Photo © 2004 Abe Kleinfeld
Until about two months ago when my company was acquired, I spent 10 years as CEO of network security firm nCircle. It was an awesome experience that, as you would expect, had many high and low points along the way. Being a CEO in the high tech industry pretty much dictates a fast-paced, nearly frenetic lifestyle that keeps your adrenaline flowing like wind in a hurricane. And then suddenly it all ended. As CEO of the acquired company, my services were no longer needed. But that’s OK — this was not a sad ending. In the high tech industry mergers and acquisitions are common and I’ve been through this experience multiple times in my career. Indeed, the outcome left me with the luxury of being able to take a few months off.
Now, be assured that I had plans to make the best of that time. After all, few people ever get the chance to take months off without spending all their time anxiously trying to get back into the workforce. So I made a list of things I wanted to do. Projects around the house. Photo treks to national parks. Start a blog (check!). Update my website. Read lots of books.
That’s right. I was planning to maximize the efficiency of my time off like I did my time on. Pack in as much as possible to ensure I’d have no regrets.
Well, it turns out that with an extended period of time on your hands, even for a Type A personality like mine, you actually do less and less every day.
I used to wake up at 6 AM, take 30 minutes for breakfast, an hour for my workout, shower and be working or driving by 8 AM. Now I’m waking up around 8:30 AM, taking two hours for breakfast, catching up on email, facebook, twitter, tumblr, wordpress, linkedin, etc., wasting another hour or more aimlessly surfing the web for interesting stuff I never had time for in the past, doing my workout, showering, and before I know it it’s noon or 1 PM. And just about everyday I’ve scheduled afternoon coffee or a late lunch with friends I rarely had time to catch up with. So I find myself rushing to make that coffee or lunch date. And then suddenly it’s 4 PM — I’m exhausted, it’s been a long day. Time to get home, catch up on the news, feed the cats, go for a walk around the neighborhood with my wife and in the blink of an eye it’s 11 PM. And what did I accomplish? Nothing on my list. Indeed, nothing at all.
I used to chuckle when my retired family members would describe “lunch plans” as their “event” of the day. When you work full time lunch is one of 5 or 10 things on your daily schedule. Certainly not the only thing that takes up your whole day. Well… I get it now.
The good news is that I’ve become comfortable knowing that when I finally do retire, life will not be a boring drag. It turns out that taking all day to do nothing can be surprisingly stimulating and oddly fulfilling. Yes, it takes much longer to tick off items from my to-do list, but so what? Time is infinite. There’s always tomorrow. The slow pace and lack of schedule creates a comfortable rhythm that I’ve settled easily into. It’s a feeling that made me anxious at first, but now embrace like a soft pillow.
Things that happen on a schedule (like paying bills) have become harder to do. I lose track of time. What day is it? Are we at the start of June or middle of June? Is that trip we planned happening next week or three weeks from now? Without the packed routine of Monday morning meetings, quarterly sales targets, MBO’s to achieve and products to ship, I quickly lose touch with the cadence of time.
Interestingly, I also feel the fire still burning inside me. I know without hesitation that I’ll be able to power up and merge back into the fast lane again. But now I know that when I really do decide to retire, I’ll float right in without trepidation or fear.