Sunday, May 7, 2017

Turning in the Keys

Making preparations to retire has been an enlightening experience. Until I set the date and signed the forms, I operated under the assumption that I could continue to do my job indefinitely. I probably could do my job for quite some time, but indefinitely? That is an illusion.

Now that I have an end date to this phase of my life, my agenda has become much more sharply focused. Now I ask, "what is to be done now?" or more to the point, "what can be done in the remaining time?"

The realities of life, that nagging sense of life's finitude, has motivated me to plan for and set the date. I am a little ahead of schedule, as I had a couple of milestones I had hoped to hit, but those were not absolute. My bottom-line calculation was this: I can always make more money, but I cannot make more time. I have to budget what I have been given.

I can remember each time I have "turned in the keys". The organizations and workplaces I've been a part of. The homes I have lived in. There comes that point where you turn over a large key ring or a zip lock bag full of keys and walk away for the last time.

I have always understood that it is time to leave when I have added all that I can to a place or people and, conversely they have added all they can to me. At that point, there is nothing more to be gained for either.  Whether in organizations or in homes, we gather to advance a purpose, and when the continued dwelling and association no longer advances that purpose, or worse, harms that purpose, the association must end. It may seem utilitarian, but it is not a matter of quid-pro-quo, but of capacity.

As one leaves a place, it is good to review what has been exchanged in the association. What has been added to each? Has the place left you a better person? Have you left the place better than you found it? What lessons have been learned?

I have learned that organizations can be either static or dynamic. Since static organizations don't change, you can't add anything to them and typically they return the favor. On the other hand, dynamic organizations are constantly changing and growing. Whether that change is growth, depends on the result. If the result of change is increase in output, scope, or resilience, then the change is good. If the result of change is just different people doing the same thing, then it speaks for itself. I have also observed that individuals can be static or dynamic just like organizations. But that is a topic for another day.

Dwellings, on the other hand, are evaluated by somewhat different criteria, the suitability of the habitat. Has the dwelling served its purpose? Is it still a place of peace and rest? Is it suited to hospitality? Are its costs manageable? Is it accessible?

Turning in the keys is also a recognition that preparation must be made for the future. A vision must be cast, re-cast, and perhaps even broadcast. Organizations must ask themselves, again, "What is our mission?" and "How will the mission be sustained and propagated into the future?" How will new people be attracted, trained, and developed?

That we will have to turn in the keys to our dwellings is also a recognition our life will change. Eventually the dwelling will no longer suit us due to our changing needs and advancing years. We have to look to our future needs and capacities. We also have to evaluate our future dwelling in the context of our calling, our mission in life. Will our dwelling be a hindrance or an asset?

In the end, Solomon's wisdom seems most appropriate:
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven"
Understanding when it's time to turn in the keys is a matter of recognizing the seasons of life. A recognition that provokes us to action. Moreover, turning in the keys frees us to recenter ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically. To renew relationships. To focus on our calling. To prepare for a future we do not fear because we have anticipated and planned for it.