Every time I’ve thought about the concept of retirement, my thoughts would drift towards the great Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. Those thoughts are especially vivid after hearing the sad news he passed away this weekend.
Why Niekro? My wife and I were in the stands on Sept. 27, 1987 when he pitched in his last game. It was at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. CNN employees at the time were granted tickets to two Braves games each season because the company owned the team. Atlanta was as much in love with Niekro as he was with the city and team, for which he pitched for a quarter century. That’s why it hurt so much when the Braves released him in 1983. He ended up with the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays for but longed to return to the Braves. When he was 48, the Braves, maybe feeling guilty for their premature jettisoning the pitching legend and fan favorite, offered Niekro the chance to pitch one last game as a Brave.
It was the last game of the season for the non-contending Braves and we knew this would be it for Niekro regardless of the outcome. He started fine, but the game rapidly got out of hand against the playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. Then, in the third inning, Braves manager Chuck Tanner slowly walked out to the mound, put his arm on Niekro’s shoulders and told him he didn’t want him to be the losing pitcher. There was a long ovation, but it was over. A man’s life’s work done, and that always got to me.
Throughout my working life I always thought what that would be like to punch out, walk away, say goodbye and never again do what I’d done for so many years. Would I be sad relieved, feel bereft, rudderless, miss the routine, miss the people, miss the work, become a pain in the ass to my wife who was used to me being away during the day, and many, many nights on the road? Did Niekro have those same thoughts as he took in the crowd’s long ovation wondering what the hell was next?
It turns out, that when I retired in 2016 I had none of those thoughts. The truth is, I was glad to walk out of Fiat Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Mich. headquarters for the last time. Oh, I would miss my wonderful team, because any success I had during my 11 years there I had because of them, their friendship and support. But I felt like I’d completed my task, Had many successes, overcame tons of challenges and more that anything, owed my family time I spent away chasing stories as a reporter and on business trips for the automakers. Bottom line is, I felt great. Swiped my badge for the last time, took a deep breath, called my wife and told her “we’re retired, let’s have some fun.”
The one thought I never had, though, was that I would never again do the kind of work I always enjoyed. I love writing, and learning, and writing about what I’ve learned in both my careers as a reporter and corporate communications team leader. I just didn’t love doing it full time anymore and so I’ve spent the last four-plus years taking on some freelance work in both camps working as much or as little as I like. I don’t do it to make a living, I do it because it’s fun, stimulating and natural. Indeed, Niekro continued to contribute to the Braves as a mentor, allowing him to stay around the game.
No one put their arm around me as I spent my final moments working full time but I did enjoy a very heartfelt send off that I will always cherish and think about more than you might believe.
But that day, July 28, 2016, when I left the building and headed for my car in the parking deck, I guess that’s sort of equivalent to the late Mr. Niekro walking off the mound heading for the clubhouse. Thoughts of what we both just left behind fresh and raw, but knowing neither of us was washed up. Sure, we walked away, but not too far.
RIP Phil Niekro.
I’m retired, but I’m not totally retired. I’m retired from full-time work, but I do some freelance things which means I’m not interested in climbing the corporate ladder and I certainly don’t care about a better title or office with its own bathroom. So it makes things a little tricky when I’m at an event that includes time for networking.
Oh….don’t get me wrong. It’s not difficult for me. I’m always happy to make new friends. I don’t even need benefits. Plus, networking has served me very well in finding freelance gigs. But it sure sucks for the non-retirees who made the mistake of striking up a conversation in hopes they’ve made a new connection that will result in new business or the inside track on a better job.
Take, for instance, an event I attended this week. The networking breakfast lasted an entire hour before the main presentation. I grab some food and coffee and camp out at a high-top table with three seats. I’m a sitting network duck. A guy aims his two-blue lasers at me, pivots to the empty seats and gamely asks, “these seats taken?” Me being a wiseass reply, “only by a layer of dust, but I’m sure it won’t mind if you sit on it.” The guy is intrigued and sits anyway. Oh boy, I’m guess I’m gonna get networked. We introduce ourselves and he stops and gives me an appraising look before asking the inevitable question, “So what is it you do?”
