The Least Productive Person in the World
That’d be me.
Yup, I retired after selling my last company, Innoveda (then NASDAQ: INOV) to Mentor Graphics four years ago. I struggled for about a year trying to get my bearings and deciding whether to do something new, but a fractured spine (I’m mostly fine now) put me on the sidelines for a while and got me thinking about life in a different way.
I’m now on a few boards, work with a variety of VCs and startups evaluating deals and helping to build teams and do some angel investing. This ends up taking a lot more time than I ever thought it would and I find it satisfying because it keeps my head in the game. Generally speaking, though, you wouldn’t call me a busy guy. And, as my wife likes to say, “if you want anything done, give it to a busy person.” I guess I’m no longer the “go to” guy.
Some mornings I wake up and I find that this really bothers me. I’ve always thought that I was the ultimate “go to” guy. What I lack in brains, I made up for with an insane amount of effort. I never left my office with work to do. There was never a customer too far away or an employee not worthy of my time. I never believed in excuses and used them infrequently. I always believed that the absolute best business mantra is: always play offense, defense is for the losers.
I have several other friends that attempted to retire. All of those wussies (you know who you are) have gone back to work leaving me alone to blaze the path of low productivity and minimal achievement on my own. In fact, I thought I was doing it completely alone until my wife and I went to a Jerry Seinfeld show this past winter. Seinfeld had one line that explained it all to me:
“I am so busy doing nothing that the idea of doing anything— which as you know, always leads to something— cuts into the nothing and then forces me to have to drop everything.”
While I have yet to achieve retirement nirvana, I realize now that I’m not alone. I am a victim of the vertigo-like pull that the power of (at times) not having anything to do making it impossible to get anything done has on a person.
Even with Seinfeld’s words of wisdom, I still have a frequent crisis. This morning, feeling particularly down about my complete abdication of any responsibility, I sought the great oracle that is the World Wide Web, looking for wisdom from other, wiser individuals than myself. I wish I could attribute the following quote I found to someone, but I found the same quote, without attribution, used as sigs for many people. After reading it, I find that I’m feeling much better.
“It might look like I’m doing nothing, but at the cellular level I’m really quite busy.”
I always have that to fall back on. I feel much better now.
As stated above, it’s not like I’ve been a particularly successful retiree, but if you are fortunate enough to be able to choose retirement at some point reasonably early in life, I do have a few suggestions.
- Have Loads-o-hobbies – it’s simply amazing to me how difficult it is for some people to have hobbies. I never did until I retired, but I had no trouble adopting them either. I guess the only downside for me is that I have to be excellent at all my hobbies (yeah, I know, I need to see someone about that). If nothing outside of work interests you, you’re really gonna struggle.
- Re-do High School – while my kids will never forgive me for it, I’m getting a chance to learn what I missed in high school by helping them with their homework, studying for tests with them and writing papers (sometimes I even let them contribute their ideas to the papers). As it turns out, I missed a lot of high school (I’m not sure where I was at the time), but it’s a blast to learn the stuff with the perspective I have now.
- Be Active – pickup a sport or many sports. It’s not just good for your body, but it’s great for your mind. This is especially true for sports that require a lot of training time. I do some of my best thinking on my bike. Of course, I can’t remember any of it when I get home . . .
- Find Peace with Your Spouse/Significant Other – two people actually sharing the same domain is a recipe for disaster. You’ve established personal spaces and have a rhythm for your relationship. Retirement will completely disrupt it. Forget any and all romantic ideas you have about spending 24 hours a day with that someone special. He/she will want to scratch your eyes out in a very short period of time. I suggest you lay the problem on the table and clearly define your spaces and interaction. It may be a painful conversation, but it’ll be a lot better than being killed in your sleep.
- Think – read; get involved with other business or charities; run for office; travel or teach. Whatever means you use, make sure that at least two brain cells bump into each other every day.
I’m sure other, more experienced, retirees have a better list. These are the things I’ve learned to address consciously. No guarantees, expressed or implied, of course. Come on in, the water’s fine.