Build or burn?

Retirement preparation – starting your descent from heaven

What will you be doing on your very last day of work?  The Japanese have a phrase that describes one approach to retirement – amakudari.  It translates as ‘descending from heaven’ and carries with it ideas of the older generation passing on knowledge to the next generation, of respect for that knowledge, but also a controlled change of status from seniority to something else.  That’s one way.  The other approach is where someone runs off the edge of a cliff, hits the ground with a shock and immediately becomes yesterday’s man.

I’ve observed a number of people on their last day of work.  In one case I worked with a sales director on a ‘skunk works’ project for a couple of months where a small team had been taken out of their day jobs to come up with bright ideas for improving the performance of the business.   On the day we presented our recommendations to the board he told me this was actually his last day of work.  I thought at the time it was a great way to go out.  He and I had sparked during the project on a couple of occasions but in the end we got on well.  During our time together he was as fully committed and motivated as everyone else.  Plainly, he was enjoying the opportunity to have a major influence on the future.  On the other end of the scale, I recall a very chatty receptionist on her last day of work.  She was a people person.  Although she put a brave face on it, she was obviously not looking forward to a future where she would lose so much of the social contact that was her life.  She looked so profoundly depressed I decided to skip her leaving do because it would be such a sad occasion, especially as it would be pretending to be a happy occasion.

I’m not even sure that retirement is as good for your health as everyone imagines it must be.  I had a boss who retired proud of have survived the politics and career dangers of working in a large multi-national.  He had reached a senior position and was given an elaborate send-off but, from the way he spoke, there had obviously been times when he thought he wouldn’t ‘get to the end’, as he put it.  Plainly, he had not enjoyed the last years of his work.  Very sadly, he died a few years after he retired.

On the other end of that particular scale I had a colleague who had been planning his retirement for the last 20 years of his career.  You might think this sort of person might have ‘given up’ at his work.  The reverse was true.  He was full on.  It was him that told me about ‘descending from heaven’ after he returned from a trip to Japan.  It perfectly describes the last 5 years of his working life where he switched roles slightly and seemed to be having a wonderful time.  I certainly learned a lot from him, as did many others.  He had the sort of respect within the organisation where although he wasn’t in charge, in many ways he was in control.  When he retired I said ‘We must stay in touch’.  Although we were friendly, he said, ‘There’s no chance we’ll stay in touch.  We’ll both be too busy.  And anyway, once you’ve gone, you’ve gone’.  He was right, as always.

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