Tuesday, March 31, 2015

3 Down, 15 To Go.

I have a performance review tomorrow. You know, that annual ritual that most employees go through once a year and dread.

I'd rather not go through with it even though I'm sure it will be relatively painless. It's just that I don't care about it although part of me cares that I don't care about it. But alas, even the part of me that cares that I don't care about it, isn't enough to make me want to care about it, if that makes any sense.

See, here's the deal. I've been working full-time in professional type jobs since I was graduated from college way back in 1975. Music teacher, retail human resource manager and trainer, counselor and consultant. Traveled the Midwest, traveled the country and traveled overseas doing my thing.  Work has been good to me, I have to admit. I've almost always enjoyed what I did and who I did it with. I worked for mostly good organizations. I got to use my strengths most days to do what I do best. I had a good ride.

But I'm tired. Not a beaten down tired, but a fatigue that sort of snuck up on me in the past several years. A fatigue that makes going through things like a performance review at 62 and a half years of age and, after a long and successful career, seem like a waste of time. And if not entirely a waste of time, then at the least, something I'd rather not do and really don't care much about. It's not that I have it bad or that my work life is unbearable, it is just that I'd rather be somewhere else, doing something else.

Some of it will be new adventures and some of it is familiar. I still love playing the saxophone in the community bands. Gardening gets me going in the spring and engages me through autumn. I'd love to get a part-time job doing something where I get to interact with people. And I want to spend more time with my wife and with Grace than I am at the present-going for walks together, visiting the museums and attractions of our region that we haven't seen yet. Some days, just mutual putzing around the house. Heck, I might even learn to take a nap.

Georgette and I are on different time modes since she retired in December. I still have a compressed time schedule and she, having freed herself from 60 hours a week of work and commuting, has the gift of almost unlimited time. Don't get me wrong, I am benefiting directly from her abundance of time. Most nights when I arrive home from work around the 5 o'clock hour, dinner is in preparation (including new recipes) laundry is done, the house is in order and Grace is sleeping in her crate, exhausted from the walk she gets nearly every day.

As evidence of how we spend our days differently, here is a text that was followed by a Facebook post that she posted at 11am yesterday:

Sitting in my work office, killing time, looking at that text and post, wishing I could be there is a mixed bag. On one hand, it's great for her, she deserves it and I can look forward to joining in on the fun someday soon.

On the other hand, soon can't get here soon enough.

So back to that performance review. I'll just keep it to myself that one of my goals for the next year is to "stay in the moment" and "take it a day a time".

It probably hasn't helped  that I made my password on my work computer "Retirement716" a couple of months ago. Or that when I had to change it yesterday, I came up with "Hanginthere716".

Either way,  I'm 3 down, with 15 to go. Wish me luck.

Postscript one day later- Some days I'd rather be lucky than good. My review went well and the woman I report to, the Sr. VP of HR was gracious, thoughtful and supportive. But I'm hoping to not have to do this again next year....wish me luck.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Early jobs and music lessons

There is a row of television screens at the fitness center where I belong. The TVs are there for the folks who slog away on the treadmills, elliptical and cycling machines.  How ironic-while engaging in an activity intended to improve your fitness you get to be discouraged by the constant stream of negativity and fear.

More often than not when I am on one of those machines, I'm ignoring the TVs and am locked into whatever is pumping through the my headphones from my "Exercise Tunes" play list on my I-phone. My eyes will occasionally lock onto one of the screens just in case something other than the usual bad news of the day appears.

That happened earlier this week. The first headline that caught my eye was something to the effect of "Why every teenager needs a job".

OK, I thought- Why do they?

From what I could glean from the messages that were flashed on the screen it had something with work ethic and character development.

Did you know that only 16% of teenagers have a job today? That's down from 32% in 1990.


So who is working the fast food joints and bagging groceries like I did back in the day?

That news piece was immediately followed by a another story that got my attention. This one was about the value of having early music lessons as a way to spur childhood development.

"Children who take music lessons can realize an increase in brain capacity of up 20%. over those who don't"

Something like that.

Wow, I'm batting two for two.

Later on that week, I came across another study that talk about the impact of playing a musical instrument on aging.

"Whether it's the saxophone, the piano, or a ukulele, researchers found that playing an instrument for 10 or more years was correlated with better memory in advanced age compared to those who played music for less than 10 years (or not at all)."  

I guess being a band nerd has some value after all.

Whether playing a musical instrument and having a positive early job experience made me smarter or shaped my character in significant ways is debatable. What I do know is that both gave me an identity and a purpose at a significant time in my life and I'm grateful for that.

