if you watched yesterday’s super bowl, you couldn’t miss all the speculation that peyton manning is going to retire after this season, after clinching the most wins of any quarterback, and being the first qb to win the super bowl with two different teams. (for non-u.s. readers, or non-football fans, don’t worry. the football part of this post ends in approximately two sentences.) nevermind that peyton is 39 — the same age as mr. onl — and plays a sport in which that’s a perfectly acceptable age, if not a little old actually, to retire. what’s incredible is that peyton has the rare privilege of choosing to go out on top, on his own terms.
not many people, in sports and in regular working life, get that choice. many people who plan to work to 65 or beyond are forced to retire earlier by failing health or — worse — they die while still working. maybe they get laid off or fall victim to ageism, can’t find another job, and end up retired by default. even in sports, few athletes get to choose when they’re done. most often that choice is made for them by injury or declining performance, and they may just fade away while hoping a new team will give them another chance, or get cut unceremoniously by a team they’ve given their blood, sweat and tears to.
we talked about this a lot during yesterday’s game, how our situation is this very tiny bit like peyton manning’s (and unlike his situation in every other possible way). we’ve worked at our careers long enough to feel like we’ve had real careers, not just a stint doing this or that. we’ve climbed the ladder, and have seen the view from every level. we’ve earned the level of autonomy and responsibility that our younger selves dreamed of having one day. assuming no major tragedies befall us in the next ~ two years, it will be our choice of when we leave the game, and we feel pretty fantastic in knowing that we’ll be going out on top.
but going out on top is only possible because we’ve actually earned our way to the peak. we didn’t retire early when we’d only just begun to climb. while we may lament that we could’ve retired earlier if we’d figured all of this out sooner, the trade-off would be losing this feeling of a culmination. and we’re starting to think that maybe it’s worth it to be working a little longer in exchange for that feeling.
enjoying the career arc
here in fire blogland, we all tend to talk — understandably — about our collective desire to exit our careers as fast as we possibly can. we have all these things we want to do, after all! artistic pursuits, athletic pursuits, travels and adventures, feats of self-sufficiency. it’s awesome stuff that gets us all excited, and we’re right to share that excitement with one another. but we got to wondering if maybe this focus on the future, or envy of the present enjoyed by those who are already retired, has the unintended consequence of making us miss out on the joy of the arcs of our careers.
sure, many of us may work again after we’re retired. maybe freelance work, or some part-time version of what we used to do. or just plain old fun jobs, like what we have in mind for ourselves. and we may put to use many of the skills we’ve gained through our work, like we hope to do in our volunteer and board work. but we’ll never again have a career. a directional series of jobs or positions that build on one another and represents growth and some level of reward.
especially for those of us planning to make an early exit, let’s make sure we pause sometimes to appreciate our careers. what we’ve learned, how we’ve grown, the respect we’ve earned. the opportunities we’ve enjoyed that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. the hard work we’ve put in, not just once, but again and again, over time, for long enough that we’ve changed as people along the way.
reaching the peak before pulling the ripcord
we’ve made no secret about our baller past, and the possibility that we could be retired by now if we’d reformed our ways sooner. and we’ve also made no secret about how hard our jobs are on us. i’m already 20 flights and 13 hotel nights into 2016, and mr. onl has already had multiple all-nighters. (perhaps the best description of how all-consuming it is? our christmas tree — or a desiccated shell of it, anyway — is still standing in our family room.) it’s easy to see only the bad. it’s easy to feel only the bad, when all we want to do in a weekend is catch up on sleep, even though there’s fresh snow we could be skiing. but there’s the very, very good of it, too, and not just the paychecks that are letting us save fast for early retirement. there’s the fact that, last week, i had the most senior role in a major new business pitch for the first time ever — a role i’ve wished i could have in approximately every other pitch i’ve ever been a part of. there’s the joy of knowing that that pressure didn’t make me crumple, it made me be my best self. there’s the joy of knowing that potential clients call us now, not our bosses, because we’ve built up strong reputations in our fields. there’s the joy of the same clients calling us over and over for new projects, over the course of years, because they know we’ll do good work and be fun to work with. there’s the satisfaction of knowing that we’ve built something with our careers, not just used them as a means to sock away money.
none of those joys are things we could experience if we’d peaced out of our careers as soon as we possibly could. though we’ll always feel little pangs of envy when we see 20-somethings traveling the world, or even retiring for good, we’re glad to have done it this way. even if we know that we’ll never look back from our deathbeds and say, “i wish i’d spent more time at the office,” even though we know that our careers aren’t where we draw our true inspiration and happiness from, we know there’s more to it than that. we feel proud of what we’ve accomplished, proud of what we’ve contributed to the world through our careers, proud of the relationships we’ve built with colleagues and clients, proud of how we’ve mentored those coming up behind us. so during our (we hope) many years of early retirement, followed by many years of “traditional retirement,” it makes us happy to know that we’ll have a lot to look back on with pride and a sense of real achievement.
deciding what we want out of each season of life, career included
certain careers have an intrinsic, built-in goal — a quarterback’s only real goal is to win the super bowl — but most of us have to decide for ourselves what we want to achieve in our careers, or in early retirement, or in our relationships, or in life generally. the goal is a choice, based on what we need to feel fulfilled. as for us, we haven’t cured cancer. we won’t have landed humans on mars. we won’t (yet) have written the great american novel. (haha!) but we have achieved a lot of things that we’ll always be proud of, including working our way up to the top titles at our companies short of taking over the place, and earning the respect of people we have long respected. it’s up to each of us to decide what “going out on top” looks like, and what we need to achieve first to feel that we’ve reached that peak.
what does “going out on top” mean to you in your life? or are career achievements overrated? has anyone stuck around in a career longer than you needed to, because you wanted to achieve something particular before you retired? or pulled the plug and never looked back at your career? we’d love to hear all viewpoints — please share ’em in the comments!