PROFILE: LOOKING FORWARD PAYS OFF!
I just love this quote from Harry: “People who are happy don’t look backwards. If you walk backwards, you’ll trip.” That’s how he concluded our conversation about his career and quasi-retirement. He’s lived this mantra and honestly, if more people followed this, maybe they’d be as content and comfortable in his skin as he is!
For his whole life, Harry has looked forward, seized opportunities, made the best out of them and has never bemoaned the wiggles and waggles along the way. By his own admission, he’s really never found the need to strategize and plan and rather just moved forward. Raised into a “classic blue collar family”, the only lawyer he ever knew was Perry Mason. (sorry to you non-Baby Boomers who don’t know who that is. Hint: He was on TV.) Any way, he ended up in Law School where he did well, went to work for the firm where he had a summer job and stayed there for his whole law-firm career.
In one of those all-too-familiar stories, this mid-sized firm, where he’d worked up to managing partner, started to pull apart at the seams by the last 90s. No one’s fault…It was just the competitive environment which squeezed out the not-so-big firms. After that, he took a General Counsel position at a mid-sized retailing company and then became “of counsel” at a law firm started by some of his ex-colleagues. He was brought in “as the grey haired one”—an advisor with some clients who ask for his assistance. But importantly, for him, he’s out of the legal rat race chasing hours.
Harry’s life now appears to be exactly in the right place. First of all, he spends most of his time out of the City. As he points out, he’s not really a City boy and now he can spend lots of his time looking at the woods in back of his house—“that’s just my comfort level,” he says. As I listen to him, it surely sounds to me that he is definitely where he wants to be—not that he planned it this way, but he’s far happier here than in the corporate rat race.
And apart from “place”, it’s his life that is his crown jewel, I think. Yes, some people thrive on the adrenaline rush of making the deal, landing the client or peer recognition. What this period of life has taught Harry is that the law was what he did and not who has was. His personal identity and satisfaction come from “making a contribution”—using his skills and talents to truly make a difference to an organization that he cares about. The organization can take many forms—from his golf club, where he’s had a major positive impact as chairman of the Board to the local Y, where he’s also Chairman. And these are truly commitments and not “resume padding.” Harry is very talented, thoughtful and analytical and he wants to direct his efforts wisely. And he points out, that the more you do in a small community, the more opportunities to do interesting things come your way as people recognize your skills and capabilities.
To hear him talk about the joy and satisfaction he derives from these responsibilities is, truly, to hear personal contentment. “If there’s no meaning or contribution to what I’m doing”, he comments, “why bother?” He knows that he is making a difference and that his contribution now means more to him than his legal career. You almost think that he could have sabotaged his career to get to this place. (No, I don’t actually think that, but he is much more fulfilled now, I think.) In addition, he still does some legal work, but it’s all advisory and much of it can be done by phone. His life is now about doing things he enjoys doing and making a difference in the process.
For my money, he defines a successful quasi-retiree—because he has arrived at a place where he is perhaps happier than he was when he was working full time. Let’s be clear, this is not an easy place to find and it’s taken him some time to get here. While his path and choices and how he uses his time aren’t for everyone, I think that t he’s found the path that totally works for him. And that, to quote an ex-colleague of mine…is a beautiful thing!