My answer always stops ‘em at square one. “Oh, whatever the hell I want,” I reply with a smile. “I’m semi-retired!” His face drops as he thinks to himself, “oh shit, now I’m stuck with a guy who’s useless to me and my career until I can find a graceful way to escape.” I know this and amuse myself with that thought.
He seems like a nice guy so I get a little serious and explain that I freelance as a journalist and also work as a consultant for a PR firm. The guy looks a little happier although it’s obvious we have no common ground.
I, of course, know networking protocol, and make the required inquiry as to his line of work. “I’m in real estate. Commercial real estate.” An excellent profession. Now, hoping to justify wasting 10 minutes with me he gives it his best shot, asking me, “so where’s your office?” I love this one because I get to shatter his last hope by responding, “My basement. It’s awesome. Has a window that looks out into the woods, a microwave and a bathroom four steps away.”
Poor guy is ready to eject from his stool and uses the excuse I certainly have used many times. “Well, I’m gonna go get some more coffee.” He gets up and thinks he’s done with me. I decide to give him a scare. “Hey, me too!” But I’m not a complete jerk. I hang back and let him make his escape.
I actually do refill my coffee, grab a pastry and return to my high-top perch. I’m on reset. Here comes another one. “Hi! My name is Ralph, what do you do?” I go through the act, thoroughly disappointing him and this time it takes only 3 minutes before we both decide we need refills.
But this being a sort of game for me, I know I won’t always win. I see an old friend and we start to catch up. A woman who knew my friend pops by and I’m introduced. I have a feeling about this one. She’s looks really confident, and happy… and is carrying an empty coffee cup. “Oh, what do you do?” she asks, half expecting me to bullshit her with a fancy executive title. But being honest, as well as a wiseass I give her my stock reply. “Whatever I want. I’m semi-retired.” She half smiles, gives me a knowing look and says, with a conspiratorial air, “Me too. But the coffee is free and I need a refill.” “I do too!” I gratefully respond. “Damn right,” she says.
I just can’t seem to do this correctly. Three years this week I walked out of my last full-time job, took a breath of free air as I exited the Fiat Chrysler Automobile headquarters tower and looked ahead to a well-earned retirement filled with doing whatever the hell I wanted to do…and whatever my wife wants me to do.
That lasted three months. First Automotive News and said they could use someone with my network (CNN) news experience on a part-time basis to assist with their video operation. Fun while it lasted. It lasted a year and 10 months. Was only a max of 29 hours a week and I rarely put in that many. Perfectly fine balance of a little work, a lot of spare time.
About a year ago that job ended, which was fine. I mentioned it on Linkedin and within a day or three, I was offered two more part-time gigs–as a consultant at Franco PR and as a contributor at Forbes.com. Both great organizations. Both fun positions and both as freelancers, which was important. No desire to get sucked into a corporate bureaucracy again matched with a strong desire to keep using my skills in the service of respected companies.
A couple of months ago, one of my hockey buddies asked if I was open to a little freelance writing for his company that’s building a website for a client. Oh, what the hell. That sounded like fun too. Add that one to my roster of retirement recreations.
If you’re keeping score, my “retirement” is now up to three gigs. They’re all fun and rewarding and then out of nowhere I received an email from someone at Forbes that I’ve been promoted from “contributor” to “Senior contributor.” She said it was a reward for doing good work. Well, that made me smile, because there’s so much ageism in the workplace today, so it was a nice feeling to think even as I’m closer to 70 than 60 someone, I’m sure much younger, thinks an ol’ scribe like me still has something to offer and it’s pretty decent. It’s that sort of small gesture that gives you the confidence you haven’t lost too many steps, and in fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve picked up the pace since I’m now working for myself and because I want to, and thankfully, not need to.
