Going Back to Go Forward

This was the first time I stepped onto the IBM campus since I retired, a place where I had spent more than 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year, for 20+ years. I was invited to attend a retirement party for a colleague and friend, which was held on-site in one of the larger conference rooms. In fact, it was the exact conference room where I held my own retirement party last July. My friend is retiring voluntarily and is very happy about it. I was forced to retire as part of a resource action (or down-sizing, or lay-off, depending on the phrase of the day) and I was making the best of it. Not surprisingly, I had mixed feelings leaving IBM and now I had mixed feelings going back. Wasn’t sure if it would be sour grapes, regret, longing, relief.

I parked in the same visitor parking lot (maybe even the same space) that I parked in when I interviewed there in 1993 and I enjoyed the walk across campus to the main entrance. I knew there no longer was a human receptionist to greet you in the lobby, another cost-cutting effort. I think there’s a kiosk you can use, or maybe a phone that is answered by a voice-response system. Thankfully, someone was waiting there to meet the “outsiders”, stick on our visitor badges, escort us into the building, and spare us from that reminder of the direction the company is taking.

I had a great time. It was a terrific party with an entertaining jump-rope performance (seriously!), heart-felt speeches, funny anecdotes. I enjoyed seeing so many people I had worked with, laughed with, cheered with, griped with over the course of my career. So many wonderful people that I know, with luck, I might see again at one of these events or maybe possibly bump into at a random place like a grocery store or, more likely, never see again. I was grateful for the opportunity to connect, hug, talk, and find out (in real time rather than virtually on social media) how these people are doing. That was the best part of the event and the part I miss most since I left.

The worst part was my sense that the people who do not work there any more (for whatever reason) are happy and the others are NOT. Some IBMers, the ones I am closest with, openly said that the work environment is more stressful, morale is much worse, and the feeling of community is gone. Others didn’t exactly state that in so many words, but a strong vibe was there. I was honest when people asked me (with envy) if I was enjoying retirement and I told them it’s been a challenging adjustment. This produced a few raised eyebrows and several incredulous looks. It’s a challenge many seemed to want.

Bottom line: I left feeling happy for my friend, who I know is delighted to retire, glad I no longer work there, and quite sad overall. I realize that when I miss working at IBM, I am missing something that does not and cannot exist today and I am starting to accept it. I don’t want to be one of those lost souls who whine about and long for the “good old days”. Seems like a much better idea to focus on creating good new days.

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