Thursday, April 6, 2017

Perspective


I’m reading a short book translated and edited by Phillip Freeman:  How to Grow Old, Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.  How ancient?  It was written by Cicero in 45 BC.  He was in his early 60’s at the time, so I don’t know how accurate that “second half of life” thing was.  Anyway, this passage caught my eye: 

Yet I suspect that you are troubled by the same political events of our day that are causing me such anxiety. 

I think it was Mark Twain that said, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”  This rhymes for me.
   
I found some more recent rhymes in Presidential Anecdotes, by Paul F. Boller, Jr.  The revised edition that I read was published in 1996, so it only goes through Bill Clinton, but there are some interesting nuggets to help give perspective on our current political situation.

I’m struck with the notion that we’ve had more bad presidents than good ones.  Here’s my read:

·         Washington – great.
·         Adams #1 – overshadowed by Washington.
·         Jefferson – good.
·         Madison – “…not a great President, but one of America’s great statesmen.” (p.45)
·         Monroe – respectable, but not a lot happened on his watch.
·         Adams #2 – probably a better as a post-president than a president.
·         Jackson – popular but rough.
·         Van Buren – a waffler.
·         Harrison #1 – dead after one month.
·         Tyler -- anti-federalist veto-er.
·         Polk – effective but not popular.
·         Taylor – good soldier, bad president.  Died two years into office from effects from heat when laying the cornerstone for the Washington Monument on 7/4/1850.
·         Fillmore – well…his wife installed the White Houses’ first bathtub.
·         Pierce – northern man who supported the institution of slavery.  Helped to bring about the civil war.
·         Buchanan – last on the watch before the civil war.
·         Lincoln – great but not exactly seen that way in his day.
·         Johnson – “Andrew Johnson’s presidency was a failure” (p. 147).  Enough said.
·         Grant – great man bad president.
·         Hayes – ineffective.
·         Garfield – assassinated early in term.
·         Arthur – good, but not popular.  Not re-elected.
·         Cleveland – an honest man! (page 179)
·         Harrison #2 – didn’t get along with Congress.
·         McKinley – Kind.  Killed in office.
·         Roosevelt, TR – Bigger than life.
·         Taft – Bigger than Roosevelt (around the middle, anyway).  Fair to middling as to accomplishments.
·         Wilson – Racist but good president.
·         Harding – Nice man, bad president.
·         Coolidge – in the helm at the run-up to the great depression.  Slept eleven hours a day – nine or ten hours at night and a two-hour to four-hour nap.
·         Hoover – good pre-president and post-president but not effective in his term (which was 1929 – 1933 for crying out loud!).
·         Roosevelt, FD – one the greatest.
·         Truman – decisive.  His stock is now high but it wasn’t in his time.
·         Eisenhower – a great general and probably a more effective president than he was given credit for.
·         Kennedy – too short a term.
·         Johnson – crude but effective.  Brought down by Viet Nam.
·         Nixon – sheesh!
·         Ford – nice man.  Kind of palette cleanser.
·         Carter – a great ex-president.
·         Regan – celebrated, but ran up the debt.  Time will tell.
·         Bush #1 – good public servant and better than Bush #2.
·         Clinton – you know.

Read the book yourself and see what you think, but I look at the list and see only a handful of leaders who made a difference and in most cases, they served in extraordinary times.  The rest of the time, it seems like the country muddled through with or in spite of whomever was at the helm.

In most cases the executive branch has not been that influential.  Here’s a quote (page 264) from historian Henry Adams to Franklin Roosevelt when Franklin was Assistant Secretary of the Navy:

“Young man, I have lived in this house many years and seen occupants of the White House across the square come and go, and nothing you minor officials or the occupant of that house can do will affect the history of the world for long!”  

Kind of re-assuring.

Things are different now than they ever have been with instant access to news and non-news, changes to executive powers and the like.  When I was first out of college, wise friend told me that politics follows a pendulum.  A swing to the far right or left, always comes back center.   

