Her office was scattered with boxes, papers, and knickknacks. I’d never seen it this way. Here she was, packing up everything after a three to four-decade career. As she gingerly removed the last remaining photographs from the corkboard, I could see sun-soaked squares – leaving an outline of the past.
With a gigantic smartphone in hand, she pulled me aside to take a selfie. I laughed – not used to this cordiality. I felt the baton passing. Here was this transitional moment between generations. And with a sweet tenderness in her voice, she said goodbye.
Nearly her whole life was spent working in one place. The “best” years of her life were given to the cause of higher education. It had been a sacrifice. She fought with administrators and faculty, but always was an advocate for students. Now, she was leaving.
I knew I’d miss her presence in the halls. Her passion fundamentally pushed me to be a better writer and academic. And frankly, it seemed like she was struggling to say goodbye to all the colleagues, staff members, students, and friends.
All I could think was, “I’d like to have this moment.” I’d love to be at the end of a long career and struggling to leave. I’d love to leave fulfilled.
As a fourth-year doctoral student, I’m not in my career, but I’ve sort of started it. It’s strange. I’m not an undergraduate, but I’m also not a faculty member. I don’t pay tuition (any more), but I’m also not making much. And in this quasi-career state, I can’t help but wonder what motivates someone to put 30 to 40 years into a career – to stay at one employer.
At 26 (almost 27), I wonder how to find flow – that love in a career and life. The recipe is different for everyone, but I think I know what I need. A life with my girlfriend, maintaining friendships, being challenged intellectually at work, getting paid a wage that allows me to live in comfort (everyone’s different, I just want a roof, a few books, and Internet access), and having opportunities to collaborate all come to mind. Likely, I’ll discover more over time.
Becoming more frugal and minimal, I’ve realized how little I need beyond social connection and work satisfaction. I’m not picturing Ferraris and McMansions. Instead, I envision small homes and public transit. I don’t see $300 bottles of red wine at lavish steak restaurants. I think about healthy, tasty meals with those I care about. And these dreams influence what I’ll need and where I’ll want to be.
I want a job where I work hard, but never look at the clock. I want a job where my start time isn’t used as a character judgement, but rather my productivity. I want a job where I can make a difference in people’s lives, but still maintain my own.
I’m nearing the end of graduate school and full of questions. I want to ask people what attracted them to their employer. What made them stay? How did salaries influence their decision to stay at one employer? What made someone struggle to leave after decades of employment?
There’s a secret in those years of service. What’s yours?