Don’t leave the building until you’re done

Not very long ago I was sitting in my office talking with a colleague who was sharing her frustration with having to do work for someone who would be leaving our place of employment before long and who, she said, had clearly “already left the building”.  I shuddered when she spoke those words; was that what people were saying about me?.  That phrase has turned into a mantra that I chant silently to myself throughout the day:  “Don’t leave the building until you’re done.”  It’s become one of those gentle mantras that I can savour ruminating on, and  it does focus my attention on something important.  Not easy, but important.

Many of the initiatives that I work on involve processes that unfold over time.  One of the projects I’m fortunate enough to have a part in started about five years ago as a thought, became a product, is being piloted, and should finally see the light of day in another few years.  Things of value take time to grow.  In many ways my relationship to/with my work – the fruits of my work – has something in common with my relationships to my children.  With both, I have the joy of the journey of something growing from a thought to a reality, and with both I want to enjoy the entire journey; I want to know how things are going, share in joys and challenges, and continue to have a caring connection. 

So here I am, for the first time since this part of my work blossomed into being, realizing that I’m not going to see it through to its birth.  And so I feel myself starting to pull away; starting to go through the necessary processes that can lead to letting go without sadness.  Now when I develop a 2-year strategic plan I can’t let myself see myself as part of that plan.  Just as it is with children – we have to find a way to let go so they can take flight – I need to disengage myself … but it’s so that I can take flight. 

As Bonnie Bostrum so eloquently says:  “Our spirits have been on hold, waiting to move out of the cocoon of work to continue the quest.  Like new life emerging from the chrysalis, we unfold our wings and move toward full spiritual development as women.”  (Bostrom, Bonnie S. (2007).  Women Facing Retirement – A Time for Self-Reflection.  Aslan Publishing, Fairfield, CT.)

So, this doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right?  Not so quick!  The challenge is in not losing interest as I become more disengaged.   My husband’s mother used to say: “There’s a number between 3 and 13”; alright, I admit, I’m not exactly sure what she meant by that because when I met her she had already begun her journey into a parallel universe.  But that doesn’t keeping me from using this metaphor when I want to communicate not only is there more than one way of doing/seeing anything, there are multiple options that are all just fine.  So, the struggle for me seems to come from trying to find the spot between being so disengaged that others think I’ve “already left the building”, and staying so invested that I don’t remember that part of the work now is to take myselff out of the work.

How do you do that?

  • What enabled you to stay fully involved in your work as you planned to leave your work?
  • Did you feel that colleagues thought you’d already “left the building” before your actual retirement date?  If you did feel that (and I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t to at least some extent) how did you deal with it?

    PS:  I’m looking for your wisdom and insight.  The questions posed at the end of each posting are my way of encouraging you to respond.  I’ve appreciated the sharing of experience and thinking, good advice and clever suggestions that I’ve already received.  From ideas for great music to add to my “mixed tape”, to what to put on my new-identity card, to how to manage some of the anxieties and excitement that come with entering retirement … please take a moment, if you can, and send along your words.


3 responses to “Don’t leave the building until you’re done

  1. I definitely felt that way. The period of time from the time that I announced my plans to retire to the time we found my replacement and worked together for a little while was nine months. That’s a long time to be hanging around when you know you’re not going to be hanging around.

    It’s natural to begin disengaging little by little, even not caring so much about projects that will be around after you are–afterall they will become someone else’s responsibility–why not start steering things in that direction while you are still there to help.

    Things just go on after you are gone from a workplace, new people arrive and the memory of you just becomes a memory. Sad but true. So I don’t think you should feel any guilt about the natural feelings that occur during that phase.

  2. Barbara here
    I have worked out of a home office as a consultant for many years. I left a business partnership when my business partner got cancer and died, and have worked alone, on my own hours and at my own pace ever since. So I’m not retired in the usual sense but will still add my thoughts from time to time.

    Re disengaging – in this “second half of life”, I realize that there are lots of things I won’t see to the end. Will peace equity spread world wide in my time? Will poverty be eliminated? Will we stop global warming?

    Should we diengage? Gracefully? With rage?

    My point is that our society has taught us the illusion that we live in a narrative that has a beginning and an end – and often that we are (the) major player(s).

    I am working on seeing our passage here as part of a much bigger story – and not a narrative – perhaps a spiral. More like one aspect of a huge living, expanding universe – like a leaf on a tree. I play my part, sometimes growing, sometimes turning autumn coloured and falling to the ground. Each change has its place in time and space – and nurtures what is next.

    So, my advice is to be fully engaged IN THE MOMENT – always. And always knowing that you won’t “see it through to the end.”

    The other illusion we are taught is that it is only worth doing if it accomplishes a goal. My advice is – do what you are doing today to your own satisfaction – then today is finished forever. Retirement is another day – of change.

    As always

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