6 Lessons Learned During 33 Years In Corporate America

The special night had finally arrived.

30 of my closest co-workers, from 33 years in business, made time for the event.  My wife drove 2 hours to be there.  The CEO even popped in for a surprise visit.

The time had come.

My Retirement Dinner.

Gulp.  Does that mean I have to prepare a retirement speech? No surprise to my readers, I’m sure, to hear that I’m a Planner.  My retirement dinner was no different.  As I thought about MY retirement dinner I had to plan what I was going to do for a retirement speech.  After 33 years in Corporate America, what should I say?

Should I write something formal?

Or should I wing it?

I decided to write.

Below, in its entirety is what I decided to say in my retirement speech…  (names changed to protect the innocent)

My Retirement Speech

I’ve been debating whether to give a “formal” retirement speech for weeks.  I think back to Jim Smith, who gave the best retirement speech I’ve ever heard.  It was written. Those of you who know me well know that I love to write.  

AND, while I’ll be retiring from the world of Corporate America in 23 days, I’ll most likely continue to write for years to come.   

So…I decided to “go formal”.

I Decided To Write.  

For My Retirement Speech, I Shared 6 Lessons I've Learned During 33 Years In Corporate America. Click To Tweet

6 Lessons Learned In 33 Years

Tonight, I’d like to share 6 lessons I’ve learned during my 33 years in Corporate America.

On July 5, 1985, I walked into the Warren plant for the first time in my life.  I’d just graduated from college and was arriving for my first day on the job as a Customer Service Representative.

I made $21,500 that first year.  $21k, and yet here I am now, retiring at Age 55.

Lesson One:  If you want to retire, save early, and save aggressively.

If you’re not saving 20%, you’re not aggressive enough. Learn how to manage your money for yourself.  Let me give you a hint: I’ve heard of a pretty good website called The Retirement Manifesto if you’d like to pick up a few tips. 

My boss in that first job in Warren was Tom Smith.

Somehow, I survived.    

I continued to survive for 33 years.  And I’ve learned some things along the way.

I learned, for example,  that Warren, Ohio was a great place to find a wife.  After work, Tom and I would go to a local fitness club to play racquetball.  It so happens that there was a very attractive young lady who worked behind the guest counter at that fitness club, and I’m thankful that the company placed me in Warren, where I met my wonderful wife, Jackie.

We married on October 17. 1987 (30 years ago), and she’s been with me every step of the way.

Tonight isn’t a celebration of MY retirement. Rather, it’s a celebration of OUR retirement. Click To Tweet

I love you all, but I don’t think it’ll surprise any of you to know I love my wife more.  She’s put up with 9 relocations, and countless missed birthdays and anniversaries as I’ve accumulated 1 Million Miles on Delta Air Lines.  

Starting on June 8th, that’s all behind us.

Our spouses make sacrifices for our careers, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity, publically, to thank Jackie for all of the sacrifices she’s made for my career.  

Lesson Two: Find someone to love in this life, & love them unconditionally. 

Nobody is perfect, so be quick to forgive, & recognize that life is better if you have someone to enjoy it with.

In the past 33 years, I’ve also learned that every career goes through periods of HIGHS AND LOWS. I’ve learned that we can’t always control the situations we face, but we can always control the attitude with which we choose to face it.

Along those lines, I’d like to read this quote from “Decoding the Science Of Ultimate Human Performance”  (click here for the book)

“Scientists who study human motivation have learned that after basic survival needs have been met, the combination of autonomy, mastery, and purpose are our most powerful intrinsic drivers—the three things that motivate us most.”

Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose are the 3 things that motivate us most in life. Click To Tweet

Each of those 3 have played a major role in my successful career, and I’d like to say a word about each:

  • First, Autonomy (Or, the desire to direct your own life)

Always realize that you have control over life.  Don’t make excuses if things aren’t going your way.  When I was the Director for Specialty Sales, I specifically asked Pierre Benoit, the President of North America at the time, if he’d consider me for the open Berea Plant Manager job.

From Sales Guy To Plant Manager?  What was I thinking? The role sounded interesting to me, and I wanted to give it a shot.

I got the job, and my career took off.

Lesson 3:  Realize you have the ability to direct your own life.  Pursue Autonomy.

  • Second, Mastery (or, the desire to learn, explore and be creative):

Any of you who know me know that I’ve always been a lifelong learner and, God Willing, I always will be.

If you’re going to do something, do it well.   Learn every aspect of your job, and explore areas in your “outside life” that interest you.

Two stories:  One from work, and one from my “outside life”

  1. Harbor Conference:  Mastery – 16 index cards, memorized every word.  (I wrote about that experience in When At Work, Work!)  The pursuit of Mastery.