Here’s hoping that for the good of future generations, we can swing back to some kind of balance that takes civilization forward in the coming years and decades.  It may take the next generation to do that, though.  Stay tuned.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Retirement Finish Line -- Part IV, Finale


At retirement plus four months, this topic seems boring and cloying. But let me finish it off.  Here some excepts from my notes of what now seems like someone else's life.
Retirement is an adjustment and more and more people who have been retired for a while tell me that it "takes time."  I can vouch for that, but I don't think that means years.  At four months, I think I'm getting there.
*******
Friday, July 15, 2016 – 8.7 workweeks to go; 18 calendar weeks to go
It’s interesting to me that people get a vicarious thrill on my coming retirement.  “When’s the date, Dan?”  I guess it’s like the way I used to get a vicarious thrill out of the last day of school for my daughters each year.  I couldn’t take the whole summer off, but I could virtually enjoy that event and the sense of freedom through them.   I guess that’s what people are doing by tracking my approach to the finish line -- virtually experiencing freedom by tracking my progress.
Friday, August 5, 2016 – 17 weeks, 41 workdays to go

As I transition out, it hard for people to see that I’m doing just that – transitioning out, not checking out.
I think “checking out” is the lens through which people view someone who has announced his or her retirement.  Managers don’t know what to do because they lose power over someone whose time is short.  Performance appraisals, raises or the lack of raises no longer influence behavior.   As I transition out of my long-term responsibilities, direct reports and others can see me as checking out.  I think it’s more a reflection of what they think they would do once they decided to retire versus what I’m doing.  Projection and, perhaps, envy.
I do think that there’s a big difference in transitioning out and checking out.  The former is necessary for a good ending.  The later, while attractive to some, is not in my repertoire.  My work habits and work ethic won’t allow me to do that.  Still, as I get to the last couple of weeks, I’ll have to force myself as part of the transition to “let go.”  In that sense checking out is not such a bad thing at the right time.  Checking out early is the bad part.  I think I’ll know when the time is right to close-up shop.
Friday, August 19 – 13 (Recalculated) Weeks, 36 Workdays to Go
One of the things I notice is when I tell people I’m retiring is that I’m congratulated – as if I’m doing something notable or courageous.  The most recent example was when I talked to an investment advisor at T. Rowe.  His congratulations were over the top enthusiastic.  Perhaps it’s more a reflection of the congratulator’s desire to retire and fear of doing so than anything that the “congratulatee” has done to earn praise.  Anyway, it makes me a little uncomfortable.  I’m fortunate that I’m able to do this now (but I’ll be 66, for crying out loud!), but I don’t feel particularly praise-worthy for doing it.
Thursday, September 8, 2016 – 10 Weeks, 28 Workdays, 224 Work Hours to Go
…but as I always say, who’s counting?
I found myself adding to my answer to a question about when my retirement date is that “it’s starting to feel pretty good.”  And it is.
All in all, I’m starting to get the feeling of freedom and of excitement.  It’s reminiscent of the feelings I think I used to have when I was in elementary school and the end of the school year was neigh.  But that was so long ago in the last century that I really can’t remember.
Friday, November 4, 2016 – Seven days, five workdays, 40 work hours to go
Well if this isn’t the end of the game, I don’t know what is.  In the football game of my employed life, I’m down to one second (!) left in the game.  I’m up to date on assignments and transitions.  All I need to do is to take the hike, down the ball and let the clock run out.
Still, I know that, but (amazingly) don’t feel it yet.  What am I waiting for   Who knows?  But at some point, I have to realize that my ducks are in a row and it’s safe to celebrate my new freedom.
If I feel anything right now, it’s relief.  Relief at not having to do emergency non-value added things at work.  Relief in losing a few bosses.  Relief at not having to monitor, follow up and cajole to get things done.  Relief in not having to think about HR stuff anymore.
Meanwhile, it’s time to savor the final approach and celebrate the end to a long and lucky career. And to get excited about the future!
Let go of the past it’s done and completed
The good and the bad can now be deleted
New start and renewal -- the tasks of the day
And remembering the person who was lost on the way
Lost in achieving and in pleasing others
Buried within the question of druthers
To arise again at this stage of life
From the gift of time and the end of strife.

*******
Or something like that.



Monday, March 27, 2017

Which Way?

I've heard that sometimes upon completing an abstract painting, the artist will turn it sideways or upside down and decide that the painting actually works better that way.  I may be living that story.

Marcia was thinking about purchasing some artwork to complement a print, made by our daughter, Sarah, which hangs in our living room.  Not wanting to give up precious wall space for hanging my paintings, I talked Marcia into letting me paint something instead of her trying to buy something.

What I had in mind was to mirror and amplify Sarah's original print.  You can see below that I attempted to pick up the left tree of the print for the (to be framed) left painting and the right tree of the print for the (to be framed) right one.  The idea was that the branches in the trees would "point" to Sarah's print and draw your eye to it.


When Sarah saw the work in progress, she said she would have done it the other way around.  The left painting would be the missing half of the left tree of the print and the right one would have been the missing half of the print's right tree.  That way the branches of the trees in the paintings would point away from the print and "expand" the arrangement.  We realized that flipping the two paintings kind of does that.


Now the dilemma.   I'm not sure which way works best.   What do you think?


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Trio

Now for something different.

