The Call

It was a little after 5 PM on a Friday afternoon and THE WIFE and I were sitting on the front porch with THE NEIGHBOR and FLOYD SOLO when my phone rang.  My phone almost never rings, so I flipped it over to see who it was and then gave THE WIFE a raised eyebrow look.

“Hi boss.  What’s up?”

It was THE CTO. The man I worked for at THE BLUE COMPANY, and then followed to THE METER PLACE. The one who I work better with than anyone I’ve ever met, and the man who I have a fierce sense of loyalty to. The one who left THE METER PLACE a week before I did. The one who can make me see past my doubts and concerns about the things I’m not  sure I want in my job anymore because it’s different when we work together.

One of our last conversations at work was similar to one we had the day I resigned. That’s when he told me he was leaving, too, and was taking a new job in Austin. “Austin, you say? That just happens to be one of the few cities I’m willing to travel to. If you need my help, I’ll answer your call. I may not do the same for others, but I’ll answer your call.”

And my phone just rang.

Was this just a check-in? Doubtful. We’ve known one another for years and it’s great to talk, but that would be out of character. We exchange friendly texts, but a call to just check in on me? That seemed unlikely. So we chatted and I wondered if this was THE CALL. THE CTO was frustrated by being information starved. He was venting his frustration to his wife, saying “I need THE RETIREE.” She told him to call me. At worst, we would get a chance to catch up, which we did.

As he continued to talk I walked back out to the front porch, looked at THE WIFE and mouthed “It’s THE CALL.” He needs my help, and I’m willing to overlook at lot of my rules about work for this one individual. All told, we talked for about an hour. I told him we had a number of details to figure out, but I thought we could work something out. He told me he’d be back in touch.

While I waited for his next call, I made some notes. All told it was about a two page bulleted list of questions, some of them very pointed. But these are things that were important to me. If I’m considering going back to work, I need to know how the operations in India work and how the teams work together and how politicized the environment is and and and…..

I sent him the notes and he called me back a couple of days later. We had a great discussion, but then we hit a sticking point – he wanted me to move to Austin.  I told him that was a no go. THE WIFE has a great job that she has no intention of leaving, and I don’t see us living in separate towns. That’s just not who we are. So he challenged me. “How would a work remote situation work?”  We talked it through for a bit and he told me he’d think about it. I made a couple of points for him to consider. 1) My main contact in the Finance organization at THE METER PLACE was in Minnesota. In three years I only saw her face to face twice. 2) THE CTO and I often met via conference call with me sitting in his office and him in his home office three miles away. Being in the same room definitely helps, but we met remotely almost as much as we did face to face in our last 12-18 months of working together.

I started researching housing in Austin, both in terms of apartments and condos. If I might be traveling there two weeks out of the month or more, a home base made sense. THE WIFE and I discussed how to get a car to town and how to arrange all of the other details. It was all quite a bit to take in for a guy who was spending his days making sourdough, but it felt good to engage.

A few days later I spoke with a Senior Director at the company and we began working through the nuts and bolts of what the job might entail. Eventually I was asked what I saw the role being, so I wrote that up. At first I wasn’t sure why, but I eventually realized that they were asking me to tell them what I wanted to do so that they could see if that matched their needs. I wrote up a list that roughly was “here are the things that I’m good at and that I think I can do to help you”. After some more discussion they asked me to come up with a proposal, so I sent them a couple of options, both as a full time employee and as a contractor. I asked for a lot of things, some of them a little crazy, and I cut the travel back even more, suggesting up to 50% in the short term, but eventually settling down to about a week a month, and mostly to Austin.  After a couple of negotiation calls and emails, we came to an agreement.

So MY FIRST RETIREMENT is about to end.

stbernadusI had to give this a lot of thought. I’ve spent the last eight months learning a good bit about myself. I see what motivates me and I see what will make me work against myself. I have a new perspective on what I do and do not need to control, and what I’m willing to do in my interactions with others, whether that be in a job or in some other capacity.  Truth be told, I’m stepping back up to probably a higher level of stress and work than I was doing before, but I’m doing it on my own terms. Those terms just happened to line up with the needs of THE CTO. He’s probably the only person who could get me to consider work like this again, much less traveling for work, but he asked. I was prepared to do something less. Hell, I was seriously considering the bakery idea that all of you have floated my way. But, more likely, I was thinking about other technical or financial work, just in a diminished capacity from what I was doing in the past. Instead, I think I’ll be doing more.