I’ve been very lucky in my work life as a journalist and communications executive working for mainly large, respected companies and never feeling what I was doing was actually work, but rather very rewarding fun.
It’s no wonder, then, I can’t seem to totally retire. And besides…if I keep working, even just a little, maybe I’ll earn another promotion! Heh..maybe I AM doing retirement right!.
Two years after “retiring” I now have two new jobs. Both part-time but still, it ain’t exactly lounging on the beach, or playing golf with the other alta cockers or pushing a shuffleboard stick at a condo in Florida.
Regular followers already know I’ve been contributing to Forbes.com since the end of July. Today, the super official news release went out about my new gig…with the big boy pants title of Integrated Media Consultant at one of Detroit’s leading public relations agencies, Franco PR.
A reasonable person might ask, “what the hell’s the matter with you? You’re retired!” Let me clear that up. I retired from full-time work. I didn’t retire from wanting to use my skills, from creating, from collaborating with smart, creative, courageous people, from being excited at accomplishing something that fills me with pride and self-esteem. So now I have the best of all worlds. I’m old enough to retire from the full-time rat race but not too old to stop moving forward.
I did give full retirement a shot for about three months when I first left Fiat Chrysler but I got so bored I almost longed for a staff meeting. Almost. Well. Never. Then my series of part-time things began and that was just right.
I have just enough free time to be either of use, or annoyance to my wife and family, to go play hockey, paddle in my kayak, jump on my bike, scare myself on the ski slopes and bang on my drums and guitar and still be able to write for Forbes.com to maintain my reporting and writing chops and advise the awesome team at Franco that’s so skilled and open to new tricks..even from an old dog, who’s open to learning new things too.
A little work. A little play. Most afternoons around 3 p.m.? A tall glass of Jack on the rocks. Retirement? Nah..It’s living.
July 29, 2016 was the last day I spent as a full-time employee anywhere. I swiped my badge one more time to activate the revolving door that released me to breathe free air for the first time since 1973. Remember what George Costanza said when Seinfeld et.al wondered what happened when George told them his ex-girlfriend who left him because she was a lesbian went back to him? Yup. “It didn’t take!”
Oh, I tried it for three months and took a part-time job at Automotive News. It was a nice little job but the work dried up and so did my employment there. All good. I figured I’d just go back to retirement. But I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I notified the world on Linkedin I was free again, really just to explain why I was updating my profile. But friends came a-callin’ and offered me opportunities. I politely explained I’m trying to be retired, sort of, and would not accept any full-time employment. “Good!” they said. “We only need some freelance help. Make your own schedule. Work from home. Work from a bar. We don’t care!” Shit. I just can’t get this retirement thing right.
So I happily accepted the offer to become a “contributor” to Forbes.com. That means I don’t really work there. I just, um, contribute. It’s always nice to make a contribution, even if it’s not tax deductible. But it means writing for a prestigious news organization and maybe someone will read what I wrote and I’ll be satisfied.
Other people have approached me about writing, doing public relations, media training–all the stuff I know how to do. I might actually take on more duties…but only part-time. Hmm..all this part-time stuff could become a full-time commitment… to not retiring.
When my father turned the same age as me, he and my mother did what’s expected of people in their late 60’s. They sold the place in New York, moved to Florida, he became an officer on the condo board and captain of the shuffleboard team, my mother played mah jong with the yentas at the pool and didn’t do a lick of work, beyond harassing the board president that the water in the pool is too cold.
Me? I play ice hockey all year ’round. Not with other alta cockers but guys in their 20’s through 50’s. Maybe one other guy in his 60’s but he only shows up in odd numbered years. Can you imagine your retired parents playing ice hockey? On ice? On skates? Maybe on nitro glycerine. I ski. In the cold. On skis. Down a hill. My wife and I kayak on actual water in a river. But we never play shuffleboard. There are no shuffleboard courts I know of in Michigan. Don’t make fun. My father, who was a chemical engineer, very seriously explained what a game of strategy shuffleboard played properly is.
