I was given an opportunity to retire after 35 years on the job and pursue some new challenges. “Retirement” is nebulous to me. All that term means right now is closing this chapter and moving to the next. But the timing is such that I found myself questioning, “When do I really pull the trigger?” There is no “good” time to do it, it seems.
When I promoted to Deputy Chief, the very first thing I did was install a large whiteboard in my office. This became my “dashboard”, and I could simply turn from my desk and see our status on different initiatives. Likewise, if anyone had a question as to where we were on certain projects, just stepping into my office and looking up there could provide a quick answer. As you can see from the picture (taken a few weeks ago), there are all sorts of things ranging from the relatively mundane, to projects I am working on at the state and national levels that affect the entire emergency service community (but are on that board because they have local impact). But my experience has been that taking things off this board only makes room for new things to be added. There is no “clean break”. There is only a stop at the station, getting off, and watching the train you helped build hopefully move forward successfully and knowing you had a hand in getting it to that waypoint.
A friend and I were talking (texting actually, lol) as I was writing this and she asked, “Can someone is is called to serve their community ever really retire?” I replied to her that I don’t think you ever really can. Like I said, I will be going from this opportunity to many more. I plan to go back to writing more frequently, participating in some boards and committees, and teaching more. Instead of closing doors, my perspective is that I’m opening all the other doors wide and looking to see what is in there. But the flip side of it is that you have to take time to smell the roses. You have to pace yourself and spend more time with the kids and the people you love. There’s more to life than work, even if your work is being there for your community. If you lose focus on that, you will likely be regretting it when all of it has disappeared over the horizon.
My dad, who “retired” a while back, is going through a lot of challenges of his own right now. How much of it can be chalked up to a career where crawling down a flame-charged hallway with no reason other than to “get closer to the fire” and blood up to your elbows after trauma calls made you “salty”, I have no idea. I was there myself before I started to look at what it was we were doing to ourselves and realized we needed to change. But more so, I realize that having done all that myself and having likely shortened my lifespan, I wanted to be around for my girls’ weddings, graduations, and corporate takeovers, and so it was important to take advantage of the rest of life before I can’t anymore. It’s time to open a few other doors, learn more about myself, and to expand my world-view.
Take an inventory of your life from time to time and appreciate that while what we are doing is important, there are a lot of other important things in our lives as well. I may be able to add the (Ret.) after my title now, but it doesn’t mean I’m heading out to the pasture. All it is is a shift in my perspective. This job is amazing, but there’s a whole universe out there outside of this one. Get engaged with the rest of that world and round out your experiences. I think you’ll appreciate it, if not now, then later.