I saw the movie About Schmidt in 2002. Jack Nicolson was outstanding, portraying a man who retires at the same time his wife dies and his relationship with his only child is highly problematic. Like a lot of men his age Schmidt has fostered few relationships, relying on work to fill his sense of meaning and purpose. He was very close to his wife but now she is gone. As his career comes to an end Schmidt faces the prospect of finding something to do, a place to go, people to connect with. Where will he turn?
The routine of a man who is used to going to work is hard to expand when a new life is on the horizon. Getting up early, making coffee, reading the newspaper, and then what? This makes for a very long day. Then Schmidt does what a lot of men do, he returns to what he knows, work. He is a proud man, someone who has worked hard, learned how to do his job well and performed work that his company respects and values. However, time makes for changes that we cannot control and in business what worked in one era may not work in another. There are people who can make these adjustments but most of us are creatures of our time and when technology and other changes occur we are sometimes a little out of sorts.
Schmidt has chosen the right time to retire, when he is still doing well but his younger replacement is much better suited for the newer demands of this work place. So Schmidt does what a lot of older men do, he gives his replacement lots and lots and lots of boxes, boxes of information that Schmidt used to do his job well. The new person in the office is gracious, even flattering but he has no use for this material. He receives the boxes with kindness. Sometime later, when Schmidt has grown bored with his routine, Schmidt puts his old work clothes on and heads to the office. It quickly becomes obvious the young replacement is doing fine and he does not need any counsel or information from Schmidt. Downhearted Schmidt leaves his old office and walks out the door of the building. As he does this he spots all of his boxes on the side of the building ready for the recycling site.
People sometimes get surprised, even annoyed, when they hear I don’t plan to hold on to any documents or files when I retire. I will keep only what legally I need in case for tax purposes I have to present dates, amounts, etc…to the government. Otherwise the only files I will keep will be a handful of columns I wrote or read that I think Lucy might enjoy when I am gone. There would be no more than five or six of these. Presently, with 8 years until I retire, I am going through my files and books annually and separating out anything I do not plan to read or use between now and 2025. By the time 2025 comes my bookshelf and file cabinet will be almost empty.
Of course I will keep some books, my brother made me a wooden bookcase that will hold a modest collection of texts. There I will keep only books I intend to read again. And that will be that, a handful of columns I wrote or read that Lucy might like to read and the books I will read once again. Nothing else will stay.
Lucy will not have to do what my Dad and brothers had to do, go through the rooms and rooms of materials my mother kept. My old clothes can go to Value Village, my books to a used book store (not many to be carried) and 5 or 6 columns Lucy can discard at her own convenience.
One might think this cold but I would argue it is kind, kind to my daughter, kind to the earth, kind to my loved ones whom I will not inflict with resources when I retire. I try never to look back, only forward, and when I retire I will be focused on living a life of service. That service will not require many things and certainly not require many boxes of printed material.
The movie About Schmidt was a real eye-opener to me. I intend to live its lessons.