When you look toward retirement, what do you see? Here’s hoping it’s many years of rewarding work done, and many more productive years ahead.
Deep down we all want to leave a legacy — to leave behind more than a tombstone that after a number of years no one visits anymore.
I mention this knowing that many people who read this magazine are within eyeshot of retiring. What goes through a person’s mind, in this profession or any other, when that cake is cut and farewells given on the very last day of the job?
To me, legacy is measured less in being remembered by others, and more in looking back and being able to say, “I did my best at something I cared about. I made a difference. My community and the world are better for my having been here.” People retiring from the water treatment professions can say that in capital letters.
What’s more, retirement doesn’t have to mean separating oneself completely from the profession. A career is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are numerous ways to stay connected and keep contributing.
Not going away
The impetus to write these words came from operators recently featured in this magazine who, upon retirement, aren’t looking forward just to gardening, golf, fishing or card games. They plan to continue serving the industry.
One example is William Grandner of New York City (profiled in August), retired but still a pillar of the New York Water Environment Association and a mentor to new as well as more seasoned operators. Another is Scott Thompson of Bend, Oregon (profiled in this issue), newly retired but planning to continue working as a consultant to treatment plant teams.
Retirement, for many people, has a different look and feel these days. By tradition, retirement meant receiving the gold watch and heading off into the sunset, to a life of leisure. But many people ultimately find that life deeply unsatisfying. Without the stimulation and challenges of work, they became bored, depressed and downright unhealthy.
In his book, The New Retire-Mentality, Mitch Anthony advocates retirement with a purpose. He sees retirement as a chapter of life when, if we have planned our finances properly, we have freedom to engage in work that “capitalizes on our gifts and gives expression to our deepest-felt avocational desires.”
Anthony disputes the entire idea of retirement as a finish line. “Once the finish line is removed,” he writes, “we are left to ponder our present realities and future hopes.” And, I would add, our past accomplishments and satisfactions.
Back and forward
Even in the new conception of retirement, there comes a day when the full-time career ends. That’s a moment for reflection on what has been and what will be. As a treatment plant operator, you can certainly look back on many years of helping keep the waterways clean, or supplying households with a safe and reliable water supply.
Also, depending on the position you held, you might reflect with pride on having groomed a worthy and well-qualified successor, built a highly skilled operations team, and created an up-to-date, efficient facility that will serve customers cost-effectively for many years.
That’s what you leave behind. What do you take forward? Everything you’ve learned in your career, including not just technical skills and knowledge, but the capacity to work with and lead others and unlock their potential. All that can serve you well in post-job endeavors, whether or not they involve the water industry.
For many of us, retirement, no matter how we define it, is in large measure about giving back. It’s not that we haven’t given so over the years. It’s not that we didn’t contribute to our communities. But if an important measure of our lives is whether we “moved the needle” for good, there is more still to do, and retirement is an ideal time.
To me, the key to being happy in the later years is doing things that matter, to ourselves and to others — getting out of bed in the morning with just as much conviction and sense of purpose as when we worked for a salary. I believe most of us want to be of service, not out of some sense of guilt or obligation, not so someone will name an award or a scholarship or a building after us, but because, after all, we care, there’s work to be done, and at long last we’re available.
There’s a saying attributed to Steven Grellet, a Quaker missionary: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this away again.”
It’s worth remembering.