2) The Retirement Manifesto:  A lot of you know about my blog, but I suspect few of you know the background.  I built it out of curiosity, as a way to learn and be creative.  It’s become something I never imagined, and it’s worked out perfectly as a “bridge” into my retirement.  Most important to me, and based on a LOT of emails I’ve received from my readers, is that I’m impacting people’s lives through my writing, and that’s rewarding beyond words.

Lesson 4:  Never stop being curious, never stop learning.  Pursue Mastery.

Third, Purpose  (or, the desire to matter, the desire to contribute to the world)

No offense, but Purpose isn’t about some glitzy video.  Find something that REALLY matters to you, and put some energy into developing that aspect of your life.

I’m willing to bet it’s not your work.  I know work was never my Purpose. For me, and I suspect for many of you, my God and my family always meant more to me than my work, and they always will.

Lesson 5:  Define your own Purpose.  It’s important. Find a way to Impact A Life.  

Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose – 3 of the most important things I’ve learned in my career, and they’re all in your control.  But there’s more:

I Have Learned…

  • That no one lives a perfect life, but the mindset with which you approach life is within your control, and the mindset you chose to live your life matters.  A lot.

I Have Learned…

  • That having friends matters.  At work, and in life. Treasure friendships.
  • That many of the things we worry about, aren’t worth worrying about at all
  • That being a Lifelong Learner is the only way to live this life.  Take time to explore.
  • That your role at work and at home aren’t the same.  Appreciate the difference, and love your spouse more than your job.
  • That your children are going to leave the nest one day.  Teach them to fly.

I Have Learned…

  • That Financial Independence brings Freedom, and only you can break the chains that bind you to your desk.
  • That life’s about a LOT more than work.  Live your life fully, and keep work in perspective.
  • That sharing things you know with the goal of helping people is a good way to live.
  • That making a difference in someone’s life is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have.

I’ll share a secret with you, now that I’m retiring.  For the past 25 years, I’ve kept a “secret file” with 3 things I’ve learned from over 40 people in our company.  People I’ve worked for, and people I’ve worked with. The name of the file is “Lessons Learned”.

I have a secret file titled Lessons Learned, with over 100 Lessons I've Learned from others during my career. Click To Tweet

Some of those lessons are things I’ve admired about someone, and I’ve tried to incorporate them into my own life.  Others are things that irritate me, blind spots, perhaps. Those are the traits I try to avoid. There are over 100 lessons in that file, and it’s a file I’ll never share with anyone.

I’ve shared some of the lessons from that file with you today, and I hope you’ll consider writing down 1 or 2 of them in your own private file.  In summary, Lesson #6:

Lesson 6:  Learn from everyone you come in contact with, and write down the lessons you learn.

Be self-aware, and modify your approach to life based on what you learn from others.  Always strive to make your life better, and never settle for “Good” when you can go for “Great”.

From Jim Smith’s Speech (I know because it’s in my secret Lessons Learned file):  

  • Before you speak, listen.
  • Before you write, think.
  • Before you spend, earn.
  • Before you criticize, wait.
  • Before you pray, forgive.
  • Before you quit, try.
  • Before you retire, save.
  • Before you die, give.

Jim gave that retirement speech over 10 years ago, but I remember it.  Why?  Because I wrote it down.

In My Lessons Learned File.

The 6 Lessons Learned In My Career

In Summary, the 6 Lessons I’ve learned during 33 years in Corporate America are:

  1. Save Aggressively
  2. Love Unconditionally
  3. Direct Your Own Life.  Pursue Autonomy.
  4. Never Stop Being Curious.  Pursue Mastery.
  5. Pursue Your Own Purpose
  6. Learn From Others, And Write It Down

The One Thing To Remember

It’s been a great run over these past 33 years, and I’ve sincerely enjoyed working with you all.  Realize that your life is about a lot more than work, and invest energy into developing your life outside of work.  The closer you get to retirement, the more important your life outside of work becomes.

Eventually, your work will end and you’ll all be giving your own retirement speeches.  I don’t care if you write your speech, or if you wing it at the last minute.  

If there's nothing else you remember from my retirement speech, remember this. Click To Tweet

What I do care about, however, is that each of you does all that you can, while you’re still working, to ensure that your retirement will be the best retirement you can build.  If there’s nothing else you remember from my retirement speech, it’s my hope that you remember the importance of designing your own retirement, and that you never accept anything less than the best life has to offer, whatever that means to you.

