The Obligatory Farewell Party

The funny thing about the last few weeks of employment is that people suddenly come out of the woodwork to make suggestions that are now clearly too late to implement and could’ve been made any time at all within the last thirteen years. I know they mean for them to be helpful hints for me to use while training my replacement but I find myself wondering if a lot of what I’ve accomplished in my career is viewed as very-nice-but-could’ve-been-better. Okay, yes, I’m probably overly sensitive in my last few weeks but I can’t possibly be the only one who’s left a career wondering if anything they did for their length of time in the organization made any difference.

I’m also aware that just as there are many people I’ve been cordial to but won’t particularly miss, I’m quite sure the feeling is mutual. So if they’re not going to miss me, I’d rather not have a party where they feel like they have to show up because someone (whether me or the CEO) might notice their absence.

Retirement cake blunderI found this photo of someone’s cake to be hilarious but it also aptly sums up my aversion to the obligatory retirement party and, presented with a date for my own staff farewell party, I politely declined and said I’d just as soon leave quietly (that in itself will be novel to most of my co-workers).

Every retirement party I’ve attended in the last thirteen years has had the same format and it goes something like this:

  1. An email invitation is sent to most of the company’s employees inviting them to attend the going-away party.
  2. A lot of people who’d rather finish their work, take the time to saunter over.
  3. A conference room is set up with soft drinks, cake and maybe cookies or fruit.
  4. Everyone sits around the conference table and waits for someone to say something.
  5. The retiree is eventually asked about a favorite work story. Everyone listens politely and nods approvingly but really has no connection to the memory.
  6. Another awkward silence ensues until someone asks if anyone has a good story about the retiree.
  7. Having finally run out of pithy comments and stories, the retiree is given a gift. In our case, it has often been a crystal vase with the company logo on it – nice, but I probably won’t want to spend my meager Social Security funds on bouquets of flowers.
  8. A final thank-you-for-your-service is voiced and then a few people grab refreshments and the rest head back to their work stations, having fulfilled their duty.

I think this tradition needs to go. Too many people feel like they have to show up because they know the retiree knows it was sent out to most of the departments and they think they have to attend because she will notice if they’re not there. I believe the people who actually give a damn will stop by and say goodbye. And that’s enough.

Sabotage the Butterfly

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“Dying at your desk is not a retirement plan.” Thomas Heath- Washington Post

Maybe not, but I know many people my age who, as much as they say they want the easy life of no alarm clock and not answering to anyone any more, still manage to remain in the job year after year after year. “Retirement” is a wonderful concept until you sit down and really think about all that it involves, both the known and, more important, the scary unknown. Which side occupies your every waking hour? How long can you hold out and avoid the metamorphosis to retiree and major life change?

I have a friend who worked at a small firm for almost twenty years. When the owner decided to cut costs, he first fired her and then offered to hire her back for less money, less hours and less benefits. I was mystified as to why she’d even contemplate the offer but she took it. As it turns out, the thought of change was (and is) scarier to her than the horrific circumstances she was already in. She opted for the known over the unknown.

I have been through many career incarnations and always figure that even if the new job turns out to be terrible, it’s not likely to be worse than the one I’m leaving. And if it is, I’ll have some time to find something else. Yes, you sacrifice seniority and vacation time when you do that but you salvage your peace of mind. That always won out for me. My friend told me once that every time I moved on to a new job, the thought of it made her a little sick.

But then we get to retirement – THE REALLY BIG CHANGE.  I can sit back and steadfastly refuse to change or I can hope I become the butterfly. I’m at the stage where I sort of look forward to it on the one hand, and sort of worry about it on the other. Today, looking forward is winning. I hope it stays that way as the reality looms closer.

Another concern – probably the main concern – is money. In my years as a dancer, we didn’t have things like retirement plans and I spent every dime I made. By the time I focused on the fact that I was aging and needed to start thinking about saving, it was pretty late in my working life. So I’ve managed to pull it together somewhat, but not comfortably. Even so, it’s hard to alter routines and lifelong habits in order to squirrel away enough money to live comfortably. I read a quote by a retiree named Fritz Gilbert who said, “Not making a decision is still making a decision. Spend the money to buy that ‘thing’ and you’ve made a decision to work longer.” I guess that all depends on what that “thing” is. If you’re looking at a boat or new living room furniture then yes, you’ll probably sabotage an early retirement.  But my “things” are smaller – mostly Starbucks coffee on the weekends and a couple of magazine subscriptions. I think I can probably swing it. Nevertheless, retirement is looming and I’m keeping my eye on the butterfly and hoping to make it a colorful one.