A Quarter Century is a Long Time

An increasingly unusual part of my career was that I spent 25 years at one company.  By and large, people just don’t stay at one job that long anymore.  When the executive assistant who was organizing my office-wide retirement reception was putting together the email invite, she quizzed me about what life was like at my company 25 years ago when I was hired in April 1988.  As I described to her the working environment — no desktop computers, no email, no voice mail, no cell phones, letters typed in triplicate with carbon copies on typewriters, it made me realize how much has happened, both in the world and in my personal life, in 25 years.

When the email invite went out describing the primitive conditions of my early days, it sounded like I was some creature from the Cretaceous Period, or that we sat around throwing coal on the fire during the cold winter months.   Case in point, the summer intern in our department is 20 years old, which meant that she was BORN five years AFTER I started at the company.  And just to rub things in, she told me all about a cruise she was going on to celebrate her mother’s 50th birthday.  After putting this all in context,  it was horrifying to realize that the intern’s MOTHER is younger than me….and that she and many of the analysts in our office missed, for example, the entire disco era.

Just for fun, and to embrace my artifact-ness, I decided to do some research on the internet (which also wasn’t around when I started) to see what was happening in early 1988:

  • Ronald Reagan was President. Since then, we’ve had 4 more presidents, 3 of them 2-term Presidents
  • In 1988, the average cost of a new home was $91,000, new car $10,400, gas 91¢/gallon, movie tickets $3.50, postage stamp 24¢, The Cosby Show (TV) and The Rain Man (movie) were most popular that year.
  • For Sports Fans: the Dodgers won the World Series that year and the Lakers won the NBA title (it was a good year for LA fans).  [Maybe the Dodgers will do it again this year?!] Since then, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won 6 championships, and Kobe and the Lakers won 5 championships
  • Some of the world events and inventions that occurred during my corporate career:
Break-up of USSR Rodney King riots World Wide Web Cell phones
Tiananmen Square Space shuttle Columbia disaster Digital Cameras iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad
3 wars: Gulf War in Kuwait, War in Iraq, War in Afghanistan 9/11Hurricane Katrina TVO, HDTV WiFi
Northridge Quake Great Recession Google Maps/GPS Laser Eye Surgery

Not to mention all that happened to me personally in 25 years.  My husband and I got married two months after my hire date.  My son was born my fourth year and he’s now almost 21 and halfway through college.   All four of our parents and my stepson passed away. I broke my foot TWICE.  I learned the Macarena (not related to the broken foot). I had been an employee of my company almost half my life.  This was the period when almost every major event of my adult life took place, and when some of my greatest achievements, happiness, sadness and disappointments occurred.

Its almost scary how fast time flew by…and sobering to realize that I may only have one more 25-year chunk left.  That’s why I am trying to be purposeful and conscientious about the choices I make, and how I spend my time these next 25 years.  But not so conscientious that I don’t take risks and occasionally throw caution to the wind.  After all, unlike my retirement celebrations, my next “funeral “ will be the real one…and I won’t be there to hear what people say about me. J

Good Grief – Reflections on the Process of Leaving

I’m really glad I had a proper burial at work.  I say that because the whole process felt like a strange mix of birthday and funeral.   When I made the final decision to retire, I did a fair amount of thinking as to how much notice I should give.   Since my 55th birthday was in August 2013 (at which time I qualified for Early Retirement) my primary exit strategy was to wait until my 2012 bonus was safely in my bank account, wait a few more weeks for the optics, and then give notice.   There wasn’t a great deal of precedence for the proper protocols…. in recent years, not many people stuck around until retirement age.  Or if they did, we were increasingly receiving curt emails that read “We thank John Smith for his 30 years of service.  His last day is tomorrow and we wish him well.”


A picture taken on one of my last workdays of me and my closest work colleagues by some artwork outside our office. In hindsight, it would have made a great photo for my workplace “Funeral” program – depicting my ascension into retirement!

