A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are built for. – John A. Shedd

The other day I witnessed something remarkable at my job.

I work in a dull 9-5 office setting so it’s not everyday I see something that inspires me.

We gathered for a morning staff meeting to review quarterly company performance. At first there was nothing out of the ordinary, just another set of PowerPoint slides outlining how our work continues to enrich shareholders. I paid close attention for the first ten minutes and then began to daydream.

At the end of the meeting a woman was invited on stage. The man speaking at the podium (her boss) told us that she had decided to “retire early”. He went on to commemorate her many years of service with a 5 minute speech, a handshake photo-op, and a big chocolate cake. It wasn’t that different from any other retirement announcement.

But it was what she planned to do next that shocked everyone in the room.

Instead of a “normal” retirement where one would relocate to Florida and exist in a constant state of fear and rage from watching 24-hour cable news, this lady had something a little different in mind.

You see, as soon as this woman left Corporate America, she and her husband sold their house and all of their material possessions, bought a Catalina sailboat, and were set to embark on a nautical voyage ’round the world.

Her boss admitted to the audience that he couldn’t believe it when she first told him. She was great at her job and he didn’t want to lose her. He even said he went through the 5 stages of grief before finally coming to terms that he was losing his best employee to the seven seas. At the end of his speech he congratulated her, and wished her well in her new life. She received a standing ovation from the auditorium of several hundred people.

I was very happy for her but as I stood and clapped along with the thunderous applause of my colleagues, I couldn’t help but notice one minor tragedy about this whole thing.

Most of her life was already behind her.

“Early retirement” is a subjective term. This woman was in her late-50s. Perhaps that’s early in the standard context of a 65-year old retirement age. But who determined the standard context?

Somebody else did. Not her.

I don’t know about you, but late-50s sounds far too late to begin living life on your own terms.

I reject the conventional life path of Slave, Save, Retire, & Die. And I am eternally grateful for my fortune of simply being born in an era where it is possible to leverage technology, work for yourself, and create a life where you set the terms and create your own mission. Not be absorbed by somebody else’s.

This is something no other generation has ever had. And if I was born into the generation of this woman, or any earlier generation, I would likely have spent my entire life furthering somebody else’s vision.

I’m not there yet, but a day will come when I finally put down the broom and stop sweeping the decks of another man’s boat. Slowly and meticulously,  I’ll craft my own vessel to one day set sail and embark on a voyage I can call my own. I just hope to god that when that day comes, I’m not too old and worn-down to steer the ship.

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