One of the things I’m enjoying about 40 is having authentic conversations. Shallow chats just for PR are taking too much bandwidth. I had an accidental lunch with a friend last week. We met at a golf event and he invited me to join him for lunch. Now who says no to free lunch and good company? I met this gentleman six years ago and his sense of humour is what drew me to him. He cracks jokes that are easy to repeat to your pals and still evoke laughter. Jokes with a long shelf life are priceless. He has the rare ability to create a rib cracking joke from an ordinary occurrence as you interact with him. He is years older than me but has a zest for life that’s contagious.
My pal (I’m not to mention his name) has had a long career in corporate Kenya. He recently left his longstanding employer after 34 years but this was involuntary. The company got into turbulent times, was put under receivership and so was his job.
“After 34 years all they gave me was a letter which I was to pick from HR sending me home, not even a cup of tea,” he said.
He had served the company with full dedication and often went beyond the call of duty. Many times when on out of town assignments he would use his car so as to save the company money. He was even acting MD for some time because of his good work. In a day he would receive about 150 emails that he had to go through, prioritise and respond to appropriately. Since he left his job, he gets about three emails in his inbox. One is a forward, one is spam and the other a genuine one from the voluntary work he does in his golf club. Kweli corporate life is cold kabisa.
I have not experienced it having been in jua kali all my life One minute everyone is your best friend but when the title and job disappears you’re on your own. He even told me it’s difficult to get opportunities of new work yet it’s his former colleagues running the show. I thought it would be easier because of the familiarity but he gets treated like he’s stepped on a skunk. No one wants to hang out with him for too long. Truly success is blinding.
My pal is struggling with the machine that he became as a result of his high pressure life. His life was a series of deadlines and fire fighting. Now life is so slow and there’s no hurry to get anything done. It’s like getting a formula one car off the race track and using it to till a shamba in readiness for planting season. He’s struggling to cope with the 72 hour days he has now (a day feels that long to him). I could sense he is afraid of living this way. No one prepared him for it, hence he has no coping mechanism.
He then paused after sipping his freshly squeezed mango juice (he still has class hehe) and said something that freaked me out. He mentioned two men I had heard of. One passed away while on leave and the other got a life-threatening stroke while on holiday. These two chaps had arrived as far as corporate Kenya is concerned. They were at the top of the corporate ladder. The only way to continue up was to get onto the helipad at the top of the building and fly away.
My pal said as a matter of fact that most high achieving men die while on leave or on holiday. Now I understand why he looked scared. I got scared too for a moment. So I must be a high achieving man hehe. Is rest fatal? I wondered. I thought we work hard and look forward to well-deserved rest. So what’s the missing link here?
My definition of retirement is not an age but a time when my investments work for me. Maybe retirement as we have known it is the curse. Going shags just to chill and throw maize at the road runner chickens. As long as we have good health and our faculties are in working order we should remain productive till our last breath. The trick therefore is to learn how to keep manoeuvring and changing as life requires. The ability to identify new opportunities is key as life progresses. Perhaps that way we shall approach the ending of each season of life with the anticipation of starting a new one.
That chat with my pal (plus the lunch of course) was the highlight of my day. He was in high spirits when we parted and I’m sure his new assignment is round the corner. He may have to reprogram the Ferrari he is to a Toyota maybe so as to seize the opportunity. And therein lies the secret. The ability to be fully committed to the cause at hand while remaining flexible enough to change.
Folks, I hope we can agree that there will be no retirement for us (in the going shags kind of way). May the end in a phase of our lives scare us positively to discover a new more exciting phase. Imagine if at the end of time we discovered we had lived only one chapter of the book that was our lives and left many chapters unread. Now that would be tragic. With a flexible, no-retirement mind-set we can go on holiday or leave without fear.