So, I figured four months should be more than enough.  That way, the company would have some time to decide how to replace me, and I could offer to participate in the hiring or training process for my replacement.  When I first gave notice, I was pretty burned out and disillusioned and I wanted nothing more than to walk or run quickly from the building in the cover of night. What I didn’t foresee was what a fun chapter that last four months would prove to be.

Over the course of my last months, I sometimes wished I had given less notice. Some days just seemed to drag on, and nobody seemed to be in much hurry to make decisions about how to replace me.    I contended daily with the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, depression and acceptance).   Not me, mind you –  I was alive and well and smiling ear to ear, and yet everyone around me was mourning my loss, and different people were in different stages on different days.  And then the politics and  jockeying for my leadership role began.  It was exhausting. And more than a little weird.

On the other hand, I felt liberated once I no longer had financial goals to worry about.  The job wasn’t so bad when I could spend my time doing more of the things I liked about work without worrying incessantly about my daily/weekly/monthly results and those of everyone who reported to me.  It gave me time to coach and mentor and check in with people (both clients and colleagues) I hadn’t had much time to talk to.  I even helped sell a couple of big projects the last month before I left!   I began spending more time with my friends and activities outside of work, no longer had that low-level work 24/7 anxiety, and was delighted to see my energy and humor come roaring back.  Friends started commenting that I already looked years younger!

And then came August, which, between my birthday and retirement, morphed into one long party.   I was getting calls, emails, and cards from clients and colleagues wishing me well in retirement.  I actually found myself a little over-stimulated (and having trouble sleeping) by all the excitement.  I kept expecting my own grief to kick in once I had to confront actually saying good-bye to colleagues I’d worked with for so long,

I had several retirement celebrations (official and unofficial) and I was surprisingly and genuinely happy at each of them.   It was a little like being at my own funeral and getting to hear the nice things people said about me.  Plus, I realized that I had made some really good friends that would carry over into my retirement life, so I wasn’t that sad about saying good-bye.  And I certainly wasn’t going to miss the job itself.

Most importantly, those four months gave me the chance to honor and appreciate the parts of my job, my company and my colleagues that I really loved and cherished.  So, on August 15, when I walked out the door, that spirit of disillusionment and burnout had been replaced by a spirit of gratitude and pride.  I know that, in corporate America today, few workers get the “gold watch” retirement send-off anymore.  Mine was pure gold, and for that I’ll be forever thankful.

Second Class Parents Weekend: My Brush with Bernoulli

To the surprise of no one that knows me, I have now definitively ruled out science or engineering as possible areas of interest for my post-retirement life.

This past weekend my husband and I were privileged to visit the US Naval Academy in Annapolis for 2/C Parents Weekend.  Our son is a Midshipman Second Class (2/C) (or Junior) and an Ocean Engineering major. This was the one time during his four years at USNA where we were allowed to tag along to classes and visit his dorm room.

I say “privileged” because we are always impressed by our visits to this beautiful campus and by the young men and women who inhabit it.  The start of 2/C year is a significant time for the Midshipmen; it is when they formally make a 5-year military commitment in exchange for their 4-year education.  Up until 2/C year, they can elect to leave USNA and incur no financial or military commitment.  The young people who choose to incur this obligation, particularly in time of war, humble me. And even though it scares the daylights out of me, I am proud of my son’s decision to make this commitment.

As a mom, I find it wonderful when my child surpasses me.  My son long ago passed me in height, and I would argue in personality and looks as well.  It was an extraordinary realization that my son grew up to be braver than me.  This weekend demonstrated that he has also left me in the dust in the brains department.

After I signing my liability release form, I boarded the YP for Periods 1 and 2, placing my lives in the hands of the Midshipmen crew

After I signing my liability release form, I boarded the YP for Periods 1 and 2, placing my life in the hands of the Midshipmen crew

Friday began with Navigation class.  As my exposure to navigation has been limited to Google Maps and Garmin, I was surprised to learn that we would be boarding a Yard Patrol (YP) boat.  Would there be skirmishes or pirate drills I wondered?  Onboard, I opted to position myself on the bridge, witnessing a scene that was part Gilligan’s island and part Star Trek.  The Mids took their positions while the Navy LT and the Chief of the Boat alternatively coached and barked orders at the Mids.  Our son was busily plotting positions on a map.  He seemed to know what he was doing and kept his cool under pressure and the Chief wasn’t yelling at him much.   And that’s about as much as I can say about what was going on.  There were no scuffles with enemies and we came back to port safely.

