On January 8, 2018 – a day I call my “other” birthday – I retired from the NYPD after 37 years of service. My career was amazing, a true journey, emotionally and spiritually. I experienced the greatest honors, and inspirations and joy, as well as some of the deepest pain, that many cannot imagine. In fact, during these last three years, like slowly peeling layers of an onion off, I have been dealing with some feelings that I did not allow myself to feel all of those years. As much as I loved every moment of my career, except of course the pain, I feel so fortunate that my transition into retirement has been absolutely amazing, and somehow I feel even happier these days.
However, I am mindful that many people find retiring very challenging, fearful that their life may actually lose significance. In fact, I once asked a high-ranking police executive who was having a real hard time with his impending retirement, “What are your fears?” After a noticeable pause, he answered, “Being irrelevant.” My heart broke for him, and in my mind I thought it was so sad that anyone could live a life of service and then even think of feeling irrelevant.
When anyone would respectfully make a big deal out of the title that I was so lucky enough to have achieved, I would always say, and I still do, “I’m just a small fry in a Happy Meal, but I am one of the happiest small fries in that Happy Meal.” Kind of goofy, but there is a great deal of truth in that for me. So humbled and appreciative of all that I have been given, I find myself every day asking, how did this happen?
And more seriously, we are not our titles, rather, we are the humanity that we bring to any title we may hold. When we become too attached to our titles, we risk losing our humanity, and then we are truly lost. So when we leave our title, we leave nothing behind, because our humanity will always shine through. And by the way, it is so nice to be, “Joe Fox“. And after all, isn’t that who I always was, and always will be? And think about it, do any of us really need to be more than who we already are?
Once I was chatting with another friend who was also having difficulty dealing with his upcoming retirement. I came up with the questions below during our chat. They seemed to be helpful to him, so I saved them, and I’ve shared them with many others since. And, while he was transitioning from a career in law-enforcement, I believe these concepts apply when each of us leave a position we have held for many years. Here are the four questions:
1: All of the good that you have done throughout your career, all of your contributions – will any of that disappear, get undone? NO
2: The impact that you made on so many people – coworkers, supervisors, people you may have led, members of the community, crime victims – will any of that be forgotten? NO
3: The impact that has been made on you throughout your career, your life of service, all of these years, the fact that you are a completely different person, more evolved because of the experience – will any of that go away? NO
4: Final question – So when you retire, what will change? NOTHING! All of the good that you have done, and all of the impact you have made, and all of the impact that has been made on you never disappears. It only becomes more special, more powerful, as the people you have touched continue to touch others.
I hope anyone going through a major transition in their life finds these concepts helpful. And please remember, I believe what I shared above not only applies to retiring from a career, but they absolutely apply to life, and looking back on our accomplishments and our impact. Thank you everyone for reading this and I wish you each a truly purposeful life, loaded with purposeful moments.