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Retired Man Walking: Too Young to Retire, Too Old to Take Shit

A while back I ran into a friend and fellow professional employed by the State of California, and he offered me his perspective on State employment as a tail-end Baby Boomer like myself -- someone who can't retire because he lacks the requisite age or years of service, but, unlike myself, is tired of taking shit from superiors who don't know what to do with you.

Although my friend gave his permission for me to use his name in this blog entry, I decline to do so because what he does is so specialized that it would not be hard for anyone to identify him as one of the few African American men, if not the only African-American man, in California state civil service who does what he does. For purposes of this blog entry, I will refer to him as he now refers to himself:  Retired Man Walking.

Retired Man Walking, or RMW, has an interesting philosophy he applies to working for the State as a professional who isn't old enough to retire but has been around long enough to know the score.  Like many state workers of his age, race, and qualifications, he encounters roadblocks to advancement because the State of California doesn't reward intelligence, achievement, innovation or efficiency among its rank and file employees; oh no, the only thing the State of California rewards is seniority.  You could die waiting for the few spots above you in the hierarchy to open up when someone retires or, well, dies, no matter how stellar you might be.

Like many other African-American professionals in state civil service, he encounters "intelligence racism":  The cognitive dissonance experienced by whites and sometimes people of other races when they simply cannot believe the intelligent words and ideas coming from your African-American mouth are, well, coming from your African-American mouth.  Because they cannot reconcile your race with your intelligence, which is oftentimes superior to theirs, they endeavor to disprove your intelligence or undermine you in some other way as undeserving of what little stature you have.

At the other end of the spectrum, RMW, like many other African-American professionals in state civil service, also experiences being a financially pimped out professional by the State enjoying the benefit of his college and graduate education without paying you enough to cover the burden of the student loans necessary to pay for that college and graduate education.  Too Short ain't got nothin' on the State of California when it comes to pimpin' professionals.

However, RMW has adopted a philosophy I found so intriguing that I felt compelled to share it with you.  He's adopted a policy of not allowing himself to be stressed out by the intelligence racism, lack of upward mobility and the like, and here's why:

He wants to live long after he retires.

RMW noted how many people retire only to die shortly after, oftentimes from diseases that are stress-related, like heart disease, stroke, cancer and the like.  As he puts it, "How you live the 25 years before you retire will determine whether and how you live the 25 years after you retire."  RMW is determined to not let workplace stress cause him to develop diseases that will cheat him out of a long and healthy retirement.

As a result, he has declared himself to be "Retired Man Walking."  He simply does not care anymore.  As he put it, "I have two speeds at work -- slow and stop."  He's not trying to prove anything, impress anyone, or race to get things done.  He takes full advantage of alternate work schedules, vacation days, and breaks during the day.  It's just not worth it to him to get stressed out in the last years before retirement.  He has "retired in place."

As for upward mobility and the lack thereof, he likens them to the ephemeral traffic jam on I-80 west going from Sacramento toward San Francisco.  "Notice how the traffic always backs up around Berkeley and Emeryville?  Did you ever notice how there's no traffic over there by the Berkeley Marina, and if you get off near the marina and go around, you can get back on 80 and beat the traffic?  Upward mobility in the State is like that -- sometimes you have to get off and go around to move up."

Very wise, indeed.

Here's to a long and healthy retirement, RMW.


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