The next class was  ‘Materials” where the Mids worked a lab that required them to drop different metals in liquids and perform measurements.  I wasn’t completely clear what the metals were and what they were measuring, but I can happily report no explosions or injuries.

This makes total sense, just not to me

This makes total sense, just not to me

Following Materials we went to “Fluid Dynamics” and there the Croatian-born professor gave a mad scientist cadenced lecture on the Bernoulli Equation.  That’s when it became clear I was in over my head.  Between the warm room and the diagrams on the chalkboard, I nodded off several times.  I noticed my son’s head bobbing and I feared he was equally lost.   As far as I could tell, this was an overly complicated method to measure water pressure coming out of a hose.  But why couldn’t one just turn on the hose?  Don’t they have computer chips that measure these things?  After lunch, with my head ready to explode , I inquired of my son whether he was also having trouble following the lecture, to which he replied that he was simply “bored” because it was such “simple” subject matter.

After lunch in King Hall, we headed off to “Electrical Engineering” and were treated to a lecture and problem-solving on how to determine voltage, followed by another lab. The cool diagrams the professor projected onto the screen looked like the math problems in the back of the Southwest Airlines magazine (like Sudoku, that I almost always skip), where everything miraculously adds up, whether you go down, up or diagonal.  It was interesting that there are so many rules and assumptions that automatically render numbers negative and positive and equal; however, if a problem came up for me personally where I needed to determine voltage, I would simply call an electrician.

What did I learn this weekend?  That science and engineering are like foreign languages to me.   I am not a spacial thinker.  I have trouble putting a pizza box together.   I do not enjoy pondering such questions as the proof of why 0 is less than 1. I have a renewed respect for those who do.  Apparently, though, I have some recessive engineering genes that I passed on to my son.  Or at least my genes were smart enough that they didn’t cancel out my husband’s (who I know has solid technical genes).  My son can not only put a pizza box together, he is learning to build ocean structures, navigate ships and jets and understand the science.  It is baffling and incredible to me. He and his classmates are choosing to not only serve our country but to study the sciences at a time when many of the brightest minds in their generation are chasing business degrees in search of financial rewards.  Supporting him, therefore, has been my biggest contribution to science.

My Law School Reunion (Part 2): All Roads Lead to The Hut

Face it, one big reason why we go to reunions is to feel young again.  We return to the places where we spent our youth, surround ourselves with the people we were with, tell stories about how awesome we were, and try to recapture a bit of the old magic. In the case of my law school experience, all roads lead to The Hut.

The Hut was a little dive bar just down the road from the law library.   It was really pretty awful; it was old and in disrepair, never clean, with sawdust on the floor, an old juke box that sometimes worked, and a couple of jars with hard boiled eggs and giant pickles on the counter.  As far as I know, no one ever ate anything at The Hut.


Our beloved Santa Clara dive bar The Hut

But almost every night, after a stressful day of classes and then studying until the law library closed, we would head over to The Hut for a drink before going home.  On Fridays and Saturdays, it might be several.  There was a nicer bar called Lord John’s, even closer to the law school, but we felt like we had to behave ourselves there. I think I drank more alcohol during my law school career than any other time in my life.  And I’m not sure how I still managed to get my JD.

The Hut was where friendships were forged, romances blossomed, broken hearts tended, advice dispensed, and legends born.  Rumor had it that some people actually lived in The Hut when they couldn’t make rent or didn’t feel like driving home during finals.

