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Before I Retire, I Want To…

By Carly Barry

board with the responses to Before I Retire, I Want To ... When, in 2011, artist Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled the prompt “Before I die I want to …” at the top, the result was powerful. Passersby began filling up the space with their own personal hopes and dreams, and what originated as a local participatory art installation eventually grew to become a global phenomenon, with more than 4,000 “Before I Die” walls created in more than 70 countries.

Here at DDI, we thought it might be fun to do our own take on this wall. We set up a bulletin board in a common area and asked our associates to write what came to mind with this is as prompt: “Before I retire, I want to….” We didn’t announce that this board existed or post instructions for how to add to it. We just left a few magic markers and waited to see if those walking by the board would choose to participate.

And participation is what we got! The responses covered many realms—from those that were work-focused, such as wanting to fix an internal process or get a promotion, to light-hearted responses like “win the lottery” or to master a particular game or skill, as well as very personal responses, such as “make an impact,” or “leave a legacy.”

What would your response be? Would your first thought be to accomplish a work-related goal? Or would you want to have something accomplished outside of work—maybe financial stability, a happy, healthy family, or to have traveled the world? It’s an interesting thing to think about! Especially when retirement typically invokes thoughts of what we’re going to do after we’re retired, not before!

But in a world dominated by the “do it now” mentality—think of how quickly we can get answers from search engines and chatbots like Alexa—it feels right to focus on what we can accomplish in the short-term, if not what we can accomplish each day towards advancing our goals—whether those goals are personal, professional, or a blending of both.

The personal side of business

The very fact that so many responses centered on achieving goals outside of work (“improve my golf game”) over career-centered goals (“win the highest award in my field”) hint that our motivations for working tend to be tied to more personal reasons, aside from the typical financial ones. Although, financial motivations for working are often closely related to other, more personal life goals, such as, “Before I retire, I want to work on increasing my 401k so I’ll have enough money to spend on traveling after I retire."

Most responses to our prompt fell into the category of more personal, “outside of work” goals to be accomplished before retirement, revealing that while although many of us work each day to help our companies achieve business goals, what’s really important to us is accomplishing our personal goals, outside of work.

Not to say people aren’t highly motivated to help their companies and lead fulfilling careers, but it’s often our personal life goals that keep us moving and get us excited.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” but perhaps our little exercise proves this wrong. Maybe we’ve been missing something in the way we’ve tried so hard to keep the “personal” out of business, even though it seems that this personal factor could be why we’re in business in the first place.

Diversity is all around us

Our little exercise also provides a good reminder of the importance of accepting and seeking out diversity in our day-to-day interactions on the job. Just as the responses we got for “Before I retire, I want to …” were all over the board because each of us has our own motivations, as well as goals and aspirations that have been shaped by our life experiences, we must remember the importance of being open to diversity, especially in the form of new ideas.

Luckily, diverse ideas at work are all around us—we just need to be open to them and take the time to learn how to lead conversations that invite diverse thinking!

The “Before I retire, I want to…” prompt, although light-hearted, could be a good way to encourage these types of interactions and learn more about your people. My bet is you’ll be surprised and delighted with what you find!

Learn how DDI can help you align your diversity and inclusion initiatives to support strategic and cultural priorities.

Carly Barry is a writer for DDI’s Marketing Communications team. When she’s not working on articles, Carly can be found chasing—her two young sons and the finish line for several local 5ks and half marathons. 

Posted: 26 Sep, 2018,
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