It’s not time to hang up the bee shoes yet.

26 days ago my company offered an early retirement incentive to those of us who qualify based on age and years of service. Last night at midnight was the deadline to apply for it. I didn’t apply. I thought about it – a LOT. I weighed the pros and cons and sometimes felt like a pinball being thrust back and forth by flippers that changed the direction of my thinking regularly.

In the end, it wasn’t the right decision for me to retire for a variety of reasons. I’m sure it is the right decision for a number of my colleagues across the company, and I wish them well in their next chapter of life. They will be missed in many ways.

The process of thinking through the retirement option was something new for me, so I thought I’d give others a peek into my experience these past 26 days. You’ll likely face the same choices some day if you haven’t already.

First Reactions

When the program was announced, it was the first time for me to be forced into thinking about retirement. My wife and I have both assumed we will work many more years until we are 70 or so. That’s another 9-10 years away for us. Retirement wasn’t on our radar and isn’t an option financially at this time. But I’ve never had a company offer me seven months salary plus benefits to not work for them. (Based on my years of service, it worked out to seven months for me. Others’ packages would be based on their years of service.) Having the offer put in front of me required that I at least consider it.

The Pros

Several things were attractive about the offer:

  • Earning my full salary plus health, dental and vision benefits during the seven-month payout period;
  • The possibility of earning a double salary for that time should I be able to walk immediately into another full-time role elsewhere (especially attractive given the debt we took on buying our home last year and then adding to it the building of a carriage house behind our home this year);
  • The excitement that comes from doing something new and different;
  • The opportunity to reinvent myself again at age 60;
  • The possibility of taking what I’ve learned in 14+ years at my current company and applying it to a company in need, perhaps building an online community from scratch;
  • The possibility that voluntary retirement would save the job of someone else since the company has announced plans for some involuntary layoffs soon. The number of layoffs will be impacted by the number of us voluntarily leaving first.
  • I liked the idea of having input in naming my successor (who I have had selected for years) and in training him for the job, helping him take a nice jump in his career path.
  • Maybe doing this would allow me to work out some arrangement for my dream role – Minister of Education at my beloved Walnut Street Baptist Church.

Occasionally nudging me toward the retirement option was the thought of stepping out on faith. I like the sentiment of a painted rock I have at the house that reads “Leap and the net will appear.” Images of Indiana Jones stepping out on faith in “The Last Crusade” come to mind. I don’t like living life with all answers certain and no risks taken. Where’s the faith in that? Where’s the adventure?

But with every pinball bounce to the pro-retirement line of thought would come equal or greater reasons not to travel that path, so I pondered…

The Cons

  • I love what I do and the people I get to do it with at my company. Why leave a nearly ideal situation?
  • 25 days is too little time for a 60-year-old to secure another equal, full-time opportunity that would guarantee uninterrupted work.
  • Jobs like mine are few and far between. I partially left it briefly in 2015-16 and was miserable, eager to return to it later in 2016. Why take a chance on making the same mistake again?
  • While I got a few nibbles on the bait I publicly and privately cast during the past 25 days, none matched the long-term prospects of continuing exactly where I am.
  • It would be seriously short-sighted to trade what may well be a decade more of work I love for seven months’ salary to not work.
  • In the worst case scenario of not taking the early retirement incentive and then being involuntarily let go, I would still get the same package in a severance package plus career assistance and eligibility for unemployment.
  • One of my basic life principles that has served me well is “When in doubt, don’t.”
  • Another principle I’ve heard for years is “The best retirement plan is to keep on working.”

The Decision

If I was within a year or two of my planned retirement, it would be a no-brainer. I would have taken the incentive and been as happy as a lark. But with retirement 5-10 years away, that wasn’t the case. The final clarifying thought in the closing days came from asking and answering the simple question: “Which offer on the table is best for me and my wife for the longest period into the future?” The clear answer was staying where I am.

It would have been nice to put out feelers and be mobbed with offers from other companies to bring me on board. I did put out feelers. I wasn’t mobbed with offers. I wrote a few key people in my profession to let them know about my situation and interest in making a move. I discussed it with several people at a conference of the top practitioners in my profession. That conference serendipitously fell on the calendar the week after the offer was announced. I posted about it on LinkedIn and had over 12,000 people see that post. However, I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing other options these past few weeks. I did my regular 50+ hours of work per week. If no significant offers appeared without taking time away from my work, then that was quite alright by me.

