So, like normal, I did the thing that everyone says not to do. The conventional wisdom says, “don’t retire away from something – you must retire to something.” I had no idea what I was retiring to. None. I don’t play golf, I don’t have any grandchildren, I don’t garden. I had no idea how I was going to fill my days. But I sure knew what I was retiring away from. So I followed another bit of conventional wisdom that says, “It’s OK to run like hell away from something that’s trying to kill you!” And little by little, meeting by meeting, and disappointment after disappointment, my dream job in corporate America was surely killing me.
One cold winter afternoon, two hours into a mandatory all-hands department meeting, I started a new Google Doc named – Things I Never Want to Do Again. Obviously, the first thing on the list was – “Attend another mandatory all-hands meeting.” This document became my anti-bucket list. This was a list of things that were part of my life that, once I retired, I never wanted to think about again.
What is an Anti-Bucket List?
I’m not the first person to write about an anti-bucket list, but most of the others get it wrong. They list things like, “I’ll never wear Crocs or bungee jump.” But that’s just a list of things you don’t like. A regular bucket list is a list of things that are not currently part of your life that you would like to have or do. If you already have or do them, it makes no sense to put them on your bucket list. Conversely, an anti-bucket list should be a list of things that are currently part of your life that you would like to permanently remove.
My anti-bucket list document became an ongoing distraction during meetings and eventually grew to over 60 items. But I’m not going to hit you with all 60. That would be mean. Some of them are weird or dull or just way to TMI. So here are the top 15 to give you a flavor.
[Note: Don’t read too much into this list. Most of these gripes go back many years and many jobs. At least one dates back to 1982. So whatever you are thinking, no, I’m not talking about you.]
- I never want to fire anyone again – This is number one on my list of things I never want to do again. It’s just soul-crushing to fire or lay off a co-worker. Layoffs are the worst. They frequently make no sense, people just have to go. Maybe you are on the list, maybe someone who works for you. I’m not doing it again. Ever.
- I never want to give performance reviews again – Every company does it, and it is usually a huge waste of time and frequently meaningless. When the difference between Outstanding Performer and Meets Expectations is less than 1%, what’s the point? If I shoot for a half percent less in annual raise I can go home on time and not work Saturdays? Deal. I’ll take it.
- I never want to wake up to an alarm clock every day – Sure there will be occasions where you have to get up early for an appointment or to catch a flight, but I never want my life to be controlled by an alarm clock that I come to despise. The morning after I retired I just reached over and pushed my bedside clock radio onto the floor behind a chair. It’s still there.
- I never want to do meaningless work again – We’ve all done it. There is a report that has to be written or a deck that has to be presented and we KNOW for certain that no one cares, no one is going to read it, and if it didn’t get done that nothing would be affected. But we do it, knowing we are wasting our time. Never again.
- I never want to hate Sunday evenings again – I don’t know what time it hits for you, but for me, it’s about 8:00 on Sunday evening. I realize the best part of the weekend is over and I start to slowly drift back into work mode. I start thinking about what I have to do first thing Monday morning, and I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. That base-level work anxiety and dread takes over and casts a pall over the rest of the evening. I want to love Sundays, just like every other day.
- Never again will I not know what’s important to my family or what they are doing because I’m working all the time – We had a lot of issues, but I blame at least 30% of my divorce on me being way too concerned with the version 2.5 release of the KnowledgeWare Design Workstation product. I worked late every night (and many weekends) for over a year. Even when I was home I rarely came out of my work bubble. Meanwhile, I had no idea what my wife was up to or what she was going through. I was stressed out and depressed over a stupid bit of software. Did that product go on to change the world? No, it was crap that has long been forgotten. Never again.
- Never again will neckties be an important part of my life – OK, I’ll keep one or two for weddings, funerals, and the occasional court appearance, but I’m donating or cutting up the rest. I was part of the generation who had to wear ties to work, every damn day, for years. What a stupid custom, wrapping a bit of cloth around your neck and tying it in a knot. And no more ties as gifts! Glad to be done with the whole mess.
- I never want to call a cubicle ‘home’ again – During the last few years of working, I completely cleaned out my cube. No decorations, no books, no awards. I wanted to be ready at any moment to say, “That’s it – I’m done,” get up and leave and not have to come back to pick up a bunch of knick-knacks and paper. I didn’t want to feel comfortable and settled in there. I wanted to make it clear that this was a place to work, and when work was done I should get up and go to my real home. My cube should never feel like home.