What’s the issue here? When I left Fiat Chrysler people wished me a nice retirement. My team bought me lunch and made a video telling me what a great boss I was. There was pizza in the conference room. Then I screwed it up and didn’t retreat to the golf course or hammock or oblivion. If my parents were alive today I think they would wonder if I’m a little mishugah. I can hear my mother now. “Edwooood! You’re retired! Are ya nuts? Relax! Sit by the pool and pee in the deep end.”
Just doesn’t seem to be working…because I keep working…but it never feels like working. It feels like fun..especially when it’s not to make a living, but to keep on living. And if I ever decide to take my later mother’s advice and pee in the deep end…I’ll never post it on Linkedin, but watch out Instagram!
One of the cool benefits of my particular health plan in retirement is something called “Silver Sneakers.” One of the things I hate about that cool benefit is the name “Silver Sneakers.” Silver Sneakers gives you free entree’ into a number of health club chains around the country with the intent of enticing you to exercise more and lowering health care costs. What really gives me grey hair is the association of the color silver with those of us who have taken a certain number of trips around the sun.
First of all, I have never worn sneakers that are silver nor do I intend to. I may have a couple of silver-y grey hairs, but not enough to notice…especially after I pull them out.
Second, it may be time to call in a metallurgist to suss out exactly which precious metal is in play. How can people in their so-called “golden” years simultaneously come under the classification of “silver.” Perhaps Charles Darwin missed the evolutionary process whereby at at 65 or so you become an alloy.
Third, “silver” denotes second place. Who won gold?
Further, when you think of how many retirees pursue carcinomas under the Florida sun it’s possible to carry a Silver Sneakers card during one’s golden years while being bronzed.
Personally, I would prefer to be identified with a much stronger metal such as steel or titanium, not a malleable milquetoast such as tin or aluminum. How cool would it be to see an AARP ad hawking benefits of membership during your “Kickass Steel Years,” Those are the years when you say exactly how you feel, tell poolside mah jong yentas to put a cork in it and berate Izzy the deli guy about how fatty the pastrami was, in front of all his customers…all without a hint of regret or self-consciousness. Yeah…time for us codgers to kick a little brass.
I guess what I’m saying is we may be getting older but we’re still in the game playing hard. We’re less silver or gold than Iron men and women..who haven’t nearly lost our mettle.
This week marks a year since I retired. It also marks eight months since I retired from retiring, although only partially. When I swiped my badge for the last time after 11 years at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on July 29, 2016 I took a deep breath as I imagined a freed prisoner having done hard time would do, inhaling fresh air and marveling in the blue sky and bright sun. My lockups had been conference rooms and stuffy offices. My shackles were a corporate culture where too many employees cared about the size of their workspaces rather than the quality of their work…with the bold exception of my amazing FCA Digital Media team…the best in the business.
Now, all I had to navigate were the aisles of the supermarket with my wife who, like a field general, marched us from meat to melons to milk plundering the shelves and making a beeline to the checkout unscathed by less focused shoppers, meandering with their carts with no purpose or strategy. We emerged the victors every single time reveling in many dollars of coupon savings. We went out to lunch and paddled the Huron River, hiked nearby trails and took roadtrips. There was no schedule, no Outlook calendar entries, no meetings or town halls. There was only all the time in the world to do whatever, whenever. We ate dinner as a family every single night and spent every night together. It was perfect. It was retirement. It was too good to last.
