Thoughts by Richard Bleil
After many years, a friend of mine is leaving a highly successful career assuming you take the term “leaving” loosely. I’m not entirely convinced it’s her decision since her supervisor is not a great fan of hers. I do know, however, that she has several co-workers who respect, admire and simply adore her.
Unfortunately, I know all too well what she is about to face.
Leaving a career is a lonely act. It doesn’t really matter why you’re doing it, it’s not easy. I left two careers because I was let go, and one for what I thought was love, and every time it was lonely.
It seems like, every time, I expected it to be more grandiose than it actually was. After being highly successful all three times, there was never any appreciation. Never did my bosses thank me for what I had accomplished, no doubt because they felt entitled. I’m sure one of them would say, “that’s what we paid you for,” but that raises the question of why they paid my predecessors who failed to accomplish the desired goal for two decades before me. And now that I’m gone, I wonder if there have been any accomplishments of the magnitude of mine.
When teaching, I wrote two highly successful programs and increased physical science majors from four to well over thirty. As soon as I left, I know the dean cut both of the programs no doubt out of spite. This is a part of leaving a job; knowing that all of the accomplishments you made can be simply undone. All of your work is temporary, and the higher ups probably won’t even notice. I know the vice president and president of the university didn’t miss these programs, and most likely never even noticed the drop in science majors that inevitably followed. Just gone.
I’ve stood up to administrative bullies, and I did it for the people who were still there. And yet, when I left, it was largely just a quiet exit. Still, I know that some people appreciated what I tried to do, and yet, when I was let go, almost nobody reached out to me. I thought at least a few people would contact me, want to talk with me about what happened, and maybe get together, and there were a couple of people who did but, for the most part, I could hear the crickets. Even those couple reached out just one time, and that was it.
I should mention, this excludes my friends. I thought more coworkers would express condolences, shock, dismay, support…something. But of course, I made my friends in those jobs, and my friends remained as such. This is a blessing. It was only through them that I did hear about at least a few ripples of discontent from my release, but it certainly didn’t take long for those to smooth over.
Many years ago, I visited my old high school. I was in town, maybe six or seven years after graduating, and wanted to just walk the halls and revisit memories. And it was strange. I knew nobody, and certainly nobody knew me. My locker belonged to somebody else, just the entire feel was completely alien. It’s disturbing how quickly things can be erased and forgotten. Change is rapid, and unforgiving. It hurts to realize how you made no, or very little, permanent impact.
So, what have you got? Experience doesn’t count. I have more experience than ever, but it counts for nothing because I’m old. Life has moved on, and the experience I gained was outdated as I was gaining it. Glory is fleeting. I have amazing feats and successes on my resume, a resume that quickly reaches the trash. But I have my accomplishments.
Although my accomplishments were quickly discarded by my supervisors after I left, I have nonetheless made them. I alone put together two programs that produced graduates that were highly successful regardless of if they went to industry or academia. Those programs have been cut (no doubt in hopes of increasing majors in another science program, but I know that didn’t happen to any significant amount), but my students are still out there, and still highly successful. I, alone, was the first director to achieve accreditation for the forensic lab in Rapid City after two decades of having this as a goal. I’m guessing they’re still accredited today, but the new director has me to thank for doing the heavy work. I alone took a school in an Iowa university that was on the verge of faculty suing one another and brought them together, and increased cooperation among the entire badly fractured campus. The administration managed to bring these fractures back, but I was the one that made the difference and gave them the opportunity to move forward.
To my friend, it’s not going to be easy. I’ll be here to listen and do what I can as your friend, but if your experience is like mine, any appreciation for your years of service will be token at best. But remember, they can never take your accomplishments away from you. Be proud, and when the disappointment sets in just remember the accomplishments you’ve had. You made a difference, a real difference, both for the company and for the clients with whom you worked.