Monday, April 2, 2012

A High Impact Moment…

Recently I learnt there are often a few high impact moments in our life which change its course or make us sit up and and reflect on where we have come from and where we are going.  In my own life such moments have included the time I first left home and travelled alone to California, my father’s death and my own separation but surely Steve’s resignation and retirement must also factor as one of these.

The last week of March was a significant marker in my life.  My boss of 13 years was leaving work after serving the local government we work at for 35 years.  farewell lunch He had shared the news with the 3 of us – his direct reports and closest staff - in February more than 6 weeks ago but the time has flown and it is now the 30th of March. 

Steve had broken the news to us over a Thai lunch earlier in the year where he gave each of us a ‘Chinese prediction’ for our future, in a little red envelope.  It was the beginning of the year and we laughed at what Steve had predicted for each of us till it was time for him to read his own...  “you will retire next month and your last day at work will be the 30th of March”!  It took a few seconds to register and then we all stared at him in shock.  Steve had often pondered about his retirement but it was one of those moments you felt was in the distant future.  Six weeks later we have come back for a final Thai lunch to say our goodbyes.  This afternoon there will be a lunch and a formal send off from the organisation but we had already said our goodbyes and given Steve our own fun presents at a team lunch yesterday… 

I’ve had four positions during my time at Council but Steve has always been the manager I reported to.  In fact it is exactly 13 years to the day, when I sat across him a little nervously and was interviewed for my first position of Professional Engineer.  During our time together he has taught me many things and I shared 3 of these lessons at our team lunch in the hope they will continue to inspire others... 

The first lesson is what he taught me about OPPORTUNITY!  Steve often reminded me that opportunity was like a fly that kept buzzing around you.  You can swat it away and it may come back and buzz around you for awhile but eventually it will stop buzzing forever.  Steve gave me many opportunities in my career and many of them challenged me to step outside my comfort zone.  The reason I am in the position I am today is because I had the courage to say yes but also because Steve supported me in the challenges I had agreed to face.  Such challenges have helped me learn and grow.  If you never challenge yourself, whether this be at work or in your life, you might be comfortable but you will also be bored.  The challenges I faced have ranged from teaching at UTS to presenting papers at many stormwater and flood mitigation conferences to briefing councillors.  It has also included stepping up to lead the Catchment team...and finally to manage the Natural Systems Group.

imageThe second lesson or quality that resonated with me was Steve’s HONESTY!  Steve lived his life according to his own values and beliefs and was not swayed by a desire to be popular or by desiring to win the approval of others.  My own relationship with him was reflective of this.  If we disagreed about something, we sat down and discussed it however hard or painful it was.  It is this quality that has helped him win the respect of not just those in our own organisation but in the wider industry as well. 

The third quality that I admired in Steve was his VISION!  Many people in this world are just marking time.  Work is just that 9-5 place where you do what you must so you can make ends meet before you escape home.  We spend so much of our lives at work that I believe we need more than a pay check at the end of the week to be fulfilled.  For me it is refreshing to work in an environment with people like Steve who passionate about the work they do and for whom it is an integral part of their lives and belief systems. A ‘Green Engineer’ - a bit of a paradox but true of most of us who work in this field.  When people talk about having that work life balance I often wonder why work is so often seen as something so distinct and divorced from the rest of our lives…?  Perhaps it is because many people have not yet stumbled on their reason for being…or found their true destiny! 

But its time for Steve’s final farewell.   Dush has organised a beautiful chocolate cake that is decorated with strawberries.  The room is crowded with staff, a few consultants he has worked with in the past and a couple of his old managers have made it back.  His current manager Deb, another executive manager Diane and the City Manager bid him farewell on behalf of the organisation.  Steve then responds with a farewell message and a thoughtful presentation he has put together that makes us teary.   As a parting gift, the organisation gives Steve two books with highlights from his career.

The first book is titled “The Greening of Fairfield City” and highlights his legacy.  It is one he shares with many of us.  I’ve compiled the book with recent photographs I’ve shot myself and interspersed them with others taken by professional photographers the organisation had engaged during the past years.

The second book titled “Steve Frost: This is your life at Fairfield City Council” highlights his journey of 35 years.  The photographs here were sourced by many people and I’ve compiled the book using blurb.

As we say goodbye to Steve we reflect on his last presentation.  He reminds us that in the end, what will matter is…..

“Not what you bought, but what you built.  Not what you got but what you gave.  Not your success but your significance.  Not what you learnt but what you taught.  What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.  What will matter is not your competence, but your character.  What will matter is not your memories, but the memories of those who loved you.  What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.  Living a life that matters, doesn’t happen by accident.  It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice”.  Steve ends his presentation by asking that we choose to live a life that matters

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For myself, I think the two most important things we can wish for when we move on is to say we have made a difference both in the lives of the people we met and the place we leave behind.  Steve can surely say that!

 “Farewell Steve – The best is yet to come”

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