If there was any remnant of the Before Time I thought the Great Plague would manage to kill off, it was the whole concept of the office retirement / going away party. For eight months now, medical advice has been to severely curtail unnecessary social interaction (ex. graduation parties, weddings) and for the last few weeks the wisdom of traveling to join family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas has even been called into question.
It’s bad enough for people who need to show up for jobs that can’t be done remotely (and even worse for those whose job can be remote, but prevailing management culture prevents or discourages it). The goal there, in the absence of proper vaccination, should be in minimizing the number of people occupying the same workspace to the maximum extent possible. Pulling more people into that space for something as blatantly needless as a farewell luncheon feels like approaching the very height of an unnecessary activity.
People want normalcy. They want to do things that way they use to be done. I get it. Wanting to put more people that necessary for continued operational requirements in a room for the sake of a pot luck lunch, is, in my estimation, an absolute jackass move and you’ll never convince me otherwise… but by all means, I welcome an explanation of how it in any way “supports the mission” without unnecessarily increasing the overall risk to every person in the room and any person who might be in the room after the fact.
I’m sure it’s well intentioned, but a farewell luncheon in a confined space is just a bad judgement call from people who should know better. So yeah, I’ll be skipping the COVID luncheon, thanks.
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.
OK, so I’ve been told by those whose advice and wise counsel I trust implicitly that my last post sounded more like a funeral oration than the heartfelt farewell I was trying to hit. I don’t suppose I have to confess that the move has me a bit bewildered and out of sorts. As much as I have moved, it should be old hat by now, but it never really seems to go that way.
I think a large part of my melancholic tone can be attributed to the fact that in the days leading up to Christmas, I was stuck mostly thinking about the future rather than doing something to actually carry out the plan. Now that I’m here in Memphis waiting to close, and the boxes are all on a truck somewhere between here and Maryland, I’m feeling much better. I’m ready to tear in and actually do something.
There are things back in Maryland left undone that I wish I would have been able to get to. There are family and friends I will miss horribly. But tonight, there is new ground stretched out in front of me. There is a new way ahead to forge. There are nearly unlimited possibilities. And that makes me a happy camper.
Blogger’s Note: The following is a verbatim copy of an email sent under the same subject line. If you didn’t get the original email, please accept my apologies, as apparently, I have not been keeping up with several of your email address changes. Exclusion from the original distribution was not and intended slight in any way or fashion. – JDT
Friends, Family Members, and Sundry Others who have made it to the Distribution List,
As many of you know, it is nearly time for me to say goodbye to Maryland for the greener pastures of Tennessee, but I couldn’t let the occasion pass without saying a few words. To say I part with mixed emotions doesn’t do justice to the raging tides of excitement and uncertainty that I am feeling at the moment.
The last year and a half has been a busy one for me, as I know it has been for many of you as well. Time marches on as they say, and things seem to have a way of slipping away before you really know it has happened. I have not kept in touch with some of you as regularly as I would have liked or taken the time to visit as often as I should have. I regret that and can only express my gratitude for your patience and your indulgence.
Each one of you means more to me than you know and although I have always had difficulty expressing it, you have all helped make me the man that I am today. In some cases you may not exactly think that is a compliment. I assure you, it is.
The next time you have an inexplicable craving to spend an evening in a smoky blues bar or backwater barbeque joint, look me up and then plan a road trip. As long as I have a roof, you’ll have a place to stay.
While my time here grows increasingly short and the thousand and one details of planning a move are again demanding my attention, I did want to stop and take this brief opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and an extraordinarily bright and happy New Year.