On the first night of my reunion weekend, I took my husband on a walking tour of the campus, which has changed significantly since I graduated.  The campus has expanded with large modern buildings replacing many of the older smaller ones.  Between the changes and my spotty memory, I was feeling disoriented.  But then I saw it – the Hut – decrepit as ever, surrounded by gleaming new buildings and parking garages.  Like an old ball of dust the vacuum cleaner left behind.  Hallelujah!  Lord John’s was gone, but The Hut survived. I was surprised at the depths of my emotions upon spying that old crappy dive.

Naturally, our reunion was not complete without a trip to The Hut.  As was typical of my law school days, after our class dinner I walked over with several of the guys. (Since my law school class was only 30% women, most of my good friends were male.) When we arrived, the bar was packed, the music blaring, the beer overflowing.  Just like the old days.


The Nightcap after our Class Dinner —- where else but The Hut

Even though it was by this time well past my bedtime, I was determined to party like my 24-year-old self.  But after less than an hour of screaming to be heard at my 50-plus-year-old friends over loud hip hop (the old juke box full of Stones music was gone and it was unclear who was controlling the music but obviously not a 50-plus-year-old) and getting screamed back at, yet still missing 50% of the conversation, and with my sensory abilities further impaired by beer, I was really starting to miss my 55-year-old self.

Then occurred a collective moment of clarity when one of my classmates abruptly and piercingly announced “Enough!! Time for bed.”  We each breathed a great sigh of relief, said our good-byes and promised to meet at The Hut in another five years God willing.  I headed back to my 55-year-old world, better appreciating the wisdom and relative calm of middle age, but thankful for the brief return to my younger days and with a greater respect for the stamina and energy of youth.

My Law School Reunion – “Live Each Day to the Fullest”

I spent last weekend with my Santa Clara University law school classmates for our 30th reunion.  As a group, we’re a little older, a little grayer (or balder), a little heavier, and a little wiser than the last time we met for our 25th.   As is common for me after such events, I needed to come home and process all I saw and heard, and re-orient my brain around the new realities.  John Smith is now bald!  Sam Lee gained thirty pounds!  Terry Jones has been divorced three times!  Pat Johnson left the law firm and opened a winery! And sadly, we mourned the deaths of both students and faculty.


A picture of me at my graduation from law school in 1983

Having been officially retired for an entire three weeks by the time of the reunion, I came with perhaps a different perspective this time.   I wasn’t so much into the professional networking and career advice.  I was more interested in learning about what has been meaningful in people’s lives and what activities they are passionate about.

On Friday at the first event (a portrait unveiling) I sat next to my former Criminal Law professor, who completely intimidated me as a first-year law student.  She is still teaching but in the process of phased retirement.  Once I got over the long-ingrained terror of being in her presence, we had a lovely chat about my career and hers, my retirement and hers, Paris and the theatre.  We furtively exchanged notes during the portrait ceremony and I even slipped her my blog address (she thought the blog was a splendid idea).  It was gratifying to hear from her and other professors that they have a genuine contentment and personal satisfaction with teaching.  It is remarkable how many professors from my student days are still there and that is a credit to the law school.

The second day I met the new Dean of the law school,  who is the first female Dean.  She was a bundle of energy and warmth.  I shared my memories of my law school experience as well as a 3-minute recap of my career, specialty area and retirement status, and she immediately suggested two or three activities that I could do in connection with the law school and that all sounded frankly interesting.   Some involved mentoring, others developing programs in my subject matter expertise area.  In her prepared remarks, she gave a “state of the law school” and shared that class size is down as prospective students are more critically looking at the cost of a law school education (the class of 2013 was averaging about $120K in debt) and deciding that the end result is not worth it.  Partnered with the fact that the law school has a strong mission toward training lawyers who will give back to the community and not just look to the financial rewards of the profession.  The former Dean therefore kicked in a record amount of financial aid in order to attract a quality incoming class.

Prior to dinner on Saturday night, the keynote speaker was Leon Panetta, a 1963 law school graduate, who was attending his own 50th reunion, I have met Mr Panetta in the past (I bumped into him on the way to fetch another cocktail at my 25th reunion), followed his career, and have the utmost respect for him.  He has served as U.S. Congressman, White House Chief of Staff, Director of OMB and Director of the CIA. Most recently, he was the Secretary of Defense (and thus my son’s boss!) under President Obama.  He and his wife Sylvia established the Panetta Institute for Public Policy in Monterey. At our event, he spoke candidly on a wide range of topics, including the state of Washington, DC and the crisis in Syria.

