There’s nothing like a retirement party to put a career in perspective. We all like to think of our working lives as being productive and valuable and perhaps that maybe after 30 years of work, we’ve left our mark. Most of us, of course, would be wrong in thinking that. Sure, there are exceptions – Hyman Rickover is the father of the nuclear submarine force; Henry Bessemer made steel economical; Watson and Crick identified the double helix structure of DNA – but for the average schmo sitting in a cubicle there aren’t going to be entries in even the most obscure history book – unless you create your own entry in Wikipedia.
I attended a retirement luncheon – a function that no one ever really wants to go to, but that guarantees a long lunch without anyone getting on your case – and had the dismaying realization that even the people working next to you don’t really have a clue what you do on a day to day basis. The highlight of the “ceremonial” portion of the event was the soon-to-be-departed employee’s supervisor saying a few kind words. One would hope to hear how they made the workplace better, or contributed to the war effort, or saved homeless kittens in their spare time.
What this particular career boiled down to was this: A supervisory musing about how he’d “always remember the great report you wrote about the problems in Peoria.”
Wow. That’s perspective.
For most of us, that’s how a career is going to end. Think on that next time you’re working late on an “important” project or skipping vacation days to make sure a project is finished on time. In 20 or 30 years when your middle of the road colleagues are sitting around a table at a middle of the road restaurant bidding you farewell it’s likely all you’ve done is written a great report about Peoria.
Live your life accordingly.
Editorial Note: This is part of a continuing series of previously unattributed posts appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.