#26 When At Work, WORK!

We’ve all known one.

Those “late career” folks who are within striking distance of retirement, who for some reason change their approach to work.  They’ve put in 35+ years, they’re tired, unmotivated.  Perhaps they feel that they’re under-appreciated, their best years are behind them, they’re no longer valued? Perhaps they’ve been “pushed off” into a corner and ignored.

So…They Drift.

They lose their momentum.  They disengage.  They suffer.  As readers of this blog, I’m assuming many of you are very interested in retirement, and are within 5-10 years of reaching this critical benchmark.  It’s fine to think and plan about it in your free time, but:

When At Work, WORK!

Whenever possible, seek opportunities to engage.  Connect with the “younger” generation, seek ways to share (humbly) the wisdom from decades in the workforce.  Speak up in meetings, make suggestions on an issue that may not be directly in your area of responsibility.  Seek opportunities to get engaged in areas where you past experience can add value.  Change your mindset.  Be positive.  Take people to lunch.  Don’t let yourself become cynical.

Take personal responsibility.  Don’t become a Drifter.

The person who ultimately suffers is you.  The person who can change your situation is you.

When the next downsizing comes (there’s always the next downsizing), be the one who the company can’t afford to lose.  Earn your place.  Be the subject matter expert who people look up to as the critical link.  It beats being the poor soul who loses their job in their mid-50’s, two years before they can retire, without a realistic prospect of every landing another job with the same income you’re already earning.  Even if you’re in a bad situation with your boss, focus on what you can control.  When the next reorganization comes (there’s always the next reorg), you’ll land on your feet with a new boss, a fresh start.   When at work, WORK!

Earlier today, I gave the largest public presentation of my career.  I was attending a major industry conference, and was invited to be on stage for a “Roundtable” discussion on many global issues affecting my industry.  In attendance were ~400 of the top leaders of the industry.  CEO’s, Presidents, VP’s, high level influencers from companies all across the industry, all across the world.

At 52, and with a lot of focus on retirement planning, did I Drift?  Far from it.  I viewed it as an opportunity of a lifetime, and have commited the past two weeks to intense preparation.  I put together 18 index cards with ~70 detailed facts on our industry (Chinese growth rate, export statistics, pricing trends, etc.).  As evidence of my effort, below is a picture of my “Homework”:

Index Cards

I determined to memorize every detail, on every card.  I studied, I practiced.  I even had dreams (scary, right?).  I was strongly commited, and put forth extraordinary effort to excel.  I can state with full assurance that I can recite every detail, on every card, from memory, without effort.

My Objective for today’s opportunity (which, in my mind, felt like a Final Exam):  to talk in a relaxed fashion, in front of a large crowd, without notes, on any major aspect of our industry.  To develop my reputation as a subject matter expert on all things related to my field.  To take advantage of the visibility to project to almost every major leader in my industry that I was on top of my game.

I finished my talk 11 hours ago.  Forgive me as I say:  I smoked it.  From the time I finished my presentation until this late post-dinner hour as I finish this blog, I’ve had countless folks walk up, introduce themselves, shake my hand, and sincerely congratulate me on my industry expertise and knowlege on critical issues of importance.  I’ll likely never know the true impact of my intense preparation, but I’ve absolutely no doubt the efffort was worth the result.

Tonight, I’m smiling.  I know I did my best, and I’ve got to admit it feels really, really good.

I’m not saying this to brag.  I’m using it as a small indication in my normal course of work to illustrate the value of a positive mindset.  To illustrate the difference your mental approach can make in your perception of your role at work.  To encourage you to dedicate yourself to making a deliberate choice to focus your efforts on being the best you can be.  In short, to encourage you to make the personal decision that only you can make.   Try it, I think you’ll like it.

Bottom line:

When at work, WORK.


  1. “I’m assuming many of you are very interested in retirement, and are within 5-10 years of reaching this critical benchmark.” …Okay, maybe I’m not your typical audience. My retirement is at least 20 years out (potentially 30), but I always learn something from your articles. I love my job, and I think I would continue working for these decades even if financial independence was in my grasp. What you described is my ultimate dream: To be engaged and making a difference later in my career. I have seen people of all ages be ghost employees who don’t give their all, and I’ve had coworkers of all ages inspire me to be bigger and do more. You are obviously in the latter category, my friend. Nice work, and a great read.

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