Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Can you retire your EGO?

Phil Goldsmith  has had more careers than anyone I know -- lawyer, journalist, deputy mayor,  bank executive, head hunter. He also ran  Fairmount Park, the Philadelphia School District, and as managing director, ran the city itself. Between some of those gigs, he wrote a book, took up drumming, trained as a spinning instructor, and tried his hand at art.
You might say the man craves challenges.
Now that Phil has left full-time work,  he says he's facing his biggest challenge ever -- to try to figure out what he really wants to do rather than do the things that help him feel important.

                       "Am I doing that because it's good for my ego?" --Phil Goldsmith
"When I first left the city in 2005, anything that came my way I agreed to do. So before  I knew it, I was on  7 or 8 boards. And that was just to fill my time and to make me feel important because I no longer had the importance of title. So you find other ways to feel important or find meaning.  And after a while you spread yourself too thin and you start to question whether
you selected the right thing.

 So over time I’ve been whittling away at getting rid of some of those external responsibilities. My most recent one was stepping down as president of CeaseFirePA. I still remain on the board but stepped down as president because that was a very time-consuming initiative and I also thought it was important to have new leadership. ... I’ve  been really making a commitment to say no."

So what is Phil doing? 
"The issue is how do you fill your time? The danger is getting bored. My goal is to do things that are interesting and fun. It’s not easy to do on a daily basis ... I think it's the hardest thing I've ever done and I've done a lot of hard things."

He spends a lot of time with his grandkids, reads (has embarked on the biographies of every U.S. president) works out, goes to lectures, is trying to write another book, and has time to lunch with me at Milk Boy   in Ardmore for this interview.
"I feel a lot less pressure," he says, even as he feels the nagging tug of civic engagement.
His involvement is so longstanding that, when he hears the news, he still wants to have his voice heard--"to say they should be doing this and doing that."
He does speak up via his twice monthly column in the Philadelphia Daily News but is trying to restrain himself from embarking on a blog.
"The challenge is to find that which is interesting that you want to do, but you’re not doing it for you. ...  For those of us that have been so Type A, goal- oriented,  it’s a hell  of a challenge.

His advice to others leaving careers:
"I caution people when they first retire,  "Don’t say yes to the first things that come your way. You’re trying  to fill a vacuum. You’re trying to  maintain a sense of importance or productivity.  Step back for awhile and decide what you want to do and not just fill your dance card. Most people nod their head and do exactly the opposite.
"I just bumped into someone who had a high position for a prominent nonprofit in town. I said,  'How are you doing?' And he said,  'I’m always thinking of you. Every time I agree to do something, I hear your voice in my head.' "

Phil Goldsmith on the Presidential biographies he's reading

"Last June I started reading biographies on each of our Presidents, starting with George Washington. I am now about  to finish with Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd .  Some of my favorite biographies have included Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow; American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham, the Personal Memories of U.S. Grant (considered the best Presidential autobiography), Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (about James Garfield) A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent by Robert W. Merry. I have also relied on the series of Presidential biographies edited by historian Arthur Schlesinger but written by individual authors; for example George McGovern, once a history professor, took on Abe Lincoln

"I also took some interesting detours and delved deeper into the Civil War and the Reconstruction period and also about the relationship between Jefferson and Adams.

"Each of our Presidents—even the bad ones and we have had many—was fascinating in his own right. For example, John Tyler, who became the first vice president to assume the presidency upon a president’s death (William Harrison) had 15 or 16 children with his two wives and this was before Viagra. His first wife was the first First Lady to die in office; he then remarried someone 30 years younger. Buchanan was our only President not married and historians consider him our first homosexual President (not that there is anything the matter with that).

"But the most telling thing I have learned is that the issues we are debating today—the size of government, the role of the federal versus the state government, free trade and protectionism, immigrants, minorities etc—all these have been issues since Day One.  These are the tensions that underlie our democracy.

"Having finished 24 presidents, I still have miles to go before I sleep, which I will probably do when I get to George W. Bush"

1 comment:

DENALI said...

Great perspectives here Phil and ones that I intend to pass along to a number of my now very busy retired, semi-retired, and "un-retired" colleagues.

Dennis (Tampa, Florida)