Funny what can trigger old memories.  I was watching Cavuto on Fox News and a commercial came on for a suit retailer.  You know, the buy one, get 2 free nonsense.  Suddenly I remembered when I bought a suit for a job interview.  This was maybe 6 or 7 years back, now.  I wasn’t just any interview.  It was for a big promotion.

I had the job in the bag.  The interview was for my bosses job.  He had just been promoted to his bosses spot so he would be interviewing me.  We’d seen the dominoes fall over the previous year, both of us hoping they would fall in the right direction and they did.

My boss had been grooming me for this.  He and I were friends and he loved the work I was doing.  Even my coworkers assumed the job was mine.  My boss had even referred to his old office as mine and made statements alluding to the certainty of it all.  I had worked hard, done a great job, worked on projects above my pay grade and did it all with a smile.

Besides my former boss, the leader of our section was in on the interviews.  I did great.  I answered all the questions well and the interview panel was obviously impressed.  I was confident.  The job was mine to lose and I did nothing to change that.

Then I got a call.  I remember it was a Friday evening.  It was my boss.  I was sure it was good news.  Why else would he call me at home?  He could give me the bad news, if that’s what it was, on Monday.  But it wasn’t the good news I assumed.  They gave the job to someone else.  I could tell my boss was calling because he couldn’t bear to tell me in person.

His boss, the leader of our section, did me in.  He had some old impressions of me from 10 years prior that I couldn’t overcome.  He was impressed, or so my boss told me, but he favored the other guy.  He was friends with him.  He out ranked my boss, so I lost.

That was the beginning of the end.  My morale and attitude took a hit, but I tried to persevere.  Then I was absorbed into another division and left without projects for a year while the reorganization was completed.  Then they hired a tyrant to lead the new division.  I did my job, but I no longer enjoyed it.  I slowly waited for the last 4 years of my career to pass until I could take my pension.

I tell this to illustrate a point.  Work, with very few exceptions, is not our time.  We work for others.  We take our cues from them, we hope to please them and we make their priorities ours.  Even small business people are accountable to the customer or client.  Even if we love our job it’s hard to say that we are in control.

Sure we are compensated.  I was paid well and had great benefits, including a great pension.  But we are trading our time for money.  But not just our time, we are also trading our freedom.  We are trading self-determination.  Sometimes we are even trading our happiness.  We need the money, but how badly?

Badly enough to continue though we could leave?  Badly enough to give up our dreams and desires.  Badly enough to risk losing everything to the grim reaper before we have enough money?  That commercial made me think how fortunate I am to have had the foresight to see the golden ring and stick it out.  It made me glad I no longer have to fit the mold, impress the boss and do as I am told.

Retirement, however, is all about freedom and self-determination.  Sure life still presents challenges, but you are in control and can meet them on your terms.  No begging bosses for time off, no doing things you find distasteful to please management, no office politics.  You do whats right for you and your loved ones with no compromises.

No matter how much you enjoy your career, it pales in comparison to retirement.  It’s always a compromise.  You give your time, pride and youth, they give you money and maybe a feeling you’re doing something worthwhile.  Even a frugal, spartan retirement brings with it a freedom you rarely find in the working world.

I sometimes take it for granted, but remembering the bad times makes me really appreciate what I have now.  I wouldn’t trade my retirement for anything (well if the Dodgers agreed to make me their second string third baseman, maybe).  I’m glad I left the bad old days behind me.  I wouldn’t go back, no matter what the pay.

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