It ended on October 17th. That’s the day I began a part-time job at Automotive News on their video team. We would say I was now, “semi-retired” which means you work a little..in my case a max of 29 hours a week, have no career aspirations other than keeping your nose clean, doing a great job and having some fun while you earn a few bucks to pay your Medicare and bourbon bills. When you show up people seem happy. When you need to take a day off for one thing or another, no one minds and when you offer some insight based on many years of experience, it’s appreciated. Sometimes I show my age with some timeworn reference and my younger colleagues give me crap, but it’s all in fun because they know I have no interest in their jobs. They work a full damned week! I have every Friday off and most any other day if I need one. Maybe the best part of it all is having a chance to continue to do the kind of work I’ve enjoyed for so many years, but in much smaller bites. Most days I’m home by 2 or 3 and rarely, if ever, miss dinner. I still play ice hockey once in awhile and mow my own lawn.
I’m no Rockefeller (timeworn reference) but we’re comfortable, so it’s not about the paycheck. The currency I crave comes in denominations of relevance, sharing, team work, curiosity, social connection and fun.
I don’t know when I’ll make the move back from “semi” to full retirement. Right now I’m having too much fun..and I’m still around enough to push the shopping cart for my wife at the supermarket, lug the heavy jugs of milk and juice, and reach some items on the top shelves..on my tippy toes.
It’s been a week since I swiped my badge for the last time and walked out of Corporate America into the nebulous world called “retirement.” One savvy co-worker with a “no shit” attitude called it straight. “You’re not really ‘retiring,’ you’re just walking out the door and quitting!” Technically that’s true. Philosophically it isn’t since I’m not seeking full-time work but would be open to a thing now and again just to keep my brain sharp and my annoying self out of my wife’s hair in between bike rides, kayak paddles, bourbons on the patio and pushing the shopping cart at Kroger.
What have I learned after one week of intentional unemployment? I learned I missed the convenient ATM at work but not the over-cologned colleagues who always seemed to be standing just ahead of me on the escalator in an effort to cause “death by olfactory overload.” I learned that telling people you’ve retired causes immediate glances at your legs to see if they’re being held up by either a tripod, long loaf of French bread or cane signed by your erstwhile co-workers. Just because you retire does not mean you’ve given up your ambulatory rights.
It took only 17 minutes to tire of people cracking that I would now be eating dinner at 4 p.m., placing my teeth in a glass each night or would become a shuffleboard savant. I’ll have you know my late father was captain of the 3-time champion Buttonwood shuffleboard team in Greenacres, Fla. and taught me the intricacies of the game which includes blasting the other team’s discs into what’s known as “the kitchen”–the dreaded 10-off trapezoid.
I learned that utilizing senior discounts is not a stigma, but rather an excuse to say “nyah, nyah” to young punks stuck paying full price.
I learned Millennials is just another name for “Generation C”–C standing for “Ciphers.” Indeed, one former co-worker of that ilk said he could accomplish more but just “didn’t have the bandwidth” at this time. Or any discernable skills. In my brief retirement I let that sink in before pouring another bourbon to help me forget it.
I suppose I’ll learn a lot more as time passes and my full-time working life fades into distant memory. Of course there are people I will miss and those I regret missing–with every round. But the bottom line is so far I’m enjoying the time with my family even if every time I appear unexpectedly I hear one of them whisper, “he’s still here!”
On this, my second “work” day of retirement I made a discovery. A high number of men did not show up for work today in the metro Detroit area because they were all, with me, at the House of Electronic Worship known as Micro Center. There was not one woman there. I’ll bet they don’t even have a Women’s Rest Room. Every aisle was jammed with walking testosterone depositories, some who may have needed suppositories because their cheeks were so tightened with arousal over the deals on hard drives, HDMI cables, giant screen TVs and assorted parts, blank media and mini LED flashlights. The check out line snaked for 50 feet looking like LA’s 405 in rush hour–shopping carts filled with electronic things, things you plug in, turn on, set, reset, recharge. In this holy of holies of electromagnet forces size matters. The size of the screen in your cart, size of your RAM, size of your lens, length of your data contract. I left completely spent even though I spent a measly 30 bucks on a cable and a keyboard…the keyboard this post is being written on. Do you feel its power? It’s USB power? It’s OK..it’ll wear off…as soon as I power down.