God Bless you all, and I wish you the fulfillment of your dreams in your careers, in your lives, and in the lives of your families.  I appreciate your friendship, and I sincerely hope to keep in touch. If you’ve not done so yet, please sign up for my blog’s email, you can track us through our retirement in the words that I’ll be writing there.  If you’re ever up in Blue Ridge, be sure to reach out, Jackie and I will be retirees up there in the mountains, and we’ll always have time for each and every one of you.

In closing, as Arthur Black (radio host at CBC) said at his retirement at Age 58,

“I’m kind of sorry about leaving, but not sorry enough to stay.”

With that, farewell for now.  In a few weeks I’ll be gone, but hopefully not forgotten.

Thanks again, for 33 Great Years.


  1. Wonderful speech Fritz!

    Being a 26 year old in the workforce, these lessons have definitely hit home with me. Your words provide individuals like myself a great road map towards retirement. I absolutely love that you highlight your family over work. Your family/spouse should always come first, and you have done an excellent job at that.

    I look forward to following your journey into retirement!

    1. Sean, glad to know this old dog can teach you young pups some lessons. It’s a long journey, best to keep your priorities in the right order! Good luck with your career (I suspect you’ll retire well before my “old” age of 55!)

  2. Great speech, Fritz! And congratulations on being able to stay with one company throughout!

    I suspect there’s a lot more resilience and accommodation in your career than you have let on….as you write I’d love to hear more about how you dealt with the (inevitable) difficulties that you encountered during your career. My experience is that it isn’t the “mechanics” of the job that make it difficult….it’s often the “personalities”….

    1. Planedoc, great to see you here, hope the wildfires are treating you kindly. You’ve been around, and you know how the game is played. Certainly, the “personalities” are often more challenging than the job at hand. As I said in the speech, all you can control is the attitude you choose to face things with, even if those “things” happen to be difficult personalities. I’ve seen my share. Water off a duck, my friend.

  3. Very inspiring speech. Congratulations on your retirement Fritz! I love the “sorry- not sorry” ending 🙂 Enjoy your corporate-free life, and I’ll be following your retirement posts with interest.

  4. Congrats, Fritz!

    I hope you have a wonderful retirement.

    You put in the time and did what you had to do to escape early.

    I look forward to reading how you are enjoying the back 9.

  5. Congratulations to your well deserved, well planned and very well anticipated retirement! Only 9 more days and your new life starts. I’m looking forward to read even more of your great stories about your new retired life going forward! Never stop learning!!!

  6. This is awesome, Fritz! Maybe you could start a new side hustle as a speech writer!

    Congrats to you – now let’s get this work stuff wrapped up and get to retirement already! 😉

    — Jim

  7. Well done, thoughtful and a blueprint for life. Others would do well to learn from your lessons. In my short Retirement Speech 15 years back I quoted the “Road Song of the Elves” by J R R Tolkien. (I can still recite it from memory- having first read it over 50 years ago. It still resonates with me and is a theme in my life in retirement.
    “The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.
    Now far ahead the road has gone and I must follow if I can
    Pursuing it with eager feet until it meets some larger way
    and whither then I cannot say.
    Still round the corner there there may wait
    a secret path or hidden gate
    And though I oft have passed them by
    The day shall come at last when I
    Shall take the hidden paths that run
    West of the Moon and East of the Sun”

    My belief in Retirement is — keep learning and doing. For me there is joy and a feeling of achievement in volunteering. Two rewarding ones are in Smithgall Woods State Park teaching school groups and doing trail maintenance ; in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, helping visitor’s with directions and answers, plus Teaching two Junior Ranger Classes on Orienteering and Map Reading. I definitely feel better when physically active.

    1. Curtis, you’re one of the best bosses I ever had, and I treasure our ongoing friendship. You’re in the “Lessons Learned” file, btw (hope you don’t mind me sharing: 1) Take time to smell the roses 2) Keep your job in perspective 3) Treasure your family). Great quote from JRR Tolkien, and a perfect retirement theme!

      I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Scottish Highland Games in June, and will make every effort to attend one of your Orienteering classes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer! I’ll give you a head’s up: you MAY be asked to participate in the One Retirement Question Project!

      1. Look forward to seeing you and Jackie . I’ll bring an extra kilt Sunday and if you want to join me in the Bonny Knees Contest, You can enter that event…LOL. Will be happy to participate in your project.

  8. Nice speech. It’s quite an accomplishment to survive 33 years at a the place where you started right after college. You certainly are a survivor that added value to many people.
    I did a similar of writing down things that I learned from all the managers that I have since age 16 and called it The Leader List. Is this common practice for the FI community?

    Enjoy the last few weeks as you decelerate toward your exit and come to a full wheels stop before you change vehicles.

