Thursday, June 7, 2012

Devil’s Line

My friend Sandy retired after working for the same company for 38 years. She looks just a shade over 38, maybe a shade under, so people were always shocked and confused when they learned how long she had worked there. In today’s job environment, her accomplishment is nothing short of a miracle. Oh, and she's gorgeous and funny and smart, just to set the stage.

I know she has mixed feelings about leaving the place she had dedicated so many of her waking hours to from the time she was a child to now, now when she’s old enough to know better and still young enough to consider it, whatever it is.

She’s a dedicated wife, mother and grandmother. Her family has experienced a lot of ups and downs. It’s America. It’s 2012. She’s so fortunate that she has been able to complete a career and go home to spend time with her family.

I’ll miss her at work. She and I had a rule: Only one of us could cry per day. We stressed out about a lot of the same things, experienced a lot of the same disappointments, disagreements, points of view, values, likes and dislikes. We worked well together. She had the long-time business experience and I had some hard technical experience at several corporations. Sometimes people called us by the other’s name. As much as we wanted individual identities in our work, we both thought the mix-ups were fun.

When work is consistently not fun, it’s time to make a change. It wasn’t just work that wasn’t fun. Retirement seemed like the best answer for her in my opinion but it’s a delicate decision.

Leaving a company you’ve been part of for 38 years is a lot like divorce. You want to give it second chances. You want some kind of counseling, an alternative opinion, a different way of looking at things. You think of the good part, the good times, what does work about the relationship, why you originally thought it was a good idea in the first place. Sure, the relationship has changed. You’re no longer the innocent kid and, well, lots of things have changed. You can just about predict behavior, responses, “new” ideas that aren’t really new. But it’s hard to let go. It’s the devil you know, have known for years, the one that has felt like the better choice for so long.

You fall for the smallest shred of hope. You cling to compliments, the promise of a better tomorrow. But it’s still the devil you know. And when the devil you know becomes just wrong for you, maybe not wrong all over, but wrong for you, then, then finally, it is time to go.

Do I make it sound like she was worn out and past her effectiveness? Oh, not at all. I loved the fact that she had so much history at the company. I teased her that she not only knew where the “bodies were buried,” she had pictures, the witness list, the negatives, film, tape recordings, an entire documentary of the back story on how so many decisions were made, so many careers won and lost. She helped me navigate some of the corporate political swamp, pointing out the alligators and quicksand. She’s quick, bright, savvy, and articulate. She’s fantastic at presentations. She understands the short and long term effects of change on a corporate landscape. She’s a great predictor of outcomes. She knew which projects were winners and which ones were poison. Better than that, she was so, so often right. Those abilities have only grown, not faded over time.

Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
She did have a series of personal difficulties and with enough stressors after work adding to the already stressful work engine magnified every flaw, every slight, every disappointment. A more stable work environment, some sincere appreciation of her efforts, some public recognition, acknowledgement, reward, all that would have kept her going. But that didn’t happen. After 38 years, you’d think somehow you would have “arrived.”

The Devil isn’t like that though. You put in your time with him and you exercise all your best and worst, you grow in ways you never thought you would, and yet, what you get from him is…indifference.

The sad fact is that the Devil doesn’t care. Those chains? You put them there. They seemed like security at the time. With a little clarifying perspective, a shake-up to help you remember what you really love, you look down at those chains that once felt like the reins that drove the Chariot of your career and realize they are holding you back. It was fun for a while, maybe like Sandy, fun for a long while. All the fresh-start promises the Devil makes are really just another room in hell and you’re pounding rocks again. It’s keeping you away from what you love.

That’s how you know it’s time to go. You know finally what you want has changed and not changed all at once. You always loved your life, your family, your home. That’s what you were working for, right? But somehow, the work became your life and you put so much of yourself into it. If you had any passion at all for your work, when it dies, it hurts.

If you’re lucky, you come out on the other side like Sandy has, with your family, retirement, home, time and energy to enjoy all of that. You try to let go of the fact that you aren’t somehow getting a medal for all you’ve done, sweated and slaved over, endured other people’s and your own tears, fears and tantrums. You realize that, like Dorothy and everyone else in the Wizard of Oz, you already have the prize you wanted to be awarded.

It’s confusing. What were you doing for 38 years then, buying the Devil’s line? Like the Devil in tarot, you were learning a lesson. You learned what was really important to you, really. And wrenching as it is, you learned to choose it with passion and ease and grace and dignity. You learned that you are starting over every day. And, instead of that feeling like a setback, it feels good, fresh, like the air after a morning rain.

Best wishes, always.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Marcia for a beautiful post. In a few years I'll be retiring from a career of more than 40 years. Lately and surprisingly, I've been concerned, angry, and sad about "my legacy"...that I won't finish my goals and that my legacy will be dross. What I'm realizing is that my pride in my career is mine alone and I choose happiness and pride. I know things will change the minute I leave and it's a good thing--and someone else's concern. I worked true to my ideals and values and that's mine...the rest belongs to "the man" and my successors . This post really helped clarify!