The announcement is out and public. Our long held dream to stop working full time has launched and the countdown to the last, for now, punch of the time clock comes with the dawning realization that it is for real. We will enter into a new phase in our lives next spring that brings with it excitement, a sense of loss, and a host of unknowns.
This all was brought home to me last month by a series of unrelated events and encounters. The first was a night out on Friday with a group of friends from campus, taking in a dance recital preceded by dinner and a few beers at the Flying Saucer. Our third night out that week, it demonstrates how we’ve created a place for ourselves in Charlotte, an active busy live full of folks who share our interests.
As we sat crowded into the booth, trying to hear each voice at the table over the din of the place, a number of other people passed by on their way to the back room to celebrate an honorees attainment of a plate, an event of distinction at the Saucer. It reinforced what I’ve discovered here, which is that Charlotte can be a small town at times, and brought with it the realization that by fulfilling our dream of traveling for extensive periods of time, we will forego these interactions that bring so much to our lives.
The second encounter took place the next day on Saturday. Joanna and I set out in the morning to ride forty or so miles on our bicycles, stopping in route at a baby shower for one of my direct reports at work. It was a fine and glorious early fall afternoon with moderate temperatures and clear deeply blue skies, the kind of day featured in songs about North Carolina. We’d put in about 25 miles so knew that even if we just went straight home after the shower, we’d feel good about our effort.
We pulled up to the house and parked our bikes, peeling off a few of our outer garments, in order to appear, if not attractive, at least moderately presentable. We went inside and joined the happy party. Consisting of family members and close friends it was a warm friendly gathering with amounts of plentiful delicious food and beverage to help spread good feelings.
I was introduced to the stepfather of the host, a ponytailed gentlemen a couple of years my senior. He and I fell into a conversation that evolved over a bit of time as we discovered a number of mutual interests and shared experiences. He had graduated from UC Santa Barbara in the mid 60’s and spent time in the army stationed in Germany, two places I’m quite familiar with.
Somewhere along the line I must have mentioned that we’d be retiring next year and traveling to Europe. He had retired early, in him mid-fifties, and never regretted the decision for a moment. As he explained it, “You become the CEO of your own life.” You direct your path and that course; good, bad, indifferent is entirely reflective of the priorities, needs, and desires that define you at that moment.
We left the party and made our way home, a relatively easy 10-15 miles along a familiar route, providing opportunity for reflection. Playing back moments of the afternoon in my mind as I spun along on that bike, it became clear to me that I would truly miss the life I now lead, the good work, the established routines, the easy familiarity of it all. But in exchange, I will chart my own course. I’ll get to be my own CEO. I think I’m ready.