The time has finally come for me to end a career and to begin the stage of life called retirement. Since the past is more known to me than the future, it's easier to reflect on my previous work life than it is to speculate on what retirement will bring.
I’ve been a human resources professional in a health care environment for the past 40 years. Forty is a nice round number and it’s as good of a stopping point as any.
Since I’ve always been a part of a leadership team, I think about the lives I’ve affected, the concerns I’ve helped to resolve and the contributions I’ve made. In spite of what detractors may think, I’ve done much more good than harm — and I’m proud of that.
In making decisions from a human resources standpoint, my primary obligation was to uphold the mission and goals of my employers. While my employers simply expected me to do my job, it was a job that called for both common sense and good judgment in dealing with the broad spectrum of human behavior. In handling that responsibility, the two words I’ve always tried to live by are “fair” and “consistent.” Looking back, that approach served me well.
In a job that requires a significant degree of judgment, I realized that I was continually being judged myself. People in leadership roles are swimming in the fishbowl of constant observation.
As a department head, like it or not, I needed to serve as an example of how to behave on the job. I couldn’t counsel an employee on his/her poor attendance if my own attendance wasn’t reliable. I couldn’t enforce workplace policies if I ignored them myself. But if my own work ethic had been poor, I wouldn’t have earned the jobs I’ve had in the first place.
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My HR career was not without drama. In terminating employees the right way for the right reasons, I’ve needed the assistance of security personnel to escort unruly individuals from the building. I’ve had damage done to my car following a justifiable discharge. I’ve been threatened with lawsuits and veiled indications of personal violence directed toward me. But all that went with the job and I’m still around to write about it.
The upside of my career was a reward in itself. Some of the high points include sponsoring foreign nationals from other countries and helping them establish themselves in America, helping a well-intentioned worker get out from under the oppression of a bullying supervisor, and developing customized work schedules to help injured and recovering workers get back on the job.
Having a job that involves authority and influence sometimes inflates an ego to the point where that authority is misused or abused. But as the wise sage and comic-book author Stan Lee said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Power can corrupt, but it can be used in a variety of beneficial ways. The key to having a position of influence is to use it wisely for the good of the organization and/or for the good of the individual employees who would benefit from your help.
I’ve heard it said that no one on their dying day would have wished that they had worked more during their life. I’m not sure what I’ll be thinking about on my dying day, but if it’s about work and the career I’ve had, I hope I’ll be able to look back with pride on the differences I’ve made, the problems I’ve solved, and the help I’ve offered.
Will you be able to look back and feel something similar about the work you’ve done throughout your life? As Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” And it’s never too late to start doing that.