The result of casting that bait for 24 days was the sound of crickets chirping – not exactly the most affirming career experience I’ve had. Insecure thoughts came to mind: “Are my skills not marketable? Am I experiencing ageism that we all know happens but nobody admits to where I’m too old and expensive for companies who can hire someone half my age at half my price (with less than half my knowledge and experience)?” I started understanding really well Henry Kissinger’s quote from the late 1970’s: “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.” Indeed. Fortunately, I got three nibbles on my bait the day before the deadline – two of which may still come to pass in some form, but none enticing enough to pull the trigger on this retirement offer.

The Assurance

My Christian faith is a defining part of who I am. No big decision happens apart from prayer, discussion with trusted mentors and family members, and seeking the truth of God’s Word. My prayer throughout this process was that God would open the right doors, close the wrong ones, and give me assurance that what comes to pass is exactly what He wants for me. I take this path of continuing where I am as His answer and I am completely content with that. Closed doors are wonderful answers to prayer. We shouldn’t bust through them.

So the bee shoes shown at the top of this post are not being put away any time soon. They’re part of my uniform and identity as “The Buzz Guy” where I work leading our internal social platform called Buzz. I love my job. I love so many awesome people I get to work with daily. I believe in my company, Humana, and its leaders to move us forward in ways that make a positive difference in the lives of the millions of people we serve. There is purpose in that, and personal fulfillment.

Time to get back to work…

Bricks and Community

Posted: August 28, 2017 in Communities
Tags: , ,

We have a lot of exposed brick inside our home. It’s one of the things that attracted us to the place originally. I’ve been looking closely at all the brick and pondering it in recent days. No two bricks are the same. Many look very different. Some have weathered 117 years of use better than others. But working together, they are beautiful. They endure. They accomplish exactly what they were created to do. Remove even one brick and it would be noticeable. Remove very many and the effectiveness of accomplishing the larger purpose is jeopardized.

When I consider the disturbing division among people in our country, how I wish we valued each other, appreciated the differences, and focused on what unites us instead of what divides us. A nation (or business or church or city or family or…) divided against itself cannot stand.

Together, the bricks are beautiful. They are strong. They endure. They unite for a common cause.

And they don’t have to be alike to do so.

My Mom, Dad, sister & me around 1960

My Mom, Dad, sister & me around 1960

Saturday, January 28, 2017 is my 60th birthday. For months I’ve just shaken my head in disbelief at the thought of it. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem possible. Maybe it should just be another date on the calendar, but it isn’t. Like I jokingly said to my bride of 37 years recently (who turned 60 last summer), “This is more serious because it’s happening to me!

Part of me still thinks of myself as the young son of a wonderful Mom & Dad living on the farm during junior high and high school, catching the school bus daily and being bullied on the way because of being the skinniest kid around. Part of me is the 16-year-old grocery stock boy putting cans on shelves and buffering the store aisles for $1.60 an hour. Part of me is still having fun in college with those who would become lifelong friends. Part of me is the shy introvert who still prefers a good book and a quiet room over any loud gathering. Part of me is still fumbling around trying to figure out how to talk with others – especially girls. Part of me is recalling my first full-time work or moving to a new city or experiencing new ventures of faith that would shape a lifetime. Part of me is trying to figure out how to handle kids’ diapers (only now they’re grandkids’ diapers).

But nobody can see those parts of me regardless of how real they are in my mind. My soul hasn’t aged quite as obviously to others as has my appearance. I’m not exactly sure what others see when they look at me or what they think when they think of me (if they do at all) – especially younger people.

With my parents and sister graduating from college, May 1979

With my parents and sister graduating from college, May 1979

Do they just see someone who is old? Someone with thinning, gray hair and age spots in way too many visible places? Do they see someone who tends to slouch a little more than in years past? Do they see someone who isn’t as relevant, useful, trendy or fun as others who are younger and more energetic? Does that car of teenagers driving by see some old fart they want to scare by yelling at me out the window while I’m walking my dog? (Yes, that’s happened several times in recent years.) Do employers see a senior to push out of the work force in favor of someone younger who has more creativity, ideas, and energy (and a much lower salary)?

Those who haven’t approached 60 birthdays yet may not know or suspect how this day can mess with one’s mind. Older friends with 20-30+ more years than me under their belt are probably chuckling at me at this point saying, “Jeff, you’re just a kid to someone my age.” I know they’re right. I’ll always be my parent’s youngest child to them regardless of my age.