- Never again will I let cynical become my default mode – After 35 years of listening to executives make promises, that if not totally empty were certainly leaking, I became skeptical of everything and downright cynical. Everything was an eye roll. I had heard it all before, and it wasn’t that I didn’t believe what they were saying, I just didn’t care. And that became my default mode for evaluating any new incoming information – cynicism and doubt. That’s a terrible way to go through life! Who wants to go through life like a high school junior forced to take algebra in Summer school – just moping around all day mumbling, “this is bullshit.” I want to be curious and open to new ideas. I want to be engaged, and occasionally surprised and delighted because I gave something new a chance. Going through life thinking everything is crap is just no fun. Never again.
- Never again will I be constrained by a dress and appearance code I’ve worked at three places that had dress and appearance codes. They determined what clothes I wore, what my hair looked like, and if I could even grow any facial hair (which in my case is always a bad idea – but I digress). It always felt ridiculous to those of us in the ranks. When I first started at UPS, women couldn’t wear open toe shoes – crazy. I never mattered. It didn’t make anything better. It always felt like big brother overreach and everyone resented it.
- I will never answer the phone before 10:00 AM unless it is a call from a family member or the police – My work career started with both my wife and I supervising people, and every day the “out sick” calls started coming in about 5:30 AM. Every day. Later it changed to text messages. But I’m in no way a morning person. Getting a text from a co-worker asking, “if I can jump on this call with India,” at 7:00 in the morning is just not how I want to start my day. That last hour of sleep is very precious to me. I love that last hour – I’m not giving it up anymore.
- Never again will I judge the success of my day by arbitrary indicators of over work – In the last few years, it got to the point where I actually felt good about over work. Am I the last car in the parking deck? Yes! Look at how hard I’m working! The office lights would automatically shut off at 8:00 PM, this became my reminder to start thinking about going home. I saw the cleaning crew every night and got into the habit of just putting my trash can out in the aisle to make it easier on them. If I got home before 6:00 I felt guilty, like I was just not committed to my project team. None of this was necessary! Most of the time nobody but me even knew I was working late or on the weekend. This was something I did to myself. Never again.
- Never again will I wake up in the middle of the night locked into a silly work problem – I kept a pad and pen next to the bed because this happened all the time. I knew I was not going back to sleep until I wrote down everything I was thinking. And often even that was not enough – I had to get up and turn on the computer and write a page or two or start building PowerPoint slides. At the time I was not getting enough sleep anyway so losing another hour was frustrating. The best part is that frequently this great idea I had in the middle of the night turned out to be rubbish! After the first few months of retirement, this stopped happening and it’s wonderful.
- I never want to have another lunch meeting – Don’t mess with my damn meal! I get one free hour in the day. Anyone who has had lunch at my table knows my rule – no work talk! Gossip is OK 🙂 but don’t turn lunchtime into a meeting about a specific issue. Lunch is my time so when someone forces me to work through lunch – even if they feed me – I resent it. I know it’s sometimes necessary, but to me, it’s just an indicator that everyone has too many meetings scheduled. Cancel something else and let me eat lunch in peace.
- Finally, I never, EVER, want to share a bathroom with my co-workers – You know what I’m talking about. Seemingly otherwise normal people do crazy stuff in the bathroom. The beautiful girl who walks in and immediately clears her throat and spits like a construction worker (we can hear you in the men’s room next door) – the guy who constantly has a phone conversation while standing at the urinal or sitting in a stall (an hour later No, I do not want to look at something on your phone – ew, I’m not touching that) – and person from another floor who comes up and wrecks the bathroom on your floor every day after lunch. Just… why? Seriously, maybe the best thing about being retired is always having access to my own bathroom.
Now don’t send me hate mail – I know I’m very lucky to have had all the great jobs in my career. I’ve had some interesting projects and, all-in-all, I’ve been paid pretty well. I’m retired after all. But c’mon, you know what I’m talking about. There are things about working for a big company that are death by a thousand cuts, and after 35 years, even the most dedicated get beaten down.
So what did I miss? “Corporate Culture” which is really not a thing? Dealing with Omniscient Executives? Let me know in the comments 🙂