Mike Townshend

Approaching Retirement Also Means Saying “Goodbye”

By: Mike Townshend

Published: November 2020


Why does this matter?

About 30 years ago, I was working for one of the Intelligence Agencies as a full-time contractor. I worked in their Headquarters Building near D.C.


After several years as a Senior Professional, and on a Monday morning, I arrived a bit early. So, I stopped at the Coffee Room to take a hot cup to my office and warm up to my day. As I walked down the hall to my office, I passed the office of one of the most senior Agency managers who I thought I knew well. I was alarmed to see his office barren without a hint of the volume of papers I had seen while in a meeting the previous Friday afternoon.

After getting settled in my office, I hurried down the hall to our mutual boss’ office. She was in so I stepped into her doorway and asked if my colleague’s office had been moved over the weekend. She told me that he was gone from the Agency having mustered out over the weekend, specifically requesting to do so without fanfare or, even, notice to anyone.


She felt that this was his prerogative and she had honored his request.


I was stunned and it took a couple of weeks to distribute portions of his work to other offices and endeavor to meet existing critical deadlines. I was to learn that this very private man hated attention and loathed anyone fussing about him personally.


Suggestions for a smooth and meaningful parting


1. I believe that for most of us it matters that we leave as positive a Legacy as possible. It is impossible to know if when we may stay in touch with colleagues and many of us care that the mention of our name brings positive memories rather than scorn. Our efforts, once we enter the later days of our employment, will be remembered by many and many of us will want to have left on a high note and pride in a job well done. The interesting thing to me is that we may have accomplished a great deal over the years of our work but what people remember is consistently the way we depart.


2. Have a Plan for how to best say, “Goodbye”. For some this will be accomplished primarily at a social function and for others we may opt to deliver our positive thoughts and appreciation in person. Remain positive even with those who have not supported our responsibilities well. Thank them privately for their support and ask if they have any questions.


3. Coordinating with our Supervisor, our peers, and project staff, ask for agreement regarding projects that will not close by our departure date.


4. Take the time to turn over projects to the best peer. Be free with insights and recommendations that will help everyone on the team to be successful.


5. Own the responsibilities that we will keep and manage and/or contribute our efforts prior to our departure.


We can leave on a positive note, which is a desire for most of us. The example above was rare, but not unheard of. After many years of dedication to our agency, most want to depart being well remembered and filled with personal pride that is genuine, not forced. Have a great retirement but determine how you will affect your exit. We will leave a legacy, but the degree of positivity about our leaving will stick with us for years, influencing the happiness of our memories.


Mike Townshend is a professional philosopher, social psychologist and a certified mediator and Retirement Coach. He has over 30 years of experience as a coach, senior trainer, and facilitator to both major corporations as well as government agencies. Now retired, he writes for NITP and makes guest appearances on NITP’s ForYourBenefit radio program.