Practicing To Be An Old ManPosted: January 23, 2013
So, I’m getting older. I’m older, but I’m not ninety-one. Not yet. I’m just practicing being ninety-one.
My day-to-day job involves working with a partner. Together, we supervise a shift. I’ve been fortunate to have my two best partners as I approach the end of my first career.
Seeing The Line
My old partner retired at the end of 2011. He earned the reputation of being a no-nonsense guy, but the great secret that so many missed about him was that he cared about our work, those who did it, and the good folks in the neighborhoods we worked. Somehow, those he worked for never saw those qualities in him. The people who worked for him are wiser, they miss Curt. I do too.
Bill took Curt’s place on the job, but brought his own style. He is smart. Smart enough to be himself. He will earn the same respect his predecessor did.
Like I said, Curt had a no-nonsense reputation. He didn’t mind disagreeing with management when he decided it was important that they hear from him. But in his last year, something changed.
In his last year at work, I noticed that Curt would say things. Things that no one else could, to people no one else would dare – he said them. Sometimes he’d start and I’d give him the eye that said “it’s time to stop, man.” In that last year, he’d go right through my warning and say what was on his mind, without regard to the rank of the listener.
After he’d have his say during that last year, I’d go to him and say something profound like “are you nuts?” He’d smile and say “it’s different now.” We worked together long enough that sometimes six word conversations got the job done. He knew what he was doing and why. I let it go.
It Is Different Now
My new partner, Bill, and I worked together for about a year before it happened. I crossed that magical line from greater than to less than three-hundred-sixty-five days left in my career. And while I can’t say I noticed the change overnight, I’ve come to realize something. Curt was right, it is different now.
Actually, I didn’t realize I was even doing it at first. Not until Bill pointed it out. I’d say something and Bill would say “you know you can’t say that to him, right?” He’d laugh and shake his head at the emails I sent. Yes, it is different now
I’m still respectful to the people I supervise and the people who supervise me, but it is different now. Now I say things that I wouldn’t have said to people I work with before. Sometimes I’ve given people a more heartfelt pat on the back. Other times, I’ve said things like “I’ll do that, but I want you to know that it is nonsense.” Once, I didn’t even say nonsense.
When I say these things, people smile. They thank me. They say they’ll miss me, even when they don’t like the message.
51 Is The New 91
Conversations with elderly people are always interesting. They aren’t always comfortable, but they’re interesting and educational. I think that is because what you hear from a ninety-one year old is the truth, as best they know it. You might not like what you hear, but they are going to tell you. They’re going to tell you because they can. If you’re smart, you’ll listen whether you like it or not.
There is a potent combination at work in seniors that makes those talks a gift – wisdom born of experience, the sense that the time to pass wisdom on is short and a wish to see things get better for those around them.. When you multiply those factors by a “nothing to lose” attitude you get a person who is fearless with the truth; someone who should be attended.
What I am finding out (and what I think Curt knew) is that reaching the late stage of my career is a lot like what I think reaching the late stage of my life might be. After this year is over, there are people I won’t see much of. They’re important to me, we’ve been through a lot and the time to share what I know is short. I don’t have time for foolishness or subtlety. It is time to say what needs saying then walk off into the sunset.
Not many of us get to practice being ninety-one. I’m enjoying my opportunity. And when I start my next career I’ll return to being a man who measures every word. That’s the right thing to do.
But watch out when I’m ninety-one. It is going to be different then. The feeling of having something to say is powerful stuff.