Don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t a story about a long-lost uncle who left me gazillions of dollars that I can’t wait to share. All of my uncles died a long time ago, and none of them had much money. This post is about work, and ideas and open (or not) minds. It’s about legacies and memories and tasks completed, missions accomplished, and things left undone. And it’s about how little any of that really matters.
I got the idea for this post from Yvonne, over at Misifusa, when she wrote about inheritance. It’s a good think I wrote down my thoughts, because it took a long time for them to surface. I blame the AIIM Conference. Wait? How did AIIM sneak in here? Well, when I think about what I might be leaving behind (when I retire, folks. I’m not thinking of the other exit), I think it’s natural to think about what I still might accomplish in the time that I will remain on the job. Then I remember my old boss telling me: “we only carried the pail for a number of years. It’s up to someone else to carry it forward.” I like that. I like the notion that we did our best and now it’s someone else’s turn to do their best.
The idea that someone else should look at my path and extrapolate a future course from it, is nonsense. I’ve been working for over 40 years. In addition to a relatively successful journey, my path is full of false starts, short reversals, jumps into new directions and Sisyphean boulders resting at various stages on various mountains. Systems development, database management, document libraries, workflows and other attempts to automate business processes – worry not! – I won’t bore you with that. That isn’t me, that’s only my job. I was fortunate to be told at an early point in my career: “your job is what you do to finance your life. Don’t let it become your life.”
However, when I attend something like the AIIM Conference, where hundreds of like-minded, similarly engaged people get together and share ideas for making the world a better place, I can’t help but come home excited. There’s still time! Time to build that thing, improve that thing, replace that thing, scrap that God-forsaken thing that should never have been attempted and… No. There isn’t. There is time to continue to help the folks picking up the various pails, squaring their shoulders against the various boulders and especially the ones looking back at those oddball accomplishments and wondering, under their breath: “what was he thinking?”
It doesn’t matter, but I was thinking: “I have to figure out a way to do this” whatever the ‘this’ was at the time. Necessity being the mother it was, invention had to follow, and not all inventions were ready for prime-time, as we used to say before DVRs and Netflix eliminated that requirement, but were nonetheless forced into action. As we sit around today and discuss these remnants, I try to explain, but I am clear not to lobby on their behalf. The task that remains is for me to ask: “what are you thinking?” and to follow that with: “how can I help?”
I am about 18 months away from retiring. Plenty of time to help the next generation dissect and examine the previous projects. Plenty of time to fill in the history and to share a few stories that might ease the looming burden – “no, we didn’t know what we were doing either” – “yes, we were caught off guard by technology that changed too fast” – “no, nobody ever gave us enough time or money to do the job right” – and most important, “we figured it out – so can you.”
I am extremely proud of the people coming up behind me to pick up the pails I am starting to set down. I like the questions they are asking. I like the ideas they have. I admire their energy and their commitment to success. They remind me of a much younger me, and I remember how I wanted people to get out of my way and let me do what I had been trained to do. I’m not ready to get off the field, but I’m ready to let them run. I think this is the point where Yvonne would urge them to – Shine On!