So have I lost my mind? I don’t think so. I was in the incredibly fortunate position of not needing a job, so I was able to be totally in honest in what I asked for. I didn’t get everything by any means, but I was able to make the things that are important to me a key piece of the negotiations. Ultimately, I asked for the following: I want to do things that I’m good at that will help you. I want to be successful. I don’t want to do things where I am going to struggle. I’m not interested in stretch goals or career development or any of that. I want to do things I’m good at that you will appreciate.

It’s simple, but it sounds crazy to say out loud.

If you’re wondering if I have doubts about all of this, I do. I’ve been telling people that this is either the smartest or the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. The thing is, I think it’s probably leaning towards the smart side. It’s going to be a lot of work; possibly more than I’ve ever done. But I see the chance for it to be very fulfilling, too. And isn’t that what I’ve been after all along?

The next question is what does this mean for My First Retirement? I don’t see the blog going away. I’m actually rather interested in how the transition back to work, the remote office arrangement, and the travel will all play out. I think it could be worthwhile to see how all of the things I’ve thought about for the past few months will apply in the working world. Plus, I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not going back to work for ten or fifteen years. This is a focused, shorter term assignment to set things up for THE WIFE and me so that My Second Retirement is the final one.

So I guess it’s time to start the next phase of the adventure.



The Gardens

I don’t volunteer.  Well, except for our local ArtFest, and that’s largely because the entire town gets involved with that. It’s not that I won’t show up when called, and I’m more than happy to help a neighbor in need, but I’m just not someone you’ll find distributing blankets at the local homeless shelter.  Perhaps that makes me a bad person. Perhaps not.

Yet there I was, standing in the parking lot of the local middle school, waiting for the intern to arrive. We had an appointment to look at the student gardens.  She had drawn up a plan for irrigation using low pressure lines, drippers, and rain barrels. These are all things I’d dealt with before in my yard and in my garden, so I was somehow deemed qualified to provide advice to the students on how to water their garden.  When I asked THE LADY NEXT DOOR why she thought I should talk to the intern, she said “Well, you seem to know more about this than I do.”

Hmm.  She had a point there, but that didn’t make me feel qualified or anything.  Still, I had the intern send me her proposal for the garden irrigation plan and I looked it over.  I saw some good things and I saw some mistakes, so I gently provided feedback.  I may not be a garden expert, but I’ve reviewed a few proposals in my time and I could definitely provide feedback on something like that.

I was worried that I needed to be an expert.  I was worried that I needed all of the answers.  Then the intern got out of the SUV her mother was driving and I realized that this was a 15 year old girl who just needed some advice about how to water a garden with rain barrels. She had all of the experience of a middle schooler, not some expert. She didn’t need someone to try to prove her right or wrong.  She needed help with basic concepts like “If you’re going to rely on the rain barrel and gravity to water this bed, the rain barrel needs to be higher than the bed or it won’t work.”

IMG_0033We walked the gardens for about 30 minutes and she toured me about. The setup is really quite magnificent for a middle school. The students and volunteers are doing great work with the land. We talked about basic things like the height of the barrels and the length and size of the hoses they might use. One discussion centered around why a 3/4″ hose with holes in it probably wouldn’t deliver water to a bed 50 feet away, but a small low pressure hose with drippers might.  I suggested that she test the hose sizes and lengths and perhaps create a color-coded chart to show the performance differences.  That’s the kind of thing you can learn from, but you can also use it to get extra credit in classes.  We also talked about how to bury clay pots and use them as cisterns and how she might want to integrate that into her plans.  Then she showed me beds where they were raising plants from seed using milk jugs as mini greenhouses. It was something I’d never seen before and I was truly excited about using that technique at home.

A half hour flew by and she asked if she could send me her updated plan to review once it was done. I said “Of course! Please do!” And I asked her to keep me apprised of how things were progressing. I also offered to come back again if she needed more help.

Did I just volunteer for something and enjoy it?

The garden experience got me thinking about mentoring. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some really good mentors throughout my career, and some of them have come from unlikely sources. As I considered my time with the intern it occurred to me that I truly enjoyed giving advice and helping her figure out some of her problems. And then I caught myself doing the same thing a few days later in a discussion with THE NEIGHBOR’s daughter. We were deep into a discussion about how she was addressing certain issues at work and I found myself saying “well… you might want to try phrasing that a little more like this….”

I think I’d like to be a mentor for someone. I mean, it’s not like I’m brilliant or anything, but I have experience. And sometimes sharing that experience is all it takes. Maybe I don’t dislike volunteering. Maybe I just need to find the right kind of thing.