Can a workaholic really retire?

I remember the exact moment when the smile crept across my face. My friend, senior news editor Pat Andrews, was explaining to me that her husband was insisting they take a cruise. Pat knew exactly why he was proposing an at-sea vacation and she wasn't at all happy about going. 

As I listened to Pat, I tried to picture her at sea, floating in the middle of the Atlantic, miles away from the Miami Herald newsroom, basking in the sun on a lounge chair and trying to unwind. I just couldn't hold on to that vision. It was difficult to picture Pat anywhere other than the newsroom. 

Pat andrewsIn the newsroom, Pat is alive with delight — a rare combination of fiery energy and reassuring calm. When news breaks, Pat doles out tasks with authority and gusto. Some might call Pat a workaholic. I call her a woman who considers the news business her calling. She has confessed to me:  "I have only one speed I roll on, I don’t recommend it to others." 

Last week, on a visit to the newsroom, I stopped by Pat's desk to catch up. She hit me with a bombshell.

"You know I'm retiring," Pat said. "Next Friday is my last day."

After 35 years at The Miami Herald, Pat, 62, no longer will be a daily presence.

As a business writer, I have interviewed CEOs, law firm founders and business owners when they announce retirement. With some, I have circled back a few years later out of curiosity. Those retirees who are most content are still engaged in some type of volunteer or corporate work on a scaled back basis. They have found balance when they least expected it. 

Can Pat really retire? Can a workaholic shift from one speed to a stop?

For days after Pat broke the news to me, I felt unsettled. I just couldn't get my head around the thought of Pat's work life balance tilting entirely toward a focus on her personal life. 

I prodded Pat to tell me more. Why, why, why? I wanted to know.

Pat explained to me that she recently lost her step-daughter to cancer. Natalie was only 37. Over the years, Pat had mentored Natalie, encouraging her to excel in her career. Having collected all the fine things in life — the great job, the amazing boyfriend, the beautiful apartment and expensive car, Natalie had neglected something more important: her health. By the time Natalie went to the doctor, she learned she had advanced stage cervical cancer.  While Pat was by her side, the disease rapidly took Natalie’s life.

Watching Natalie's last days come to an end gave Pat a jolt. "I lost my zeal, my mojo for my job, and I just couldn't get it back," she explained. 

When I have spoken to retirees on their first day without an office to go to, they spoke of disorientation.  It’s an odd adjustment for them to shed a former identity and find new balance. At some point, almost all of us will confront that scenario. 

I asked Pat what she plans to do when she doesn't have to sit in on morning meetings or edit a story on deadline. "I don’t have the answers to where my journey will take me. I don’t have a map,” she said. "For now, I want to exhale and get bored. I don’t know what’s that like. I want to be away from the pressure of being 'on' every single moment." 

After Pat made it public that she planned to retire, current and former reporters and editors at The Miami Herald flooded Pat's Facebook page with tales of how she inspired them to stand up to government officials, guided them in their quest for the truth, and saved them from lackluster ledes.  Dozens even stopped by her desk to share memories of good times on the job or tell her how she made them better at what they do.

Now, that's a legacy to leave behind.

For most of us, our goal in striving for balance is to create a life where we've touched others in a positive way — at home, in the community and in the workplace. Pat taught me this: Do what you do well, but teach others to do it, too. 

I don’t see Pat sitting idle for long. Going forward, she says she wants to do something to have a positive impact on the community, some type of volunteer work. "I want to do good," she told me. What her colleagues realize is that she already has.

The Work/Life Balancing Act

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