The Inner Bottom Line ™
A Syndicated Column on Personal Choices & Ethical Dilemmas
NOTE: Dear Readers, I'm unhappy to let you know that I will be on medical leave for the next three weeks. It is my hope to be able to post a new column the week of April 15th, but I will try to return sooner if the surgery goes well and my doctors allow me to return to my desk. In the meantime, take good care of yourself and your Inner Bottom Line until then. O.
PS. For now, here's a touching letter I thought you'd find both current and inspirational. It's a topic I've been writing about a lot for several years. Finally, the rest of the media is paying scant but welcome attention.
March 13, 2013
I appreciate what you’ve recently said on your show about retirement and growing older. I’ve been in the Foreign Service for thirty years and I’ve seen a lot of things that have upset and concerned me, both inside our East Coast offices as well as in the line of duty. I was always proud of my contribution, even when things went badly. But during the past ten years years, actually since we first invaded Iraq again, I have felt a growing sense of shame and anger that has recently begun to affect me physically. My blood pressure has shot up and my wife has repeatedly told me that I’m grumpier than usual and that my nerves are shot. And I know that she’s right. I’ve been very fortunate in my marriage and she’s still my best friend, and so when she reads me the riot act, believe me I pay attention. I know that I’m coming to the end of my service this year, but my problem is that I feel as if all the work and the years haven’t meant very much after all. I was always so proud of my role in representing my country, but the actions and bungling and most of all the deceptions by the Bush administration have left a really bad taste in my mouth that’s never gone away and it basically ruined all of that for me. Even though I have confidence in President Obama, the conservative nuts in Congress continue to stymie all of the essential things he tries to do and it’s left me fatigued in ways I didn’t know one could be tired. I know that I don’t have the same bounce in my step anymore. I thought I’d write and ask you if you can help me regain some balance. What can I do? How can I get back that sense of accomplishment that was always taken for granted since college? Is this a part of getting older and I just didn’t know this could happen to me? Do you think if others knew about this it would help them prepare for retirement more realistically than me? I want to know what you think about this and suggest I do?
Thanks for being so candid about your dilemma and the impact it is having directly upon your health and well-being. Since so many of us, when we find ourselves sinking into the quagmire, insist on maintaining some level of denial about our health and blood pressure and patience levels, it’s quite refreshing to hear the hard, cold facts from someone who’s obviously telling himself the truth and admits to being the neighborhood grump this week. Bravo!
Your letter caught my eye not only because of your sense of dismay and disillusionment with the past and ongoing state of affairs in our country, but also because of the insightful issues you’ve raised with your many questions. I want to assure you that you’re not alone in your frustration and anger at the many missteps coming out of Washington since 2000, nor are you alone in wrestling with impending retirement from your life’s work. But having company in misery, while sometimes reassuring, still doesn’t change reality. This isn’t an easy time for you personally or for our country right now. So it’s normal and understandable that you would feel distressed.
The personal issues you’ve raised touch upon much broader and concerning issues that face many people today. What do we do when our life’s work suddenly seems to lose its sense of value and purpose? What do we tell ourselves when we perceive that our own intangible currency of contribution is worth less in the marketplace than all of our dreams promised they would be? Does that mean that our efforts aren’t worth anything of value in the end?
To this last heart-rending question, I must state a resounding “no.” This challenge and dilemma facing you right now is one facing many people today, for retirement is a word that has, in fact, nearly been retired. The pictures many of us carried in our heads since the early 50s about the way it was going to turn out for us has shifted. Many people who chose to retire, including a large number in their twenties or thirties during the ‘90s dot-com craze, expected to find the promised land of old. Instead, they’ve ended up grappling with reduced benefits, longer life expectancy and in some cases, bouts of vague ennui and depression.
So just how can you retire with the peace of mind you deserve and hold on to your life’s worth and value in the face of recent disillusionments? How do you re-define the concept of retirement to make certain that it fairly reflects your values as well as your just rewards. Just as our title or profession does not define who we are or what our character is made of, the ups and downs of political reality does not and must not be allowed to define the endless hours and years of devotion, commitment and sweat that you’ve given in earnest effort. That thought must remain the center of your focus and awareness, for while you are completely responsible for the quality of your observations, reports and results, you are not accountable for the winds of change that blow in and out of D.C.
You asked how to get the bad taste out of your mouth and put the bounce in your step again. Isn’t it amazing how easily we can lose the big picture and get caught up in one tiny piece of the view? In order to regain a balanced perspective, taking some time and space to step back and reconsider the entire perspective, the whole scene, could help.
I suspect when you get in touch with all the wonderful and exciting memories and emotions of the earlier days when your zeal and belief system were in high drive and you were elated with the future, you will also begin to recall once again with renewed clarity the fact that you weren’t experiencing doubt then nor was there room for some unseen, unknown presence to deflate your determination to “change the world.”
That’s your challenge. To not allow that to happen after all the years of hard work and effort. You’ve earned the right to value the mistakes and missteps as well as the proud moments without apology to anyone. Contrary to the popular cliché, a few bad apples don’t always spoil the whole bunch, and a few ill-intended people running the show can’t eradicate the decades of fine and honorable service you’ve provided to our country.
Only you know why you chose the Foreign Service and what your intentions were. If your intentions were pure and you tried your very best, you have no excuses, defenses or explanations to give to anyone, especially yourself. And while we all have things in our lives we might do differently if we could do them over again, for the most part it’s the mistakes we’ve made and the roads less traveled that we bravely walked that end up enriching our lives with lessons learned and knocks well deserved. And those need to be appreciated right along side the kudos and awards. We are all the better for the dedication you’ve given to our country. I thank you and salute you!
You can submit your questions or book private phone sessions with Olive at theinnerbottomline.com, explore her new blog at whatskeepingyouawakeatnight.com, or call into her blogtalkradio.com show, “The Inner Bottom Line,” at 661-449-1425 with your questions. All letters and calls can be anonymous and confidential.
Kindle and audio versions along with the hard cover of Olive’s book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life, are now available on amazon.com.