Nothing rings. Nothing buzzes. No business calls. No work related e-mails. No invitations to speak. There are no texts, no tweets, no nothing. Well, that’s not totally true. You do have to count the ones from family, a few friends, and that core of current and former colleagues. Still, it is silent. My god people, you’re gone but not dead. You use to turn down work. You were always just too damn busy. But wait, you forgot. You left all of that behind. Remember? You intentionally turned in your keys. It was anti-climatic. It always is. But this time there was a sense of finality, an uneasy feeling of emptiness.
By comparison, you’ve already witnessed the exit of many of your counterparts: running for the door never to be seen or heard from again. You thought about it, but you’re not one of them. On the other hand, others left their employers but never really left. They were high profile then and they are high profile now. They’re now card carrying consultants, advisors or sitting on some board of directors. Surrounded by “Next-Gens,” these legends are easily spotted at the annual conference mixer. Still commanding the center of attention, you’re not one of them either.
Since you’ve traveled along multiple career paths, you’ve never really spent enough time in any of them to be considered a club member. You’ve not been taught the secret handshakes. That is a privilege granted to those with sequential tenure. You’re the contrarian. Your larger than average business card collection is a testament to your voluntary professional mobility. Your interests have always crisscrossed vocational and geographic boundaries. After all, you’re a “Jack of All Trades.” Yet contrary to the negative underpinnings of this age-old adage, you did master quite a few things. You’re not a mile wide and an inch deep or an inch wide and a mile deep. You’re some where in between.
From a myriad of venues and vantage points, you’ve heard the pontifications of doers and observers. You’ve always been perplexed by those that expouse expertise in fields and locations outside their own personal perimeters. It has been your experience that witnessing through intermittent engagement alone does not make one an expert; more knowledgable maybe, but not an expert.
You’ve been in the trenches, shoulder to shoulder with the haves and have nots. You’ve rubbed elbows with those with positional power and those without. By sheer volume, your involvements would not nearly have been as plentiful had your travels been less nomadic. You have been provided a breadth and depth of experience not akin to one profession, one location, or within the confines of a single organizational chart. As a result of career retirement, many of your contemporaries are just now having some of these same experiences. They are usually eager to share their new found epiphanies. Since you’ve never had a single calling you have been collecting these pearls all along. Your vocational travels have not been so linear.
So at this point in life why does any of this matter? It’s all in the rearview mirror. Your current search for personal relevance won’t be found in the past or by wearing a conference “Speakers” name tag. No, it has to be somewhere else. Maybe you just need to relax, take a deep breath; meditate for God’s sake. Learn to enjoy the quiet. Just make sure you don’t succumb to your inner hermit. Appreciate how your advocation has become your vocation. You are a teacher, a mentor, and a writer. You are as curious as ever. Your war stories are asterisks, used to underline some greater concept.
So–there are still places to go, people to meet, and knowledge to be had. Stacks of books and a growing list of podcasts await. By the way, don’t forget the analog stereo system with that 1,000 record collection to revisit. Awe yes–From Pavarotti to Zeppelin and a whole lot of players in between, your listening pleasure awaits. Ignore the clicks and pops. Put the needle on the vinyl. Crank up the Bose 901’s.
Steve Harding finished his full-time working world in 2014. During his 40 year career, his professional travels cut across higher education, the public, non-profit, and private sectors. Traversing over two-thirds of the state of California, he has served as a city manager, department director, corporate vice president, and president of a publicly held non-profit. Fifty-two courses and over a 1,000 students later, he continues to travel along his path as a student and teacher.