Most birthdays don’t get to me, but this one has. Why? I think it’s because the social/cultural perceptions and expectations just don’t match who I am and what I feel inside. My head and my body know I’m 60, but my heart and spirit haven’t gotten there yet. So how should I respond to the day? I see three options:

  1. See myself as growing old and start living the life others expect of seniors in our culture;
  2. Carry on as though nothing is changing;
  3. Take stock of life and reenlist for a continuing tour of duty with adjustments made as needed.
A 60th birthday picture sent from a friend

A 60th birthday picture sent from a friend

The first option above just isn’t me. Part of me imagines what it would be like to retire from full-time employment, volunteer more for my church, run a little Airbnb business on the side to help pay the bills, and downshift from the faster pace I’ve traveled for decades to something more common to one in his 60s. I’ll consider that a guilty pleasure to think and dream about, but not something likely to happen anytime soon. I have no plans to dramatically change course, riding off into the sunset of some presumed, easy, self-absorbed retirement. There is work to be done, and as far as I know, I’m still the best person to be doing some of it. So I can cross the first option off the list. It isn’t me and it isn’t financially an option, anyway.

The second option of carrying on as though nothing is in flux sounds like a possibility, but isn’t very realistic. My body (energy, sleep needs and more) is, indeed, changing and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. I’d wear myself out ignoring that reality.

It seems like option three makes the most sense to me: take stock of life and reenlist for a continuing tour of duty with adjustments made as needed.

So here is what I think is ahead insofar as it is up to me:

  1. There is more to learn, so I’ll keep learning something new every day. I thrive on learning – always have, always will. When the court ruling came out earlier this week on whether or not a federal judge would allow another company to purchase the one I work for, I relished the opportunity to read all 158 pages of the decision before going to bed that night, learning all kinds of matters related to relevant law, the opposing sides’ arguments, and the judge’s reasoning. It was fascinating and the highlight of the month for me personally and professionally in terms of learning. Teaching others forces me to keep learning as well, so I’ll keep saying “yes” to teaching opportunities because I know it will force me to learn more. True lifelong learners know it’s a vital part of a meaningful life and should have no end.
  2. There is a better me to grow into, so I’ll keep working at being a better person. Growing in my Christian faith and practice is also an unending pursuit to become more like the One I worship. I’m attending a marriage seminar this weekend at our church because there is always room for learning how to be a better husband even after these nearly 38 years of marriage to my bride, Linda. I haven’t yet mastered the art of being the best father, grandfather, son, employee, teacher, friend, citizen or neighbor I can be, so there’s work to be done to keep moving in the right direction on all of those fronts.
  3. The older you get, the more important it is to pay attention to your health, so I’ll continue to be mindful about my health. I’ve been blessed to work at Humana for over 13 years where employee health is a major focus. I wouldn’t do what I do to #startwithhealthy if not for my employer’s vigilance at emphasizing health and well-being with all employees. That doesn’t mean I deny myself any type of food I enjoy, but it means I make more healthy choices daily than not. I keep my weight in check and stay reasonably active averaging 4-5 miles a day of walking. I could do more, but I won’t obsess about it. As far as my doctor and I are concerned, I’m in good health and I want to keep it that way.
  4. As long as I can make positive contributions, I’ll keep giving my best to my employer. I love what I do and the wonderful people I get to do it with every day at my job, so unless some unexpected ideal opportunity comes knocking on my door and makes me an offer I can’t refuse (not likely), I’m happy to stay where I am and do my best to make a positive difference for my company. I’m in my 14th year here and I like the thought of making it to my 20th anniversary.
Christmas 2016 family pajama party

Christmas 2016 family pajama party

As long as God gives me life, breath, passion, skills and opportunity along with the health and mind to make a difference in the world, then who am I to plan otherwise? Sure, I’d rather be working out of my home these days most of the time instead of going in to the office. I’d rather have more sleep and more free time. I need to get better at saying “no” to some requests that consume huge amounts of what should be free time. But I value serving others more than serving myself, so saying “no” is a constant struggle.

There is actually a spiritual and biblical component to why I keep the schedule I do. I just don’t see anywhere in the Bible where old folks are told to stop being productive and fade away, doing nothing but living for themselves the rest of their days. It just isn’t scriptural. The ways in which we are able to serve necessarily change over time, but the fact that we serve does not change. My health and abilities may dictate what I can and can’t do, but I can still serve God and man in some way as long as there is one more breath in me.

So this week I turn 60. It sure has me being more reflective than a typical week or a normal birthday. It isn’t just another date on the calendar. It’s a chance to reenlist in life – in making a difference and serving the best I can wherever ability meets opportunity.

Time to get back to work…

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Added Feb. 3, 2017: I just ran across this quote from Margaret Mead which seems appropriate – “Sooner or later I’m going to die, but I’m not going to retire.”

I just published an article on LinkedIn reflecting on some lessons learned over the past 16 days of being in a new (to us) house, and how the experience compares to joining a new online community. I invite you to read it here.