    1. How ironic that we both have “Lesson Lists”. I’ve not talked about mine before, so I’ve no idea how common it is. Fun to know I’m not the only one! Wheel’s are stopping in 9 days, can’t wait to get off this bus and into that fishing kayak!

  9. “Nobody is perfect, so be quick to forgive, & recognize that life is better if you have someone to enjoy it with.”

    Simply beautiful, my friend. I can’t think of a better way to start my Tuesdays than a jaunt over to the Retirement Manifesto. As always, a lot of wisdom here. Thank you.

    1. Mr. G is BACK!! Great to see you online again, my friend. Looking forward to The Groovypaloosa! BTW, got your note about a visit to Atlanta, we’re going to have to target Blue Ridge or Raleigh, I won’t be in Atlanta again after this Thursday!! Turning in the keys for my apartment on Thursday afternoon. The chapter titled “Alone” is complete, on to the next!

  10. Great speech Fritz.
    We all benefit from you sharing your journey and your lessons learned.
    Thank you.
    Best wishes on the big day!

  11. I have water in my eyes… Not only is your writing moving, but in 95 days, I will be leaving my corporate job of 34 years, so I’m really enjoying watching your journey as we travel down the same path. I’ve already had my retirement party, so at this point, I’m just coasting. 🙂 Keep ’em coming!

  12. Congrats. Thanks for writing this down. Now I can print it and you can be the first person in my lessons learned file. Great speech and you are a great writer.

  13. There’s nothing like telling an employer of 33 years that your Number One thing you learned while working for them was to save as much money as you could so you could retire early.

  14. Fritz
    So much wisdom is packed into your talk about a great life’s work. As one of the folks that gets value from your writing, I will be incorporating your “Lessons Learned” approach to the career exit interview that I have already started. Plenty of time to reflect on that over the next several years. Surely the next 11 days will fly by and you will soon be in the Kayak of Retirement.

  15. Great speech. Thanks for sharing. Good luck to you once again. I plan to join you in retirement about 7 months.

  16. This is the first article of yours that I have read. I must say, I feel lucky to have hit this one first! Such an inspiring speech and excellent lessons learned. I look forward to reading through your journey as I explore more of your previous posts.

    On a side note, I envy your retirement plans in Blue Ridge. Having grown up in Asheville and now residing in Raleigh, I long for a time when I will have unlimited unscheduled days in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  17. Nice speech Fritz! The lessons learned file soudns interesting, I may have to take it up for myself.

    Looking forward to reading more about the other side of the retirement life, where you’re actually retired and doing, instead of all the planning to get there. 🙂

    Speaking of planning, now that we’ll both be free of work next summer, we should try and hit the Swim with Sharks 2019 event. You swim from Alcatraz to the shore. Looks like an amazing open water swimming opportunity! More info below from this years race. 🙂

  18. Nice! My story is similar except I worked 38 years at one location and just celebrated 40 years of marriage but it is certainly close enough! One thing I wondered was if I’d ever miss that job. Well it has been 3 years and I did love that job back then but the answer is a resounding no. Not a single time have I thought wistfully that it might be fun to do that again and when I get job offers to jump back in the pond for twice what I used to make I suppress my laughter and politely say no thanks. Life was good then but it is so much better now.

  19. “I had a million dollars worth of fun, and don’t want a dime more” is a line I wrote down some 35 years ago that my supervisor recounted when leaving the Army. It sure reminds me of your sentiment. Thank you for sharing your speech with us. It is a thrill to see your journey and I can hardly wait to see the transition to the other side. Congratulations!

  20. That’s a great speech. I’m sure your friends and coworkers will learn something from that. Great job.
    I love #6. Write it down or you’ll forget it. I’ll start a file (spreadsheet.)

  21. Great speach Fritz and congrats on your retirement. It sounds like your days will be just as entertaining after the big day. I look forward to reading about them.

  22. That’s an amazing speech, and I’m going to write some things down even though you’ve written them here. Your point about learning three things from everybody you work with and writing it down is priceless. I truly wish I had done this during my career. You can bet I’ll start doing it now! Congrats on retiring Fritz, and I hope you do some more of that awesome drone photography. This post will have a deep impact on the people reading it, just as your speech did on the people who were fortunate enough to hear it.

  23. Wow, Fritz. That’s an awesome collection of advice. Way to set the bar for retirement speeches to come!

    I can see parts from your speech being recounted decades from now, just like you did with Jim’s.

    Good luck with your last few weeks of goodbyes!

