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“Everyone here used to be a somebody. Now they’re a nobody,” says a friend who lives among retired big shots in a gated community in Florida.
I entered the nobody life nearly a year ago when I retired at 65 after more than 30 years as a Washington Post reporter.
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People have asked me if I waited too long to retire. Simply put, yes; my precious wife passed away after a long illness three days after my last day at the Post.
Others have asked me if I miss writing. The answer is nope, this missive notwithstanding. I loved being a reporter. And I was ready to move on. They are not mutually exclusive.
“Leave the party while you’re still having fun,” my late mother-in-law used to say.
But many can’t leave the party. It’s hard to blame hangers-on for trying to stretch out the good times.
People feel they matter when they are working. Their self-worth derives from their job. Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee once said that without The Washington Post next to your name you’re just another guy on the street.
Everyone knows of someone who tried to wring the last drop of satisfaction from their job. Tom Brady, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Michael Jordan all eclipsed their sell-by dates.
I saw some bosses at the Post forced out because they failed to timely hand the reins to a successor.
Jack Welch, famous for emphasizing corporate management and executive transition, delayed his departure from the top job at General Electric to complete an acquisition. Regulators killed the acquisition after eight months and Welch departed on a downer.
Few people have been self-possessed enough to leave while on top.
The first who comes to mind is Jim Brown, one of the greatest running backs ever, who left professional football at 30 and enjoyed a second career in acting. Investing legend Peter Lynch departed the Fidelity Magellan Fund in his mid-40s while he was still earning magnificent returns for investors. Lynch has since concentrated on art collecting, philanthropy, and has authored several investing books.
Then of course there’s Greta Garbo, the poster child for perfect timing. Garbo seized the moment when she walked away at age 35 after 28 films. The act drenched the reclusive Hollywood superstar in mystery that clung for forty years until she passed away in 1990 at 81 years old.
You’ve got to be in the right frame of mind to embrace anonymity.
Ten months in and I am still in retirement chill mode. Being a nobody comes with no commitments. No deadlines. As I march towards my 67th birthday, I glory in each sunrise. I wake around 5 am to read my book of the moment, firing up the coffee and carefully arranging my bowl of fruit and walnuts. Every day includes simple steps, whether it’s a call with my attorney regarding taxes, mailing a package, getting the car inspected or purchasing a pair of running shoes.
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The Christmas party invitations will no doubt dry up. The phone calls and emails are down more than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But I have been pleasantly surprised by some longtime sources whom I have discovered are real friends. And I have made new acquaintances.
I travel. I have discovered a newfound love for small wagers on sports. I still occasionally visit The Palm, my celebrity-filled refuge where I had de-stressed.
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My highlight is the daily noon mass at St. Ann’s Church, followed by a recitation of the Rosary with an inspiring handful of fellow Catholic faithful.
And some days I just sit quietly, think and reflect on my life as a nobody. I like those days the most.