Does Retirement Make You Disappear?
When I accepted an early retirement from the company I had worked at for well over two decades, I did so because I knew both our business and the economy in general were shrinking. I knew, because of my position in the enterprise Program Management Office (actually, an attempt at a Project Portfolio Management Office, as I recall), there were going to be layoffs and I had reason to suspect I might be one of them. There were lots of good reasons to believe so, not the least of which was my propensity to push for the use of social media to both enhance internal communications and to better market an organization that had never really marketed itself (have you ever heard of Rocketdyne? You have and don’t even know it. See if you recognize any names here). Neither of these positions had proved all that popular amongst either the leadership or the rank and file.
I was also over two and half years into the demographic the offer was made to (everyone 60 and over) and whether they meant to or not, they were telling me I was getting long in the tooth and, perhaps, they wanted me to move over for younger blood. At least that’s how it felt. They may not have meant it that way but it felt a bit like they were telling me, regardless of my service or anything I had previously done for the organization, I was no longer needed and, perhaps, no longer wanted. Again, that’s pretty much how it felt.
For those, and many other, reasons I accepted the severance package they offered after some little deliberation and a lot more financial analysis to see just how tenable my position would be. I have often referred to their offer as a gold-leafed handshake; not exactly gold-plated and hardly a golden handshake. It amounted to about a half year’s salary. Fortunately, my wife and I had scrupulously saved and forsaken a lot of things we might otherwise have spent money on over the years in order to build up a reasonably large nest egg. With the knowledge it would be years before we had to sell the house and live out of our vehicles, and knowing the skills and capabilities I possessed stood me well in the business community, I took the plunge and accepted the offer.
Shortly after leaving I started looking around for the possibility of finding an organization that could use my services and wasn’t in the position my previous company was in; that is, they were hiring rather than laying off. I posted a few resumes with some very large companies and was even asked to apply for a position with a very large tech company that provided many of the tools – or types of tools – I had been learning and evangelizing at my previous place of employment. Unfortunately, nothing panned out and I didn’t much feel like spending more time than necessary beating my head against a wall, especially given the continuing deterioration of the economy.
Mind If We Stay In Touch?
Now, I’ve written before about the need – as I see it – for companies such as the one I retired from to stay in touch with former employees. I had proposed a method of doing so at least seven years ago when I suggested we provide access to our internal expertise location/sharing tool (an early, proprietary social media tool) for retirees who wished to remain engaged on an as-needed basis after they left. It seemed a small investment to make and I knew there were lots of former employees who, despite their retirement, would have welcomed being asked to throw in their two-cents worth on an important issue. We made rocket engines, for crying out loud, and our engines had propelled virtually every American astronaut since the very beginning of the Mercury project. Nobody I knew really wanted to totally stop being a part of that kind of awesomeness.
Needless to say, my proposal fell on deaf ears. Ironically, although the aerospace industry designs and manufactures some of the most technologically advanced products in the world (in our case, the Space Shuttle Main Engine, numerous other rocket engines, and some pretty cool energy products involving what we called “extreme engineering“), their embrace of computer technology is almost always way behind the curve. This is not necessarily so in terms of engineering computing, but is most definitely the case when it comes to business processes and internal communications. It was a source of mildly aggravating bemusement for over twenty years, but more of that at a later date.
Back To The Grind . . . Eventually
Back to this ongoing communications thing. I have come to realize, despite the over two decades I spent at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, my departure has made me completely transparent to the company. Many of the people I used to talk with daily, even those who are Facebook friends, haven’t said word one to me. I guess it’s kind of a cultural thing. Once you’ve retired and are presumably out of the workforce, you just don’t exist anymore. Unless, of course, I were to play golf with the company golf club. Then, at least for the duration of the game and the drinking afterward, I would exist in perpetuity. There are, as well, a few notable exceptions. Several people with whom I worked closely have remained in contact with me and I am deeply appreciative of our ongoing relationships.
Speaking of cultural mores, I suppose this is a logical extension of how we treat older people in general. We are, after all, a culture that exalts youth and all of its frivolity and mundane inanity. I suppose I should have known this would happen and, truth to tell, I’ve really been enjoying this retirement thing. I know it can’t last; we don’t really have enough money to maintain a decent standard of living and still be able to send our two young girls to college in 8 and 11 years from now. However, I’m just about ready to return to working at something that will take close to a full-time effort. Right now, though, I still feel a bit like the Invisible Man.
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