I just attended a very nice retirement ceremony for an acquaintance and his family. The reason it was so nice is because of the character of this family and all the things they’ve accomplished together and through this military officer. It wasn’t your boilerplate ceremony–the honoree made sure it didn’t seem to take as long as it did by making it fun, interactive and very personal. I was especially moved by the comments his children and wife made about him. It was a visible demonstration of the advice I often give mentees: When the time comes for us to leave this Earth, it’s not very likely that we’ll look up trying to find our coworkers and ask, “Why didn’t I spend more time at work?” Our family an friends are the ones that truly matter and if we don’t recognize that early, we will pay for it later.
I paid for it a little at the ceremony. The honest love and affection this family had for each other made me wonder if I’ve given all I can for my family and friends. That question has been on my mind a lot lately, primarily because of some very negative things that have been happening at my agency. As each questionable decision is made, I drill even more forcefully inward trying to assess if I’ve done all I can in each area of my life to drive out positive outcomes. The more I poke at that question, the more I wonder if my priorities are straight. This wonder is reinforced, even exacerbated, by conversations with work friends about the current state of our agency. We debate about what we didn’t do to prevent the increased lack of integrity and blatant nepotism. We console each other that it’s beyond our control and we can only influence what is in our own sphere. But I don’t believe it.
I’ve spent the past five or so years tilting at these windmills trying to prevent the decay of culture and repeatedly raising what I believe to be the main challenges that keep us from making progress. Sometimes, it works, but more often than not it falls on deaf ears. I feel like Don Quixote only instead of the focused futile fight that Cervantes describes, I’m riding around Amsterdam trying to understand why these windmills keep popping up all over the place. It can be crushing to think of all the things I’ve been unable to accomplish for my team, for my agency, for my friends and for my family.
Yet, and this may sound, really depressing, I know that there is a bottom to all of this. I know that the windmills won’t win. I know that endurance, patience and the relationships I’ve built with real friends and family will win the day. Although, I’ve fallen short in my mind, and sometimes in theirs, I also know that I don’t do anything alone…even tilting at windmills.