Now that I’m retired, I’ve enjoyed becoming dependable again. It’s not that I was a flake when I was working, but there were plenty of days when I didn’t finish what I had intended, and hadn’t fulfilled my promises or commitments to others. Their phone calls or e-mails had not been returned, their needs were still on my To Do list, their requests continued to linger on my desk. There were meetings where I arrived unprepared, something that embarrasses me to this day. I still have shameful memories of saying “yes” when that was an empty promise. And I can’t begin to count the number of times I cut short a necessary personal conversation so I could attack the next item on my task list.
Again, I wasn’t a flake, but my dependability quotient was probably pretty low.Which brings me back to this pleasant aspect of retirement: Being trustworthy again. Because my calendar now is more manageable, I’ve discovered again the pleasure of completing tasks on time and keeping promises—doing what I said I would do. I enjoy paying bills before their due date, promptly returning e-message requests and voice mail, showing up on time, making appointments I can keep and being honest about what I can actually accomplish. Conversations can linger until deeper, more personal matters emerge. I can stick into my daily schedule enough prep time for the day’s tasks. Mindfulness seems more possible. This all feels good, this return to accountability and steadfastness.
When I was employed, I knew the cause for my hobbled reliability: In my line of work, there were always too few people trying to do too much work too often. Our organization didn’t always have the wisdom or freedom to say “no” to our constituents. I’m sure that my semi-flakiness was repeated in other cubicles, as was my self-condemnation.
Where am I going with this?
First, if you’re part of an enterprise where reliability seems consistently at risk, be careful before you condemn yourself too quickly. Unless you’re truly lazy and inept, much of what you might name as a fault may in fact be evidence of an enterprise that’s not well-run or is over-committed. You’ll probably have to simultaneously do your best work while pushing back at people and processes that cause unreliability to continue.
Second, if you’re retired—or about to take that step—enjoy thinking about how you can order your days so that you can return to a level of trustworthiness that matches your other admirable qualities. How will you schedule your days so that the number and size of your commitments match the time and energy that’s actually available? How will you insist on the kind of self-discipline that makes reliability possible? And how might you understand and care for those still caught in webs of undependability in their lives?
One more thing: Because I remember my less-than-reliable days so well, I cannot ever characterize other folks as fickle or flakey—especially those still carrying heavy personal responsibilities or working in difficult jobs. When I am disappointed by their tardiness, lack of attention to my request or shallow answers, I can react to their presence with understanding and care.
And I can imagine them a few years from now, when as retired folks they’ll return to the reliability that most certainly lies deeply within their core selves right now!
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