Mr. Panetta’s personal testimony is what I found most compelling.  He is the son of poor Italian immigrants.  His father owned a small restaurant in Monterey.  Mr. Panetta worked hard and embodied the American Dream while staying true to his principles.  His life work was one of service to our country.  His charge to himself was and is to live each day to the fullest and to make the most of his God-given talents and skills to make a difference in the world.  He observed that our country is at a critical juncture at a time where we have a crisis in leadership. He pointed out that each day the men and women of our military put their lives on the line to serve our country and their families often pay the ultimate sacrifice.   His charge to us was to also give back, and that we too should feel an obligation to our communities and to use our legal training to effect positive change.

My weekend thus far had reminded me that whatever I decide to do next, my activities need to include at least some that are larger than myself, that will work toward change in the world.  My Crim Law professor observed that many of the retirees she knew tended to limit their world to their immediate families after retirement.  I want to challenge myself to expand my world.  I have committed to not commit for a year…but I am starting a list of ideas for ways I can serve that will best use my skills and interests. And things that will bring me a sense of satisfaction and contentment.

Of course, then it was time for the wine reception and class dinner, and that’s where the rubber meets the road.   What has our class been doing…and how have we served our world?  There were some cautionary tales (divorces, alcohol, early death) to be told along with endearing tales of friendship.  But mainly that’s where we reconnected and renewed our relationships,  re-lived the old days, drank a little too much,  laughed at ourselves and had great fun. But I’ll save that for another post……

The Great Experiment: Early Retirement…….or Now What?!

Since I am looking at this first year of retirement as a science experiment, I harken back to high school science where we were required to write up our experiments using a prescribed format.  Now this is bringing back bad memories as I passed chemistry by the skin of my teeth, and only due to the patience and competence of my lab partner Charmaine (who went on to be an RN I later heard).   But pushing qualms aside in the name of good scientific discipline:

Experiment Name:  Betsy’s Early Retirement


  1. To finish clean-up projects around the house that have been kicked down the road for too many years;
  2. To learn how to “do” retirement happily; and
  3. To discover rewarding activities that feed me physically, spiritually and emotionally (and perhaps financially).


  1. To avoid driving my husband OR myself crazy, OR finding myself right back on the “busy” hamster (or guinea pig to keep the science imagery going) wheel doing pointless stupid activities that provide no satisfaction or compensation for my time, which would be even worse than my old job (at least I used to get paid)

Hypotheses:  By the end of the year, my lack of a specific or well-thought-out plan for retirement or any detectable notable skills or hobbies will propel me to:

  1. Get involved in one or more volunteer, non-profit or part-time work activities that will get me out of the house and provide social interaction and an outlet for my energy but provide enough flexibility to do trips and travel; OR
  2. Stumble across some presently unknown skill or hobby which will prove all-consuming and will lead me to become, for example, the next Barefoot Contessa (cooking) or Patty Sheehan (golf) or finally win the Valley Beautiful award for our house (gardening); OR
  3. Beg for my corporate job back after we spend all of our money and/or drive each other crazy.

Equipment:  I will be heavily relying on my support system: my husband, son, and therapist, our financial advisor, my friends, my church community, Rick Steves, the Laughing Chicks (you know who you are) and my Book Club.  I will also be tapping into our Wine Club stash as a resource.

Procedure:   I set up a short framework or  “To Do List” for myself this year that I intend to complete:

  1. Visit Paris for the first time with my husband (a life-long dream!)
  2. Clean out the garage and a storage shed (the much-deferred clean-up projects that will be painful and God-awful but liberating to complete)
  3.  Inventory my deceased parents’ belongings (in said garage and storage shed), work out with my brothers what to keep and what goes to who,  and get rid of the rest
  4. Pack up the parental items for my brothers in our new SUV and…..
  5. Do a Route 66 driving trip with my husband (another life-long dream) to deliver the goods (first stop…St Louis!)
  6. Determine what our next big trip will be and when
  7. Rest and recover from the corporate world!

