Alone Time in Sin City

jonathan-petersson-607955-unsplashSitting here in my hotel room in Las Vegas, contemplating my professional life. I know how funny that sounds. A personally know several dozen people who would tell me my priorities are screwed up and I ought to be out right now, enjoying the night life here.

Eh. Vegas isn’t my favorite city in the world. The incessant ding-ding-ding of the slot machines the minute you get off the plane, the faint but lingering scent of stale cigarette smoke, the couples pushing baby strollers at 2 am, the cost of you-name-it here, the sparkling pasties attached to DDs on the Strip?  Eh.

I mean, God love Donnie and Marie, Celine, and everybody else here who has or ever once had a show.  The shows are pretty good. And I do love me some Cirque du Soleil. I make a point to catch at least one of those every time I come. But that was Sunday night upon arrival.

Now it’s Tuesday.  Tonight I need a little me time.

Besides, we may be back in the spring with the kids in tow! This is not a place I would normally prioritize bringing them, but the hubs is in conversations about teaching a master class at a university here so we all might tag along since his portion of the travel is a work expense. We do try to show the kids every little thing about the US so I guess it’s time to open their eyes to Vegas.

I’m sure the pasties will make an impression. Good thing we are up front and talk to the kids about everything. We don’t hide too much from them. We try to explain what the world is really like so they’re prepared for what they’ll see and encounter when they’re on their own.


Enough of that.

I came for a three-day conference on, get this: ethics and compliance. In Vegas. Isn’t that funny? It’s not really a town known for….ethics.

The conference is good stuff. Hearing the speakers lit a spark in me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but honestly I could have spoken on a few of the topics. I’ve known that about myself for a while, 20-30 years at least. I used to teach our consultants, a few clients, and fellow auditors in the region when I worked at Protiviti and PricewaterhouseCoopers, so this isn’t an epiphany.

It’s simply been a while since I’ve done it and being here reminds me that not only should I teach classes again, but also I should do it on a national level. Besides, speakers often get comped for the conference fee and lodging, so why not? It’s a quick way to get known nationally for your work, and that is incredibly helpful especially during recessions and times like now when whole industries are being disrupted.

And so far, the blog is fun but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Besides, our CFO told me I would make for an awesome college professor because I can take an esoteric topic and make it tangible. Yes. Yes, I can.

Forget for a moment whether I’m doing that in this blog. I’m just sitting here typing tonight, stream-of-consciousness style, because this stuff is on my mind and I needed a little alone time in Sin City.

Sigh….the thing is, it’s been far too easy to just sit back, learn a few things, and passively collect my continuing education credits at these conferences but I get incredibly antsy if the speaker is bad. Or if they pull a bait-and-switch on the topic, like the one session that was supposed to be about artificial intelligence but turned out to be a 101-level class on data analytics for compliance purposes.

I can’t just sit there and listen to drivel. Nor can I just walk out all that easily. Truly, I’m there to learn (ethics and all….) but by the time I get up and try to find another worthwhile session, I’ll miss the crux of the conversation, so I stay put.

Sometimes you can get a nugget or two out of the talk. But sometimes you can’t. It’s situations like that when I start making a personal list of what groceries we need, what tasks I need to tackle for the kids if only I was home, what updates I should make to my LinkedIn profile, what work emails I need to send, and what I should be doing to market myself better.

And that leads me to my final point of the day.  One of the interesting tidbits that came up this week, echoed in recent conversations at work too, is how valuable authenticity is, especially to Millenials. And let’s face it….the torch is passing right now from the Boomers straight to the Millenials so it behooves a “middle-child” GenXer like me to pay attention to what Millenials need since they’re the economy of the future.

Millenials don’t want posturing. They don’t want fluff. They want people to be real with them. And I think I’m a pretty down-to-earth realist. I don’t try to sugarcoat. I DO try to be positive, though. So why shouldn’t I be me, and use humor to teach people the business concepts I work with every day? Why shouldn’t I share the knowledge I’ve gained? I’m a woman who understands technology, risk, and ethics, and I have a knack for communication. Why shouldn’t I give that a go?

Doesn’t this world need new leaders to step up? I’m not a new leader but it is time to step up. Time to roll the dice.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash

 

 

 

A Retirement Reckoning

I am the youngest by far in my extended family of siblings and cousins. On average, they are 15 years older than me. Hanging around them means a lifetime of being immersed in their baby boom culture, watching them get degrees, start jobs, get married, buy homes, have kids, juggle daycare and then college tuitions. I am perpetually 20 steps behind them all.