Growing up in a large family of 8 children, in the late 1950's and 60's was not my choice.Neither was being left-handed. Or being an extrovert. Those were random happenings.

Neither was the decision to play an instrument. Or getting a job. Those were expectations I received from my parents. A half a century later, I still play the saxophone in a band and am still going to work everyday.

I hear it's harder for teenagers to get jobs these days. Too many adults have taken the jobs teenagers typically do. Too many activities that take up the time that used to be used for work. And maybe that activity is participation in a music program. Some say that internet and all the connectivity that we have is partly to blame. Who knows.

 I don't think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, nor are today's teenagers, if they don't get a job or take music lessons.

I do know how lucky I was when a parent said to me "you're going to play an instrument" and "you need to go get a job".

Some days I'd rather be lucky than good.

Thanks Mom and Dad.


Monday, March 9, 2015

A Sure (and welcome) Sign of Spring

A sure sign of spring appeared today.

No, it wasn't a robin or a crocus or daylight savings time. 

It wasn't the sound of a college baseball game being played over the radio or the sign advertising the Lenten Fish Frys at the neighborhood Catholic Church.

It wasn't the long lines at the car wash or the fact that it's spring break for the schools this week.

It is 8 bags and containers of grasses, vines and other material from the spring yard and garden clean-up, that will be placed out near the street and that will surely have the garbage men muttering under their breath on Wednesday morning.

Yes, the spring garden clean-up began this weekend and I for one, really needed it this year. It wasn't that our winter was harsher than usual. In fact, it was a relatively moderate winter considering what the folks in the northeast have endured. 

But the last couple of weeks have taken me on a roller coaster of emotions brought on by straddling the space between life and death once again. It culminated yesterday morning as I was on my way to my regular Saturday morning meeting when I drove by the Starbucks on 72nd and Dodge and thought of, or more accurately, looked for Al. Over the years, it was almost common to see Al in the drive-thru lane procuring a coveted cup of coffee.

About a month ago, my friend Al who had been battling lung cancer for about 9 months, left the hospital to spend the last of his days in his home.  I made the trip down to his home outside of Omaha 4 days before he passed to see him one last time. I spent about a half hour with him, mostly just listening as he was feeling the effects of the morphine and other medications. However, when my time came to leave, he looked up at me I as stood over him and said, "Well, what do you say when over 20 years of friendship is coming to an end?"  "I say thank you for the gift of your friendship, I love you, and I hope to see you again." And with that, I kissed him on his forehead as I held his hand, then turned and walked out of the room. 

4 days later the e-mail from Al's wife, Michaela,  came telling us that he had passed away peacefully earlier that evening. Later the next day when we spoke, she asked me if I would be willing to speak at Al's service. Of course I said I would.

Georgette and I were scheduled to fly to Florida the following morning to care for our 3 grandchildren while their parents went on a short cruise, but she went without me and I re-booked my ticket to leave early the  morning after Al's funeral. I spent part of the next 2 days preparing my words to honor Al, and on Friday afternoon, in front of a packed chapel full of family and friends, paid tribute to my friend, Al. It was hard, but deeply meaningful, especially when so many of his friends and family told me how much it meant to them.

The next morning I flew to Florida for 2 days where the weather was warm and the company was good. When I returned to Omaha, I was greeted with cold and snow. The following weekend, we went to Kansas City to  care for our 2 granddaughters while their Mom and Dad were at the hospital for the birth of their 3rd daughter, Lane. And when Lane came home several days later, I got to hold her for almost a half an hour before I headed north to get back to work while Georgette stayed for a couple of more days. 

The roller coaster of life and death was about over when I drove by the Starbucks yesterday morning and looked for Al, remembering how many times I would see him there, also on his way to the same place I was headed. And maybe for the first time since I left the funeral home that evening, I felt a small amount of acceptance that he was gone. Gone but not forgotten.

Saying goodbye to a friend and welcoming a grandchild to the world. Funerals and births. Coming and going. Plans that change. Life goes on.

So with the weather forecast for the next 10 days in the high 50's & 60's,  it was time to get to work. Garden and yard clean-up...my soul sure needed it.

I can't explain why, but working outside in the garden, in the sunlight, seemed to be just what I needed. A welcome and tangible sign of hope, of renewal, of the cycle of life. 

I'm not sure the garbage man will see it that way when they load the bags and containers on Wednesday morning, but then again, maybe they will. A sign of spring for them perhaps, but just not as welcome as the sign I saw.

 Welcome or not, the signs of spring are here.