Beyond that, I will go with the flow, open myself up to new experiences, not make any commitments for a year and purposely let things evolve.  Stay tuned for observations and results!   (Now you see why I wasn’t so good at Chemistry…..I usually had no earthly idea what was going to happen in our experiments.)

A New Dawn – What I did My First Day of Retirement

In some ways, I had two “first” days of retirement.  My last day at work was a Thursday, so Friday was my first official day of retirement. I was happy to be free of my job and I wanted to do something special to commemorate the event.   Awhile back, I saw an ad campaign; I believe for Ameriprise Financial , that featured photos people took of the sunrise on their first day of retirement.  I thought that was pretty cool, so I filed the idea in the back of my head (the back of my head is a scary place) for “someday.”

A new dawn – sunrise on August 16, 2015, my first official day of retirement

When that “someday” actually came, I convinced my husband to go with me at sunrise to some hills overlooking the other side of our town facing east.  We researched the time of sunrise, scoped out the perfect spot for a photo, packed up a camera and tripod and then rolled out of bed at 0-dark thirty and drove to the spot.  And I didn’t even have a cup of coffee to fuel this insanity.

My fashion choice for the day was the the “Free At Last “T-Shirt I presented to my father before my wedding in 1988

For the special event, I chose to wear a t-shirt that read “Free At Last – Fathers Day 1988.”  This was a shirt that I gave my father (now deceased) the night before our wedding (which was a Fathers Day weekend).  He had been so proud of my career and me and, besides the event-appropriate freedom message, it was a meaningful way to include my parents in this celebration even though they are no longer here.

Of course, what we failed to take into account in our sunrise calculations was that the sun came up behind some peaks to the northeast, making sunrise about 30 minutes later at our particular spot.  That meant coming up with all sorts of novel ways to entertain ourselves on a road in the hills above town at dawn.  Luckily this was CA in summer so braving the elements was not a concern.  One diversion was taking practice pictures of me jumping for joy with the sunrise in the background…timing it just right for the camera shutter.  After doing about 20 of them I was exhausted, but I got a couple of shots that really made me laugh.

Synchronized jumping – should be considered at the next Senior Olympics!

After we got our shots, we went home and back to sleep.  Later I prepared for a girls weekend beach trip, so Friday ultimately felt more like the start of a 3-day weekend than the first day of retirement.

Monday was therefore, in my opinion, my real “first” day of retirement, and here was my agenda (all times are estimates since I quickly lost track of time):

  • 8:30 AM…Wake up
  • 9:00 AM…Check my calendar to see if there is anything on it (force of habit – there wasn’t)
  • 9:30 AM…Eat oatmeal (made by my husband) with my husband
  • 10:30 – 11:30 AM…Sort through stuff I brought home from office
  • 11:30 AM….Throw 90% of it away
  • Noon….Check Facebook and send email to my friends at work just to irritate them
  • 12:30  PM….Eat peanut butter & jelly sandwich I made myself (gold star)
  • 1:00 PM…Clean out my closet
  • 3:00 PM….Take a nap.

Note:  Around 4:00, I was going to start working on our itinerary for our upcoming Paris trip but my husband suggested we go for an early walk and then drink margaritas in the pool in the rafts with cup-holders that we recently discovered in our garage, which sounded like a much better use of my time.  Planned agenda aborted.

All in all, it was a surprisingly busy day “doing nothing.”   I did feel like I got some things accomplished.  There wasn’t the adrenaline rush of closing on a big new business deal, but a satisfaction in a  having the luxury to do one thing at a time at a slower pace and focus.  I always felt like I was juggling 30 balls in my job.

Post-script:  My husband made the margaritas a tad strong…so the day was ended with both of us passed out on the couch after watching the CBS evening news with Scott Pelley.  Three cheers for the old boring folks!