One hand sanitizer.
One blue toothbrush.
About a dozen finance and management books.
Various key chains.
It’s not often you stop to truly take stock of your current job, but that’s what happened in the Fall of 2011 when multiple sclerosis unceremoniously ended my career. There were no retirement parties, goodbye emails or farewell meetings. It’s almost as if I disappeared mysteriously into the night.
Not long after my title shifted from “Director” to “Long-Term Disabled” I received two large boxes in the mail from my former employer. In each was an assortment of odds and ends that had been in my work space. Day after day, I was surrounded by these things... family pictures, a variety of medications and enough trinkets to open a chachkies store.
This isn’t to devalue the importance of these items or my employer. “Flexible” is an understatement to how my company accommodated my condition. Not long after my diagnosis, my management team agreed to my request to work from home three days a week – even though my position necessitated a lot of face-to-face contact with people across the company.
I appreciate how blessed I was to work with so many caring and understanding individuals. It’s a tribute to the company culture that even after my diagnosis, my career continued to flourish.
EASY TO NOD – HARD TO DO
An old adage suggests that, while lying on their death beds, no one ever wishes they’d spent more time at the office. It’s important to not lose sight of what really matters in life; faith, family and friends.
I don’t disagree with this sentiment but who does? It’s easy to nod in agreement to these kinds of statements but then life comes along with its routine…bills to pay, children to raise, companies to start (and grow) and bosses to please.
Nobody strives to have regrets in their final days, but in the short-term, what’s more tangible? Life’s big questions or not getting fired?
It’s human nature to fall back into old habits that accompany most careers. The daily grind where, a week might pass, and you ask yourself, did you even accomplish anything?
Or do your days just resemble the act of the little Dutch Boy, hoping you don’t run out of fingers to plug all the holes?
Perhaps you get lost in your own evil version of “Groundhog Day”, not fully engaged but able to, churn out the same tasks, create the same presentations, conduct the same meetings that were done by so many that came before you that will still be performed well after you are no longer there?
The band Kansas has a famous song that goes “Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind….nothing lasts forever but the earth and the sky…it slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy”.
Three years ago, when I received those two large boxes that contained all of my work belongings, a version of that song echoed in my head. “Chachkies in the wind….all we are is chachkies in the wind”.
…a corporate polo shirt (w/tags still on).
A book on 24/7 Innovation.
A box of Kleenex.
And so the list goes…
Two pages long, equal parts amusing and educational.
LEAVE YOUR MARK
Not everyone gets diagnosed with a chronic disease. And not everyone diagnosed with a chronic disease is forced to leave the workforce early. Your “Kansas” moment may not come until much later in life when you realize that so many of your prime years were devoted to being lost in a quasi-purgatory of endless, repetitive to-dos, which mostly resulted in kicking the corporate koozie down the hall.
Instead of doing what’s always been done, make it better. Make it yours. Otherwise, why bother showing up?
Unfulfilled? Don’t wait for life to force you to make changes. Find your happiness.
I’m not advocating rash decisions; rather, an honest re-evaluation of where you are versus where you want to be.
I often joke with my wife that I’m going to write a management book titled “Everything I learned about being an executive, I learned after MS”. The title’s a work in progress but not the core message.
I didn’t change the world in my former career but I’m content knowing I didn’t just follow the raging wind.
Every day I wore a smile and pushed to leave my mark. To make a diference.
To do it differently.
And now I hope to pass that practice down to my children or inspire others to do the same.