After 40 years of working at the same company, a friend of mine retired recently. During her farewell party, she commented how she felt like she was, “…watching my life be dismantled piece by piece…” during the transition phase leading up to her last day.
This reminded me of a similar feeling I had many years ago when I was moving to a new company and was hearing from friends how many of the systems I had put in place during my tenure were being retired for newer ones. The sense of pride I felt having taken that company’s fledgling network and boosted/ grown it over the five years I was there was turning into sadness that this “upstart” who was hired to replace me was suddenly veering into (in my opinion) the wrong direction.
He wasn’t the guy who nurtured those systems, who understood what was needed to keep it stable, who worked for years in actually stabilizing it, who took care and maintained it. He was just some “new” guy with ideas of grandeur who was coming in to make his mark. And worst of all he wasn’t going to be sticking around!
It was then that I realized that my career was not about creating anything solid or long-lasting like houses or buildings, but that I was dealing with what I can only refer to as “VaporWare”. I was building or creating technology systems and/or working with teams developing software that could only last a few years. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to technology. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t care about what they’re delivering, though.
Knowing that something won’t last means that you should accept the transient nature of the work. Build the best thing you can without it consuming you or aiming for absolute perfection. Release it to the wild with the understanding that you will (and should) continue to tweak it, monitor it, boost it up, and make it better a bit at a time. When the time comes that your system needs to be decommissioned, let it go. There will be other projects, other challenges, other teams.
In other words, build the best thing you can, but not at the expense of others.
The most important thing to remember is that the people you work with along the way, and how you treat them, will be what really continues to exist after the work is done. Those relationships you forged, or the ego battles you fought, will continue past the project and the company. The people you work with are what make your day and the time you spend at work bearable. Because of that, the best you should hope for is to make a positive impact in someone’s life.
I find the concept of “empire building” quite funny. I hear from people in various companies about some of the practices they have to put up with and I shake my head and snicker. It always amazes me when I hear of how one person is trying to push something through, or working to remove someone from their team, or trying to “amass power” in a way to move up in a company. Why go through all that effort? Why dispense so much negative energy? Remember, Collaboration is the key to success.
Life is too short to spend your days arguing about things that will not stand the test of time. Those “empires” or victories will not keep you warm at night nor visit you when you’re on your deathbed. And when the time comes, they will not raise a glass to your memory, either.
As a parting thought, I leave you with the conclusion to my friend’s speech. She finished by saying, “…I realize now that it wasn’t about the work, it was all about you!” Her daily work is over, but our friendships, memories, and new stories will continue. She couldn’t take her work with her now that she’s retiring, but she can definitely take our friendship. That’s exactly what I took with me when I left the company we were both working at, five years ago.
(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona still has a way to go before being able to retire, but when he does, he’s sure you’ll be able to read all about it… His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead. (and at last check, more than 50% of the companies he worked or consulted at are now dead!))