I was beginning to wonder if ever I would finish another painting.  It's been since August since my last effort.   With all the transitions -- downsizing, two moves and a retirement -- there just hasn't been time.   Also as I started to dive back into painting with the new year, I picked a subject a little over my head which made me wonder if I would ever complete it. 

We'll I don't know if it's complete but it got to the point -- referencing the da Vinci quote: "Art is never finished only abandoned"-- that I'm ready to abandon it.

What made it hard was it was triple portrait of real people in my family.  My wife captured a picture of my daughter and two granddaughters on the day the new one arrived home.  The composition and expressions in the photo capture the joy of those first moments and made me want to paint it.  (The only thing missing from the photo is the beaming dad.)  I didn't think about how hard it would be to paint a triple portrait, though.

I don't think I completely succeeded in capturing the moment, but like I said, I'm done.   Here's the result.


Note to self:  next time tackle something simple!



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Retirement Finish Line -- Last Year of Work Part III


Have you ever travelled somewhere distant on a long trip and thought about what’s going on back at home?   For me, when I’m away, where I am is total reality and my normal home life just a fantasy.  That’s kind of what it feels like being three months into retirement.  Now that I’m into it, the last year of work and what was going on my head seems like a fiction.
One thing I’m noticing is, that while time seemed to be standing still last year, it’s now zipping by.   Days are full and weeks fly like days.  It’s probably because I’m learning to do what I want to do versus what I “have to” do. 
Looking back is interesting to see what the last year of employment looked and felt like.  It’s also a little boring, so I’ll try to be selective in what I post from this point out.  But I’ll finish it because I started it, and can’t help myself from my following-throughitis!
*******
Wednesday, May 4, 2016 – 16.5 Workweeks to Go
I’m down five weeks of full time and 17 weeks of part-time work left.  All together that’s six plus months of elapsed time – which feels like a long sentence.  It feels particularly long on days like today when my calendar is clear.  I still worry about being a lame-duck with nothing to do, but, so far, that hasn’t materialized.  And with 77 workdays to go (but who’s counting), any period of lame duckdom will be short (although I’m sure it will feel long!).
Meanwhile, perhaps the best way to think about remaining work time is in work-day segments:  17 days to vacation followed by 24 full-time days and then 36 workdays on a part-time schedule.  Three segments, three countdowns – 17/24/36.  A little more palatable.  One segment at a time. 
Monday, May 9, 2016 – 15.5 Workweeks to Go
This weekend I had a thought about a work-life dynamic that, up to now, never occurred to me (or, if it did, I’ve forgotten that it did).  Here it is.
During employment there’s a need, a drive to make someone else happy.  It could be a customer but in my world it’s been a boss or bosses.  That need is the thing that keeps you on edge and not quite secure, since you can never really control how another person thinks, feels or acts and your economic fate is in the hands of others.  It fosters a low-grade (or, sometimes high-grade) existential fear.  It’s not an irrational fear but a realistic one and probably underlies most of the stress related to being employed.
As I get closer to the finish line of employment, I can let go of this need, drive and fear.  I can be more objective and philosophical about work-place decisions and projects that are going awry.  I can have distance from results and outcomes.  In short, I can be free.
That’s the attractive thing about ending employment – freedom.  Too bad I couldn’t have let it be that way for the last 50 years!  I’d be a much more relaxed and laid-back fellow.  Maybe some people are like that and can pull that off, but I’m afraid it doesn’t come naturally to me
I’ve said in the past that I can turn almost any fun thing into work.  Driven!  So now I need to work on the freedom thing -- freedom from pleasing anyone but myself. 
Here’s hoping I learn this lesson for the rest of my life!
Tuesday, May 17, 2016 – 14.5 Workweeks to Go
I’m getting close to shifting to a part-time schedule.  Although I’ll still be working, going part-time is a pretty big milestone for closing this chapter of life and opening the next one.
How do I want this next chapter to read?  I want it to be a chapter of creativity and contribution.  Creativity, first, and contribution, if it happens. 
 I’d like to learn to do this while also learning to take my foot off the gas pedal.  By nature and by nurture (if you can call the world of work nurture) I’m always fighting clock and calendar (as a former colleague of mine at this stage of life put it 20 years ago).  I’d like to learn to defuse the time-bomb of urgency and experience perpetual calmness.  The reality is that much of my time-centered stress is artificial and self-imposed.  If I can make it, I can break it.
And that’s the practice for me in these last days of employment -- to slow down – to eliminate urgency.  With less than 68 workdays left (but who’s counting), even more than I’m doing now, I need to let go of …well…everything employment-related.  
Employment is the past not the future.  To start living that way is the challenge.
******
Well there’s more to come but that’s enough for now!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Retirement Finish Line -- Last Year of Work, Part II


At two months and counting, I’m still working on getting the hang of being retired…guess I’m a slow learner.  It’s starting to feel real, though.  Looking back to last year at my transition from work helps.  Here’s the next instalment of this saga. 

