Fifteen years ago today, at around 5:30 PM, I locked my office door for the last time and walked away from my engineering career at Eastman Kodak. Although I still think about some of my fellow workers and wonder how they are doing, I am not nearly so nostalgic about those days as I was when I wrote about them several years ago. Simply put, I have been down those roads many times and there is no place left to go back there.
Yet October 30 remains a day of reflection for me, more so than my birthday. These days, it is not my Kodak career that I’m apt to reflect upon but what has transpired since.
I floundered for some years after I left Kodak but not because work and career formed the bedrock of my life. Rather it was because I hadn’t done much other than work and career, and (surprise!) it turned out that I wasn’t very good at the things I hadn’t practiced.
Before I left Kodak, I had pretty much followed the traditional American script: school, marriage, career, home, children. I had lived in the same city and worked for the same company my entire adult life. I mainly had to show up, be responsible, and work hard. The last day I walked out the factory gate, the well-scripted part of my life was over.
Improvisation was never my strong suit and I knew it. Nonetheless, I decided that I would rather wing it than go down with the ship, so to speak. I knew that my future, if any, with Kodak would involve day-to-day firefighting on the factory floor, not a good match for my deliberate speed-of-thought. I told myself I could start anew with the support of my wife, who was eager herself to leave the land of lake-effect snow. So southward we bounded.
As someone who had thought entrepreneur was French for flamboyant doorman, I wound up making more mistakes and experiencing more failures, at least at the outset, than I had in my thirty-year career. I aborted my foray into financial planning before it even began, when I realized that the middle-income clients who I hoped to serve simply didn’t exist in this area. Then my poorly-marketed real estate photography stint crashed along with the rest of the economy in 2008. Ironically, I wound up doing in desperation exactly what I did not want to do in my final days at Kodak: process troubleshooting for a local factory. To further grind my face into the dust of my professionalism, management made me wear a uniform with my first name sewn onto the shirt. Good morning, sir! After I figure out what’s wrong with the machine this time, would you like me to check your oil?
I worked for that company, whose five-letter name remains a four-letter word to me, for as long as I could stand it. I quit within weeks of looking at our finances and concluding that my wife and I could retire when we were ready.
I haven’t worked for money since then, so that must mean I am either retired or an artist.
Over time, I have lost touch with what work is about, why careers matter. I can’t imagine having to get up every day at early-o’clock to shower, dress and drive to a desk — the idea seems almost barbaric now. Although I keep inventing other things that matter (this blog, my art, the next household fix-it project), my approach to all of it is strictly Friday-casual. If I even bother to change out of my sweatpants.
What should trouble me is that I have become increasingly sloppy with time management in my retirement. While the young and healthy may get away with this, maybe people with vision and heart issues should not take so many hours of the day for granted. That said, who wants to live his life as a frantic race against the clock? There has got to be a balance. I’m still trying to find it.
I spend a lot of my time writing this blog. When I started it, a few months before I retired, my posts were no more than long-form Facebook comments. But over time, I developed a sense of what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, if not necessarily what readers find interesting to read. (My reflections and ruminations can run long.) Recently, my wife and marketing agent single-handedly increased my subscribers by 50%. I appreciated her efforts (and the willingness of her friends to subscribe) but I am wary of the expectations. After all, this isn’t meant to be work, even when it’s not all fun and games.
In any event, with this post I start my next 15 years of life after Kodak. It’s been a full ride, with more adventures on the trail ahead. So let’s giddy-up and stop looking back.