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.”
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.