*******

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I’m still looking for the feeling of relief, for some event or milestone to signal that I’ve done my time and have been released to freedom.  I get a glimmer of a sense of peace from time to time, but nothing sustained.

The feeling may soon materialize.  I’m coming up on several milestones:

·         Thursday, 2/4:  One strike left in the baseball game
·         Friday, 2/12:  100 full-time workdays to go
·         Friday, 2/19: 30 seconds to go in the football game of my work life
·         Monday, 2/22:  ½ work-year (130 workdays) to go
·         Monday, 2/29:  998 work hours to go
·         Monday, 3/7:  17 full-time workweeks to go
·         Monday, 4/4:  100 workdays to go
With any luck one of these significant milestones will psychologically put me over the top of the hill.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 – 30 Workweeks to Go.  Still.

For the last 50 years, I’ve been learning to be ever more efficient in my use of time.  I’ve worked on that so hard that I’m usually the first to get a task done.  I can’t remember when I missed a deadline (maybe I missed one.  I just can’t remember).

The interesting thing is that all the hard-won wisdom and finely-honed habits are exactly what I don’t need for my future life.  The challenge is to change my internal wiring from achieving and meeting deadlines to experiencing and enjoying. 

There are no deadlines to improving my hobby skills.  I don’t have deliverables, due dates or specific objectives.  And that’s fine.  That’s the way it should be.   Experience and enjoy.   Life without driven-ness. 

Back to the countdown it’s at 30 weeks – 21 fulltime and 8.5 part-time workweeks.  Some key milestones are on the horizon.  I’m cresting the mountain and ready for the effortless glide to the finish line.

Almost there.  My head knows it.  Now if only my gut would! 

Thursday, February 18, 2016 – 28 Workweeks to Go

My countdown is in terms of a baseball game -- bottom of the ninth, two outs and two strikes, a football game – 30 seconds left, and, more simply, full-time workdays – 94 fulltime + 36 part-time = 130 left.

These numbers probably should produce a level of closure for me – a sense that the end is imminent.  But they don’t.  Why?

Maybe it’s because the 130 workdays stretch over nine months.  Maybe it’s because the selection process for my replacement hasn’t started.  Maybe it’s because I’m tired of the work – especially mediating conflicts.  That just doesn’t float my boat.  It makes me want to leave sooner rather than later.

So, here’s another metaphor for my career ending -- an air flight.  At some point, but not yet:

1.      Flaps down -- begin the decent
2.      Lower the landing gear
3.      Visual contact with runway
4.      Touch down
5.      Taxi to gate
6.      Deplane

When does this start.  Who knows?  But I’m guessing at some point, I’ll sense the end. 

Fasten seatbelts, flaps down!


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Road-Trip




As part of my transition to post-employment life, Marcia and I planned two-week vacation for this month.  It was not like our typical vacations in that we had a starting point – Memphis and an ending point – Siesta Key, Florida, but nothing firm in between.  Down the Mississippi, left turn at the Gulf, right turn somewhere in Florida.  It was an adventure.  It was a 1,600-mile road-trip. It was a metaphor for this next stage of life – a starting point, an ending point with a blank expanse in between.



Here are a few things I noticed about the trip.  (If it’s details and photo documentation you want, go to my wife’s blog.)



First, we need to go back to school on the snowbird thing.  Part of the reasoning for taking the trip in January was to get away from winter weather.  As you can see from the picture of Graceland, we got this wrong.  We woke up to snow and 14 degrees our first day on the trip.  It got a little better as we went south.





Second, I was amazed to learn about the Spanish Missions in Florida – especially the one we visited in Tallahassee.  Mission San Luis was a place where two cultures – Spanish and the indigenous Apalachee Indians lived side by side for three generations from 1656 to 1704.  Read about the ball game the Apalachee Indians played.  Here’s a photo of the council house.  It could accommodate over 1,000 for meetings.





Finally, we spent a day at Wakulla Springs State Park.  The scenery and wildlife – birds and alligators – were wonderful as expected.  The unexpected thing, though was that several 1940’s Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller were filmed there.  And, even cooler, the 1954 movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed at this location.





We had many more pleasant and serendipitous discoveries. As I said, see my wife’s blog for more. 



Here’s hoping the road trip metaphor holds for this next phase of life – filled with pleasant and serendipitous discoveries.