus hours a week for the rest of my life.
First, let’s give credit where it’s due. By no means am I intentionally disrespecting, slamming or attempting to slander those who employ thousands at Wal-Mart. Good people work there across the globe, and frankly, we’re all trying to do the exact same thing: make a buck, pay the bills and exist without having to sell our souls or body parts on the black market to accomplish it.
Besides, the last thing I need is to incur the wrath of some sue-happy executive in Waltonland or to upset so many who serve as greeters for the big yellow happy face. A lot of experience guards those dual sliding doors, and there are countless fascinating stories that could be told by every single one of them if we bothered to ask.
Although I’ve had occasional thoughts for the last few years, It was a conversation with family around a late night campfire on a warm North woods Wisconsin summer night that put the mental gymnastics into motion. A brother-in-law just recently retired from a 30-plus year career working for the state, and another brother is considering his plans within the next three to five years. Remaining siblings bring it up or joke about it in passing conversation, but I know there’s a slight air of seriousness in their jocularity.
So when I was asked the question about what my plans could potentially be, I gave what I thought was the best and most sincere answer I could muster:
“ Me? Retire? Not likely. I’m pretty sure my last words on this planet will be Welcome to Walmart.”
As much as it was intended to be a joke, there was a nervous seriousness behind it, similar to how you’d cautiously consider your answer when asked by a traffic cop who just pulled you over for speeding if you knew how fast you were going. Say yes and you look cocky. No, and you look ignorant. Either way, you’re screwed, and you’re still getting the ticket.
Truth be told, I expect I’ll be working right up to the day I shuffle off the mortal coil. That’s not the most pleasant thought, but it’s an honest reflection of what I expect will be my destiny. My father in law, a retired CW3 who spent his life in the military, works part-time in his retirement community clubhouse in Florida making a little extra coin on the side. I’m convinced that’s a good thing as it helps to keep his mind sharp, plus he gets to dole out a little elderly attitude to park residents and get paid for it.
Frankly, I know it’s one of the reasons he does it. That, and he gets to tell the many stories and experiences he’s accumulated over his lifetime to unsuspecting residents. Although there is a practical element involved in bringing in revenue to the household, it’s fun for him to be involved. If it wasn’t, he’d do something else.
And in much the same way I lecture my kids about “doing what makes them happy in life” as they choose careers, that same logic has to apply on the other side in a retirement sense. If I have to make a living while I’m old and gray and can’t enjoy my golden years doing nothing but traveling, visiting casinos and playing golf, then at least a few rules will have to be in place:
I won’t be working in a job I have to be in.
One of the best jobs I ever held was as a sales agent in northeast Wisconsin. My job? I sold game day tickets and meet and greet packages for the official ticket broker of the Green Bay Packers.
It was the coolest paying gig ever because I got paid to talk about my favorite football team with other serious Packer fans from around the globe, and I truly loved it. Sure, there were perks, like hanging out at autograph sessions with players and personnel, plus the occasional heavily discounted game-day ticket when inventory was in surplus. The owner of the company was a stand-up guy who ran a relaxed workplace, plus he believed in taking care of his employee. It wasn’t just lip service.
I can’t say that I was making tons of money, but for the most part, I liked what I did and the people I worked with. Waking up in the morning and going to work was not the dirge-like experience I had felt in other companies, plus, I never found myself looking at the clock at 9 a.m. and wishing it was quitting time.
Was it perfect? No, and I can’t say I’ve ever been in a job that was. Surely there were ups and downs, but ultimately, I loved what I was doing. It was a perfect storm of happiness….good job, great people, and a boss that understood that the worth of his company was only as good as the people he employed. Taking care of them was a top priority, and I’m not talking about money and company spiffs.
I will be networking.
Someone wiser than me once said, “you can never have enough friends.” If that’s case, then I’m in pretty good shape for a long time to come.
No question I have the best of friends that surround me every day. I’ve known some of them since I was a little snort in grade school, and I’ve remained close to a few from my high school and collegiate days. I’ve labored with others in my current and former jobs that I consider to be not just co-workers, but people of high moral character whose daily presence, collaboration, expertise, and guidance only make me a better person and leader.
There’s another segment I’ve come to know over the last three years, thanks in particular to networking sites like Bebee.com and LinkedIn. My wife and kids like to tease me and call them my virtual friends, but in reality, many have played a significant role in helping me carve out my niche in the blogging world.
The value of networking is and continues to be one of the best moves I’ve ever made. It hasn’t opened up any major alternative career doors or made me wealthy, but you never know how things can shake out. Above it all, I’ve made some incredible contacts and remain in constant communication with other like-minded individuals from around the globe with whom I share common interests.
Some of these folks are pretty young, and others are more worldly. That’s just fine as the range of experience and ages combine for well-rounded discussions in just about any subject or discipline.
We may not always agree, but that’s okay. Stuff like that helps me stay focused and informed.
And sometimes, the conversation and subject matter is just damned funny.
I will be writing.
I had a writing dry spell over the last few months, and I hated it. It nagged at me daily as I felt I wasn’t being the best version of myself. I wasn’t doing one of the most important things that gave me an intrinsic sense of value.
It was a passing conversation with a co-worker at the office that pushed me back into the right mindset:
“Hey Andy…..you haven’t written anything lately. I look at your profile once in a while for new material but haven’t seen anything. What gives?”
” Just been too busy,” I replied somewhat sheepishly. Between a new gig here at the office and a hectic home life, after I leave, I’m beat. I haven’t had too much time to think or write much at all. Too preoccupied, I guess. “
“Get back on it, “ my co-worker ordered. “Don’t stop. I look forward to those, and I know others do too. Keep it up!”
That was the mental elbow nudge I needed.
I’ve written before that for anyone who blogs, writes or publishes, reader feedback is a pure dopamine rush. You can feel the neurons firing and jumping from brain cell to brain cell the very moment someone offers praise or criticism on something you’ve produced. You take a chance it may be brutal or hurtful, but that’s all part of the game.
Milos Djukic, a good friend to many of us in the social networking world, refers to it as “The Agony and Ecstasy of Social Media Writing,” and he’s bang-on correct. Sometimes, it’s feast or famine, and it’s hard not to reflect on the sheer amount of views or comments as a measure of success. That’s not always the case. Low viewership or engagement stats don’t always tell the full story. You just don’t get to see if you’re making a tangible difference, so you keep the faith that you are.
And since I don’t have rockin’ stats like so many of my writer counterparts, I better focus on making an impact by using the pen and paper, or in this case, the laptop and mouse, as a means to staying sharp.
Regardless of where and my when my retirement adventure begins, one thing remains clear – being idle won’t be an option. I have no doubt others who are already there or are thinking about it are doing the same. Care to share? Thoughts on the article? What are your plans?
Plenty of space below to tell us about it. Leave a comment!
Published previously on LinkedIn
Photo: Getty Images