And I’m a late bloomer of sorts, which didn’t help me when I’d hyperventilate over the status of my life. I didn’t do anything at the same age as my siblings and cousins. I did many things on my own which means things took me longer, anywhere from 8-15 years later than them. I always felt like certain things, marriage and kids for one, would never happen for me.

A few years ago my oldest sister announced she was finally retiring, and it hit me: she wasn’t retiring at an unusually young or old age but at a normal age. She’s 14 years older than me, which meant I could conceivably retire in 14 years myself.

Shut the front door.

That news shook my world. I’d been saving financially for retirement for a couple of decades at that point. What I hadn’t done is prepare mentally for it. No way, no how was I financially, professionally, personally, mentally ready for it.

See, when my sister announced her retirement, my youngest was a kindergartener. I swear, two months before he started school, we deep cleaned his room and found a binky behind his bed that had been there who knows how long. I mean, right? In the blink of an eye he went from baby to toddler to school-ager. Retirement, therefore, was the furthest thing from my mind, but suddenly it appeared in the horizon for the first time in my life, and I thought I would projectile vomit at the thought.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with work over the years, as do so many people. Unlike many people, I think of my work as a profession and the whole of it as a career. I have always aimed to get value and satisfaction out of my work even if I couldn’t quite place my finger on what exactly I wanted to do.

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Now there have been times in my life when I changed jobs, and suddenly my sense of self completely disappeared. The new job turned out to be nothing more than that: a job. Suddenly I found myself missing what I had, a professional position with career aspirations and growth, and a feeling that someone, anyone, at the company cared about me and how I grew. But to hold “just a job”? You may as well stab my heart with a knife, I’d bleed to death under the circumstances.

This past year two more relatives retired and I’ve watched a huge number of boomers leave the workforce. I wonder whether some of them viewed their work the way I do: a career, a calling. Were they ready? How do you get ready when so much of who you are is wrapped up in what you do? After all, you spend so much of your day working.

Many of these people retired with no fanfare. Some people wanted to leave quietly. Some left as part of a corporate restructuring, and some were even contractually obligated to stay quiet about it least they impact their severance. They were subject to a gag order, real or perceived.

Imagine me on a gag order. Again, stab my heart with a knife as I’d bleed to death. I need to talk to make sense of things. I write to make sense of things. It’s not that I don’t know how to stay mum when discretion is required, but whoa.

I try to put myself in their shoes. What must it feel like to have pursued a career your whole life and to have it end quietly, in a thud. No fanfare, no thanks, no party, just a severance. Especially when you consider your work to be more than a job, but your identity?

How do you fortify yourself from feeling disoriented, unwanted, or unvalued in that situation? As a coping mechanism, do you start thinking of your work, your career, as just a job? Just a paycheck that you collect?

I’ve never wanted to do that. Never. And I don’t want to become so disenchanted with work to become disengaged, to just hold down a job. I pursued an education and I have deliberately changed employers for the sole purpose of avoiding boredom. While I can’t say that I’ve had a strong calling in life to do something in particular, I have always been driven to do my best. How can you reconcile your ethics and heart under those circumstances?

Besides, I’m the breadwinner – so it would be completely foolhardy on my part to disengage, clock my time, and simply collect a paycheck.

My Dad retired from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel as a laborer after 45 years with the company. He was happy to be done, period. Then again, he was a hard-working, understated, introverted kind of guy. We threw him a pretty huge retirement party, and all of my siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins came to celebrate him. It was a happy way to bring closure to the monotony of four + decades working shifts in a dirty, loud steel mill.

I don’t know what will happen when it’s my turn. I don’t know how to prepare myself mentally for that possibility. It’s especially difficult to do so when you realize it’s actually on the horizon in the next 10-15 years, if I’m lucky enough to stay employed that long. Having kids so much later in life means my financial obligations and goals relative to them will take me longer to achieve.

It’s a race. Will I stay employed, meet my personal goals and college-tuiting-funding goals for my kids, and retire on my terms or will it get cut short in favor of the up and coming Millenials? Will I feel like I contributed in a meaningful way to the best of my ability?

Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Photo by Charles Koh on Unsplash