  24. Congratulations Fritz. I like that only one of your lessons is directly about money. I think it is easy to get carried away with money and forget to live. Most of the lessons are about living the good life which is so important. I was too aggressive with my savings at one stage where I was compromising on our families quality of life. I have since turned this around. I am sure you will continue to learn many more lessons in retirement! And I’m sure you will continue to share them with us 🙂

    1. I’ve heard from folks who have already retired that money becomes a much less important factor in retirement. I can feel the transition myself. Time Affluence is the real form of wealth, and it makes you realize what’s truly important in life. Thanks for your comment.

  25. Enjoyed reading this Fritz. Like others, I loved the last line. Gone, but not forgotten.

    I have had multiple celebrations over the last few weeks. Yesterday, I had my official one at work where a number of colleagues “roasted” me in front of a large group. It was a ton of fun.

    I gave a speech that was, for the first time ever in my career, me winging it. I don’t honestly know what i said but people are telling me this morning it was really well done.

    I have a feeling we will both use the skills of preparation AND winging it over the next phase of our lives.

    Hope the next week goes smoothly for you.

    1. SOOO glad you stopped by, Mr. PIE. I enjoy our friendship, and love the fact that we’re both retiring at the same time. Good for you for “winging it”. I’m the opposite of you, it would appear. 90% of the time I do public speaking I “wing it” and have gotten reasonably good at it over the years. Ironic that both of us went to our “non-standard” approach for our retirement speeches. Good luck with the move, we’ll keep in touch!

  26. Congratulations! Wonderful retirement speech and it was nice that you spoke of some of your bosses retirement speech from ten years earlier. There was obviously a lot of respect and a good relationship.

  27. Loved this article and speech. I have been following your blog for about a month now as my husband and I are planning retirement next year. And I am really enjoying it.

    My husband also learned that Warren, Ohio was a great place to find a wife 😀
    We met at work 34 years ago at the benefit meeting for new employees. We like to say that we were each orher’s greatest benefit!

  28. What a great speech. Each of the 6 lessons really spoke to me but especially #6, “Learn From Others And Write It Down”. I cannot tell you how many times, I remember the gist of something but not its entirety. The fact that you had the key points of Jim’s speech written down from 10 years ago is awesome and convincing. Thanks, Fritz. Congratulations to you!

  29. Congratulations on your retirement! I enjoyed your speech, particularly the comments about being a lifelong learner. I find that curious people have a positive outlook on life.

    I just retired at age 60 and insisted on no speeches! I was amazed at how many people told me that I was too young to retire. Overall, I got more of that reaction than that of folks who just said “good for you”! Did you experience this too?

    I enjoy your blog and did some further research from the list that you posted of all the “geeks” that you know. A consultation with Roger Whitney, (The Retirement Answer Man) helped me to validate that I was financially able to leave my job. After one month of retired life, I’m loving it! If I get bored in the winter, I may take a part time telecommuting position. My husband is seven years older than me and he retired over a year ago so presently, we are just enjoying our time together.

    Best wishes to you and your wife and enjoy that “good to great” cabin in the mountains!

    1. Congrats on your retirement, as well, Kathy! I know Roger well, and am pleased to hear that he was able to validate your retirement readiness. We’re looking forward to our time in the “Great” cabin, and appreciate you being a regular reader of The Retirement Manifesto!

  30. Congratulations Fritz and best wishes for your retirement! I enjoyed reading your post, well said. Good luck to you in your new endeavors!

  31. Love that speech and your journey. Congratulations on your retirement. Not common nowadays that someone will work for the same company for more than 30years. Thank you for sharing your experience and life’s lessons

  32. Hi Fritz,

    Well said speech.

    Life is a never-ending journey no matter how the current age of one is at the prevailing moment. The most important thing is to keep learning and focus on the things which matters to one. In my view, one is FIRE as long as one can sustain a simple lifestyle with the dividend generated from the investment portfolio on a continuous basis. One does not have to depend on the full-time employment to sustain a living. This is considered as FIRE in my view.


  33. I recently found out about you from the Stacking Benjamin’s podcast and have been fascinated with your ability to retire at such a young age. With the podcast and your blog….I’m learning more about the FI world and it has now given my family and I a clearer picture of how to live and what to achieve.

    We are a young family in our early 30s and will start our journey to FI. We are a bit late and our income is limited for now (we are military) but we will focus on our spending, saving and investing. Thank you for the inspiration and for giving us more clarity in life!

    1. Crystal, thanks so much for your comment! I’m excited to hear that I’ve had an impact on your savings habits at such at early age. I need to have you chat with our daughter! Haha. She’s mid-20’s, her husband is also military, and they’re expecting their first child (our first grandchild!) in November. Thanks for making my day!

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