The Stepaway

For most of my working life, I thought retirement was a dumb idea. Working was good. It gave me routine, purpose, and a paycheck. My first boss, Larry Powell, worked well into his eighties. My longtime role model, Harold Burson, worked into his nineties. My in-laws retired from the military in their sixties but kept working well into their seventies. All of them stayed lucid, active, and healthy.

Retirement I saw as G-d’s waiting room, a long, slow wait for illness, incontinence, and an appointment with the mortician. My dad essentially retired in his early fifties, was diagnosed with dementia at 64, and died six weeks before his 69th birthday. I had seen others retire, move to Palm Springs, and go into terminal decline. The lesson as I took it was clear, and I swore that I would exit the day they carried me out feet-first.

As with many things, life happened, and my view became more nuanced. My marriage went through a mid-life crisis and, thank G-d, came out the other side. My son, our only child, started dating and went off to college. COVID hit. Burnout happened, and I didn’t even notice.

In the meantime, great things had come into my life. Our move back to the US had proven profoundly positive. My involvement in the Scouting movement became a source of fulfillment. I reconnected with my faith in a way that was more meaningful and sustainable. For the first time in my life, I had activities – avocations – outside of my working life and enjoyed them immensely. And I had begun keeping a list of things I wanted to read, write, do, make, and achieve while I still walked the Earth, and that list was beginning to fill a notebook.

Perhaps as important as all of it, I rediscovered the vocation I had always wanted and never had the resources our courage to take: scholarship.

And my family. Oh, Lord.

One night, as I was adding item #496 into my Bucket List (seriously, not hyperbole), my wife and son staged an intervention. They sat me down as if speaking to an addict. My wife told me that she knew I had been working for many years to support the family and that we were now in a position that would allow me to pursue the activities that gave me the deepest fulfillment. My son put his hand on my shoulder and, summing up, said, “dad, it’s your turn.”

I wept long into that night, overwhelmed by gratitude, humility, and pure relief. Finally, finally, I was able to face what I had been burying for a very long time. And I vowed that this new phase would be anything but a gold watch, golf, gin, and grandkids: I would step away from my career, but what I would step into would be a different kind of post-career life.

After a lot of thought, I reached out to the founders of my company. They were supportive and understanding, especially when I told them it would not be immediate but five months hence, giving the company and I adequate time to plan and adjust without causing disruption.

A load was lifted. There was no guilt, just resolve. The fifth phase of my life would begin August 1, and I was going to do it right.

That fifth phase is what I will chronicle here. Join me as I redefine the post-career life.

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Keeping an Eye Out

View through the loophole in the south tower, Fort Lockwood.

Squatting in the tower at Fort Lockwood, I was pleased to see that we had clear fields of fire to the south. We knew if the threat was going to come from anywhere that it would not be the sheer cliffs to our backs as much as the broad valley to our front.

Or so we thought.

The firing of rifles came from the hillside to our right rear. Arrows flew behind us. The thunk of flying tomahawks landing in something solid and organic came from our left. And all the while, the blacksmith kept at work next to the gates, pounding copper into…bowls.

At last came the greatest threat of all. One of my scouts popped his head up the ladder of the tower, and, breaking my frontier daydream, asked, “hey Mr. Wolf: got any more of those Sqwincher electrolyte packets?”

Returning down the ladder, the sound of the blacksmith and the tomahawks grow louder, but the sound of .22 rifles and flying arrows faded. I didn’t mind. It was another day at Summer Camp, but it was so much more.

A Sweet Day

Phase V does not officially begin until midnight on the 31st, but today marks the start of my terminal PTO, so yesterday was the last day in the office in my career. Slammed right up to the last minute, I hadn’t had much of a chance to reflect on or savor the moment.

Then my son came home after a day at Universal Studios with a box full of pure Portland goodness: a half dozen of Voodoo Doughnuts’ most over-the-top creations.

Pacing myself through a vegan apple fritter, I thought quietly about an amazing if somewhat unconventional career. It was a road sparsely traveled, and that did make the difference. As I stepped off that path and onto another, I paused to pray that this new road would be just as scenic.

B”H

Patchology: REI and National Parks

Over the years I have managed to make it to Channel Islands, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, and Yosemite, along with a small handful of National Monuments, National Historical Sites, and National Historical Parks. In short, I have seen only a tiny fraction of this great legacy, so I am artfully weaving the units of the National Park System into my upcoming travels.

And for the record, there will be no “27 parks in 54 days” for me, thanks: I am planning on taking it slow. These parks were not created to be seen as much as to be experienced. The point is to go to one of these places, grok it in full, and make it a part of who you are. 

I’ll wear this patch on my civilian Jac-Shirt, a promise to myself to keep true to this spirit.                                               

Eight days till retirement and I’m averaging 15 work hours per day and 5.5 hours of sleep per night. Five months ago I figured at this point I would be marking time, like Warren Schmidt.

Apparently not.

Just as well. Schmidt should be nobody’s post-career role model.

Last week was a 75 hour work week. This week will be pretty close. I’m drained.

All I can think is that G-d is laying this week on me so that when I retire at the end of the month I will have absolutely no regrets.

Highway Six, Unvisited

Old US 6, north of Los Angeles

Hovering near the top of my bucket list are a series of road trips I want to take that retrace the old US highway system. I even have a dream about writing a guidebook on the subject.

Of course, traveling Route 66 is on there, but there are at least a dozen overlooked byways that failed to inspire popular songs yet cut America into revealing cross-sections. One of those journeys is US Route 6, the Grand Army of the Republic Highway running from Provincetown, MA to Long Beach, CA.

Almost as much as any of our heritage roads, Route 6 captured my imagination. The short stretch of the old highway that I have driven so far – from San Fernando, California to Palmdale, California – evoked an epiphany. If you want to drive through America, do it on an Interstate. But if you want to drive to America, do it on a road less – or no longer much – traveled. The history, culture, and beauty wantonly bypassed by the brilliant but artless Interstate system begs for rediscovery, appreciation, and chronicling. Plus, the food is better, and the people more real.

Planning has begun. More as it evolves.

Homey aphorisms and country-fried metaphors seem to roll off my tongue with depressing ease.

Clearly, I’m getting old: I’m channelling my pioneer ancestors.

Necessary Introduction

I have had the opportunity to speak in front of dozens of groups, but of all of the introductions I have ever received, my favorite was back in 2008 when I was giving a talk at the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber president introduced me as follows:

“Our next speaker is Mr. David Wolf, President and CEO of communications and marketing strategy firm Wolf Group Asia, columnist at Media magazine, and author of the respected blog Silicon Hutong. David has been described as ‘A morally upright community and thought leader who can still drop the laser-guided F-bomb.’ Please join me in welcoming David Wolf.”

Ah, the things that make up our reputations…

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