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Yesterday was my last day at work. Today, I'm suddenly retired. But, it doesn't feel the way I had imagined it. Certainly not the way I've heard it described on this board for the last two years. I guess the reason for that is the way that it happened. Let me tell you about it.

The last five years in my job as an engineering manager at Texas Instruments had become increasingly stressful. Then, when business slowed drastically late last year, I began to recognize the early signs of serious trouble. Of course, with 26 years at TI, I had been through this cycle several times before, and the signs are always crystal clear. First we cut spending on everything from pencils to light bulbs. Then, we reduce R&D spending. But, like many times before, cutbacks like this don't help much; the sales continued to decline. None of my people had a clue about the seriousness of the situation, even though they were told. They were mostly young and extremely dedicated to their work. They hardly lifted their heads up to see what was going on.

I had built a great group of engineers and technicians. I had hired them all myself, one at a time, over the last 12 years. They came from every corner of the earth, and we joked about looking like a United Nations Convention when we had a meeting. We worked together and played together. We learned all about each other's cultures, families, and dreams. We were more than fellow employees. We were friends.

The stress was really beginning to get to me this time, and I found myself thinking more and more about the free time that I didn't have. I was thinking about --- RETIREMENT?

I first began to consider early retirement about 10 years ago, but how would I be able to afford it? I didn't even know how to determine how much I would need (later this board changed all that). The stock market bull was just beginning to show signs of life, and, fortunately, I had received some fantastic advice from my grandfather when I was about eight years old (1955). He gave me some Standard Oil of New Jersey stock (now Exxon Mobil), the company where he had worked for 40 years, and explained how the stock market worked. This was all it took! I was hooked by the stock market. He taught me about stock investing over the next few years and cautioned me not to ever sell a single share of that Standard Oil. I never have! I have slowly built my portfolio over the ensuing years.

Then came Viet Nam and my investing career went on hold. For some reason, after I got out of the Army, I had totally lost interest in investing, and I just shelved my portfolio for many years. But I didn't sell any of my stocks, and all dividends continued to be reinvested!

Then, about eight years ago, I really got serious again about investing and saving for retirement. I maxed out my 401(k) and IRA. Profit sharing had blessed me with a considerable amount of TXN stock in my retirement account, and things were looking good! TI was booming, and stock options were being handed out as part of our yearly compensation. Of course I was only 43 at the time, and when I mentioned early retirement casually to some of my friends, they told me I was nuts. So, I quit talking about it, but the seed was planted in my mind for a plan to pull the plug at 55.

Well, about six weeks ago, the first step in the inevitable chain of events took place. A voluntary retirement package was offered to people over 50. It was a really good plan, including a week and a half of pay for every year worked with the company, plus a bridge to 55 (actually a leave of absence), which would allow you to have access to your 401(k) funds at 55. But, I was only 53, and all my stocks had suffered badly in the market crash over the past year, not to mention the 70% decline in TXN stock, my largest holding! I couldn't even consider it. My plan was for 55, and I would even consider working a little longer until TXN came back up in price. No thank you! No early retirement for me!

My main concern was for my people. I knew what was about to happen - or so I thought!!

In early April, the public announcement that I had been expecting was made. TI would be having layoffs. I was then told privately that I would be required to let over half my staff go on April 25. What a sad thing; even though I had known it was coming!! These were my friends. Now came the grim task of deciding who would go and who would stay, and, of course, I was bound to total secrecy. For the next few weeks I went through the motions as I watched my young engineers eagerly dig into their work each day, totally oblivious to the impending doom, as I made my list. They had no idea.

Then, the unexpected bombshell - I was also going to HAVE to take the early retirement! Imagine that! I was being forced out! Not only that, but I had to keep it a secret until after the layoffs were finished!

As the reality of the situation began to sink in, I became really depressed, and endless questions flowed through my mind. How could they do this to me after 26 years? Why me? What if I refuse the package? Do I have enough money in my retirement portfolio to retire? Will I have to try to find another job? What chance would I have of being hired at age 53? Could I still do engineering work? After all, I had been a manager for the last 15 years. Should I change to a new profession? Why couldn't TXN stock have been high instead of low? I spent a lot of time with my door closed reading the Retire Early board here on TMF.

I wasn't sleeping enough. My people began to notice my change in behavior and ask me what was wrong. They thought I was sick; maybe I was. I couldn't tell them.

Last Wednesday, I did my layoffs. It was terrible. It came as a total shock to most of my people. A few had enough years in the business so they had also recognized the signs, but it was still a surprise when it actually happened. TI had been so strong such a short time ago. Many of these people had received huge bonuses to come to work for TI only a year or so earlier. There was nearly complete silence as I called them to my office one by one. Then there were tears and muffled whispering and the sounds of packing personal belongings. Then I escorted them out, one by one, took their badges, and they were gone. This was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Even though I had done layoffs twice before in my career, this time it was far worse than ever before. This time, I had developed closer friendships and, beyond that, I knew that I was going to follow them out the door a few days later. I think being older also has considerably softened the way I look at things.

Needless to say, the retirement party that the 'survivors' threw for me last Friday was somewhat subdued. I appreciated the gesture, and I did the best I could with the smiles and cheerful talk, but deep inside, I was depressed and worried.

Yesterday, I packed my things, and walked out the door with my shiny new retiree badge.

I have a lot of mixed feelings just now.

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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