My brother and his family live in the greater Los Angeles area. His home backs up to a hill full of wildlife in the middle of an urban area. At night coyotes roam just outside the fence. While sitting in his back yard, I looked up to see a hawk fly overhead—doubtless looking for a small rodent or a housecat. There are none here, so the bird moves on. Farther away in the sky is a turkey vulture, competing with the hawk for the local vermin. The dog lies peacefully at my feet. Nearby are birds pecking away at the ground for goodies invisible to the human eye. The male birds make a little clicking noise—completely unfamiliar to me. The stiff fronds of the palm next door rustle in the wind.
After years of working at a pace many would consider unreasonable, retirement is full of surprises. I am learning to sit and listen and watch and smell my world in a way that has been unavailable to me until now. I don’t mean to say that opportunities haven’t been available. But I haven’t been open to these experiences as I am now. We persuade—no convince ourselves during our working careers that there is no other way to do the work without adversely affecting the quality of the work, the product, the effect on our constituents and our reputation. So we trudge on, leaving the office late, bringing work home, working on the weekends, worrying about it all the time, and worse yet—spending too little time with self and family.
I was recently interviewed by students in a program designed to prepare individuals for careers in public policy. Their final question to me was “If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?” I’ve been asked that question before and have not hesitated to say “nothing.” I had a wonderful career in nonprofit and government service. I was given exciting opportunities to be at the forward end of many innovative initiatives. I sought advancement and was rewarded. I worked with interesting and caring people whose commitment to the disenfranchised reflected my own. Instead, I said “I would not have worked so hard.” I explained that my family and I made many sacrifices in order to have the career I enjoyed; and I realize now that I could have worked differently and likely seen similar success. It was an unexpected epiphany to hear myself speaking those words.
My message? Get a grip on your lives! Look again at what you’re doing each day and assess the risk of change. In all things, do no harm, but do something. Retrospection is a useless tool unless it makes you whole.