© 2017 by Tom Sparough
Cough, cough, cough. Sorry about the cough. I can’t believe I still have it. After the heart attack, and the whole floating up toward the light and looking at the medical team trying to bring me back to life, I never expected to have this cough.
I worked my whole life for the bottom line. Profit is important, and I sought it with a passion, and I don’t regret that for a second. But, I do have regrets, because there were many things I wanted to do that I simply didn’t take the time to do.
As a retired CEO, I wondered what would become my new bottom line?
Cough, cough. It wasn’t travel. It wasn’t golf. It wasn’t my car collection. Cough. All those interested me, but they weren’t the bottom line.
Helping people became my bottom line. Volunteering became my obsession. After my death, my desire to help others led me back to my corporation. I wanted to visit it again, just one last time.
I was surprised to find there were lots people like me, hanging out, hanging on, dead retirees that couldn’t leave the place. That was about a year ago. I decided I would try to help them move on and get to the next level of their life.
And help myself in the process.
I guess, in a way, each of us had a dead-end job. Cough, cough, cough. We were each stuck with our own regrets.
I met with these dead people anywhere I found them. I met Sasha up in a tree looking out at the corporate campus. I met with Harold in a janitor’s closet. Demarcus and I met on top of the factory roof. In our situation, it didn’t matter where we met.
We retirees can spot each other a long way off. We have a sense that tingles in our eyebrows when another is present.
The regrets of the people I found were never about money. In our situation, money means nothing.
The regrets were a lack of fulfillment in our jobs. It wasn’t that we weren’t good at what we did. It was that we wanted more, but we were restricted, confined, defined by an organizational flow chart of duties.
We had our roles and we did them well, but that doesn’t mean the longings deep down inside of us were met.
I set about trying to correct this, before it was too late for these dead people, before it was too late for me.
We can fly, walk through walls, pass through crowds, see in the dark, and never get hungry or tired. Cough, cough, but evidently we can still be plagued with a cough, a limp, or an unfulfilled hope.
Take Judy, for instance. She was a stand-out project manager. I found her in the human resource office sitting on the couch. In her 35 years with the corporation, she oversaw 22 multi-year, major projects. All but three of them were on schedule and within budget.
Yet, here she was feeling unfilled, slowly fading away, in danger of never seeing the light.
Her deepest desire, beyond what she had already done, was to help people get along with each other. It tore her up to remember the in-fighting that went on behind our brick walls. There were things that she had done with her teams that made sense to bring to the whole corporation. Her teams were known for getting along with each other. She had a method she wanted to share. But a busy project manager like her couldn’t jump ship for a year or two to concentrate on collegial relationship building.
We put our dead heads together and decided it wasn’t too late. We spent a month moving through the corporation, leaving guides and pamphlets so that the right people would have them on their desks. We sent out emails with jokes on them and tips on getting along with others.
Our effort wasn’t enough to change the entire corporate environment, but it was enough to comfort Judy. She let go of her regret. She accepted the promotion and moved on to a bright future.
God, that made me feel good. Cough. And my cough seemed less, like something was just removed from my chest.
I loved working with Juan, too. He had been the North Star of the marketing department. Juan had that ability to write the copy and come up with the concepts, yet he knew how to engage an internal and external team so that the whole was greater than the mere sum of the parts.
He was responsible for leaps forward in market share. Cough, cough.
I found him hovering on the ceiling in one of the product development buildings. He was looking down, longing to be part of that process. Turns out he had always wanted to help develop some of the products he marketed.
He had envisioned products that were never made, alterations that were never acted upon. He wasn’t a designer. He was a marketer. He had, cough, a brilliant career, yet unfulfilled hopes.
We did something about it. We started reading the spec sheets and watched the design process take shape. Juan had an idea, and he sketched it out and left it on the clean desk of one of the design generators.
She told everyone that she didn’t know where it came from, but she loved it, and so did her team. That new product design made it through testing. On the second day of focus group trials, the response was so positive that Juan just started floating away. His spirit was soaring.
His promotion had come through. I had to go a quarter mile up to give him a high five.
Little by little, my cough was going away. In the last year, I helped 89 retirees get the ultimate promotion. Eighty-nine, that’s how old I was.
The numbers have always been important to me. The strategies of how to make the numbers work have always excited me. I have loved it.
So why, cough, and I still feeling unfulfilled? Why can’t I let go? How do I help myself?
I am sitting in the chair of the current CEO. His grandfather clock will strike midnight soon. Then I will be 90 years old. That is far too old to be holding on to regret.
By sticking people in one set role, they get put in a box. We slide the boxes around strategically and call it job freedom, but the people are still in the box, stuck in one role with unfulfilled hopes. I have written a note, or maybe it’s a poem. I am leaving it for our CEO. Here is how it reads:
Hang on forever
Find out what more
Help them work
Guide every aspiration
Of every employee
Then the bottom line
Shines like the sun
Ahem, it feels good to get that off my chest. Not bad, for a dead guy.
I feel better. My whole face tingles into a smile.
I have said my peace, and my chest feels warm. A new opportunity is opening for me. The clock is chiming. What a birthday present!
I am floating out of the CEO seat. I am drifting through the roof. My number has been called.
I am headed to the lightening storm above.
Pay attention to dreams and cross-pollinate roles. Mixing things up, following emerging interests, and keeping things fresh can lead to amazing results.
What regrets do people who had successful careers still harbor?
What other roles in work would I like to have?
What ways could cross-pollinating roles help in an organization?