20160813-4some700x247

resetI don’t normally think too much about my age. I’m a busy guy who loves my life and my work and the many opportunities to engage with friends, family, church, work colleagues and others every day. My health is good and I’m thankful that I can do just about whatever I choose to do when I choose to do it. While I grieve at the direction my country seems to be heading in a number of ways, I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I do not take such blessings for granted.

Nevertheless, passing my 59th birthday this past January and starting the countdown to 60 has impacted me more than I expected. More time is spent thinking about the next decade, changes I’m experiencing or want to experience to position myself to live life as I envision it being in the coming decade. Some changes are forced on me by health and aging. For example, I’ve noticed the last couple of years that my body demands a lot more sleep than before. For decades, 5-6 hours of sleep a night was adequate, but now the body wants 8+ hours a night (which I’m still not giving it, but at least I’m closer to that number than before). There are a few consistent aches and pains with feet and joints that remind me I haven’t found any magical fountain of youth. Reminders are frequent that I can’t continue indefinitely the pace I’ve kept for decades.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about slowing down – about hitting a few reset buttons in life that signal a shift in gears or direction to something more suitable for life in my 60s. That does not mean retirement in the typical American sense of the word. I just don’t see anything biblical about ceasing to live a productive life and turning nearly hedonistic for the last few decades God gives me on this earth. That isn’t an option for me financially, anyway, but even if it was, there are too many needs around that I can do something about to sit back and live life as though I’m the center of the universe the rest of my days. (Here’s a good interview with John Piper on that subject.)

The slowing down I’m thinking of might be analogous to a road trip in a car. We started slow from our place of origin, picked up steam and cruised along for decades at a pretty high speed, only occasionally slowing down to rest. Now we are closer to our destination. Because of that, it’s time to exit the fast lane, get off the highway, take a slower ride through the remaining neighborhoods, and settle in to a new routine. It’s not the end of the road, but the end is more in view than ever before.

BauerAve

Current home in St. Matthews, KY

I have several reset buttons in mind that I can see myself pushing in 2016 as part of the path forward to life as I imagine it in my 60s. The first is to leave the wonderful home we’ve enjoyed for the past 28 years – the home we raised our boys in and dearly love, full of memories that will last a lifetime. We agreed in January to purchase a Victorian home in Old Louisville currently undergoing a total renovation. It should be ready in another month or so. It was built in 1900 and has stood empty and lifeless for a number of years – a blight on an otherwise wonderful block just two streets away from the church we’re so invested in. To that end, we listed our cozy Cape Cod home in St. Matthews (Louisville) and just accepted a contract to sell it a few days ago after 69 emotional days on the market. Closings won’t happen for another 1-2 months, assuming all goes well, so the limbo continues somewhat but with far more calm than before the contract.

Future home under renovation

Future home under renovation

That major reset button of being in our new home does several things. It puts us very close to my work, my wife’s work, our church, and my mother-in-law – basically where most of life happens for us on a day-to-day basis. It gives us a dream home that many may think is unwise for folks our age due to its size and three floors of stairs to climb, but which we love the idea of having for many reasons. At the top of the list (besides proximity to work and church) is the opportunity to use the home for hospitality on a regular basis with different groups, especially from the church and, we hope, the neighborhood. At some point down the road, it also gives us the ability to keep in the family many cherished items that now reside in my parents’ large, pre-Civil War home. Those pieces of furniture don’t work in a Cape Cod home like we live in now, but they work in our new home, and this gives us the chance to keep them in the family for at least one more generation.

ParentsHome

My Parents’ home

There are two other reset buttons in view for me that deal with finances and work, but the details of both are still uncertain at this point. Time will tell whether I push them and what happens if I do. One reset button at a time is more than enough for now and the current one concerning our home will keep us occupied for the next several months.

The most important parts of life are the present and what has yet to happen. We can’t stay in the past because life just doesn’t move that direction. Regardless of one’s age, we ought to be thinking about and planning for the future, reinventing ourselves occasionally, making the most of our abilities and opportunities, adjusting as needed to the realities thrust upon us. I’m thankful for nearly 60 years of a blessed life with opportunities most people on earth don’t enjoy. My mind, though, is focusing on the decade to come and what changes I should make in the journey now to position myself to be where I should be, doing what I should do, in this next important chapter. It’s exciting! I thank God for the journey and the possibilities ahead, and I trust him to work them out as he knows best.

I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.

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p.s. – It’s good to get back to blogging. I’ve missed doing so for the past two months while buying & selling homes was a major distraction. A lot of thoughts have built up and need to come out. Thanks for reading.

[edited April 1, 2016]