Paul Butler | Reflections on retirement

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

The word “retirement” keeps popping up.  In most of my social and business circles, either someone has, or soon will be, retiring, and often, I’m asked of my plans.  

Lord willing, I aspire to never retire in the traditional sense. There are just too many projects that fill me with excitement. I’d prefer to retire to projects of service — choosing whom I want to invest in — rather than spending my time merely consuming “bread” and watching “circuses,” which is how the Roman ruling elite described their strategy of pacifying people.  

Several recent retirees come to mind, and below follow the life lessons I learned from their examples — I’ve changed their names out of courtesy. 

Thomas was a stiff and serious man. I worked with him for four years, and I don’t think I ever saw him genuinely smile. I checked in with him a while back, and in his retirement, he seems more miserable than ever. He’s still serious and remains very stiff. I suppose some people lose their identity when they receive their greatest recognition from the power of their position. When that position fades with time, there’s a risk of forgetting who you truly are. George Orwell once said, “By the time you leave this earth, you have the face you deserve.” Unless Thomas has a change of heart, I don’t anticipate his facial expressions altering much before he eventually departs this mortal coil. 

Sarah retired a couple of years ago, and I’d rate her as one of the best leaders I’ve ever observed. She worked for one of our clients for nearly four decades before deciding it was time to step down. Reflecting on all the work we did with Sarah and her team, her positivity stands out. However, Sarah wasn’t a pushover. I’ve seen her make tough decisions during challenging times, yet she always conducted herself with utmost decorum and respect for everyone. It’s no surprise to learn that Sarah continues to serve, now within her local community, volunteering extensively. I recently saw her, and she looks younger and more vibrant than ever. I guess Orwell was right. 

When Ellen retired, I believe her colleagues felt relieved. Ellen’s organization is one of our clients. She was quite demanding, often appearing unreasonable from a vendor’s perspective due to her ambiguous instructions and unrealistic deadlines. I’ve sat through numerous meetings that consumed hours, diligently taking minutes. I’ve witnessed Ellen banging her fists on the table, rolling her eyes at others’ suggestions, and belittling her subordinates in front of peers. I can’t recall a time when she let someone finish their sentence. 

It’s disheartening to think about the years she spent with that publicly traded corporation. All I perceived was how she drained the energy from the office cubicles surrounding her grand corner office. 

Robert was a workaholic, working many years past the normal retirement age. His motivation wasn’t passion for his work but rather a determination to maximize his retirement savings. He toiled relentlessly. Tragically, he died from heart failure within one year of retiring. While his wife inherited 50% of his annuities, the pension companies claimed the other half. All that effort, yet so fleeting. His heart stopped shortly after his work did. 

I learned many life lessons from my father and one of the most memorable is what he taught me while playing the game of Monopoly. After a couple of hours wrestling over cash and other assets, he drew my attention to the very last lesson of the game. He looked me squarely in the eye, man to boy and said: “Remember Paul, when the game is over, it all goes back in the box.” What my dad taught me through a simple board game and by his whole life example was that cash and other assets ultimately become someone else’s.  As is often sadly said, you never see a U-Haul attached to a funeral hearse. 

I believe work matters, but may our greatest treasures always reside within those we lead, work with, and love along the way, rather than in possessions that can be so easily stolen, eaten by moths, or rust away. At best, all the things we toil and trouble for, simply go back in the box. 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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