Hong Kong, Saturday, 15 April 2011: Today marks the first day of the rest of my life.
The week started with an address to a group of 9th and 12th graders at Hong Kong International School. I spoke about my career journey and how I strive for work-life balance, and this talk appropriately set the tone for the rest of the week.
Over the past month since my departure was announced, I surprised myself by how little I felt, by how unemotional I was about leaving the Company for which I have spent more than a third of my life. Since the announcement, I had been preoccupied with taking care of business…making sure the transition is smooth and that I depart with the highest professional standard. I’ve also been preoccupied with planning my life after April 15; after all I leave for Europe in just 45 days.
This emotional constipation unblocked on Tuesday morning in the middle of a flight to Singapore. I was reading my goodbye emails from work and industry colleagues, and one heartfelt message really hit a nerve. My emotions flowed. Actually, they gushed as I read the email. But breakfast was being served so I couldn’t get out of my seat. So I put my napkin over my head and finally began to feel, to process the human side of this transition. Eventually I made it to the lavatory for some privacy. I am sure the poor chap seated next to me thought I was heaving a meltdown.
Flying into Singapore felt like a homecoming. For several years I ran the Singapore channel operation for my company, and that experience is definitely the highlight of my career. We were fighting for survival at that time but it was a formative, pivotal period for the business. It was a fun era and the team was awesome. Still is, in fact.
I had no expectations what was in store for my farewell. I was touched and blown away. It started with a 90-minute town hall meeting. Several people spoke about the impact I had on the Singapore operation. Then a video was played. The creative services team had dug up pictures — old, embarrassing pictures of me at work and play — and sequenced them to the tune of “My Way.” Then the video featured a number of testimonials with a hilarious cycling theme, plus many colleagues from the Hong Kong office doing the chicken dance. The producers obviously spent a lot of time and thought and energy putting together the video. It is a touching, priceless gift which I will cherish. Then the emcee hosted a mock game show (Minute to Win It), before culminating with a chicken dance, which to my dismay is part of my legacy. It’s funny what sticks over time.
I offered my congratulations and appreciation to the team, and spoke about life’s journey. I spoke from the heart.
That evening in Singapore a smaller group of colleagues from the good ‘ole days, about 20 in total, joined for a seafood dinner. More memories were relived and stories told. There was much laughter and fun and I was reminded how much I will miss working with the terrific folks in Singapore. The management team also presented me with a Garmin GPS, a generous and useful gift. Now I will have no excuses when I get lost cycling.
Back in Hong Kong, my last day — after more than 6,000 days with the Company (but who’s counting?) was also sentimental. The day started at the US Consulate, where I had to get my some documents notarized as part of my resignation from some joint venture Boards. Then the whole office took me to lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s. After lunch there was a surprise Town Hall meeting. The video was again played. It was even better the second time around, and had been edited to include some footage from the Singapore farewell. Then I was presented with a book, signed by all the colleagues, that included many more embarrassing photos of my time with the company. Another priceless and incredibly thoughtful gift.
Throughout the day I was touched by the warmth of my colleagues. One colleague gave me a gift of a rotund and cheerful buddha, whose name plays on my Chinese name. The IT guys even helped me get set up with a new Mac Book Air.
On Friday evening I was treated to multi-course dinner at Whisk, a smart French fusion restaurant. There were about ten colleagues, including one who flew down from Beijing for the occasion. The food was great and the stories and laughter flowed, as did the wine. I was presented with a poster which says TO LIVE IS TO KEEP MOVING and juxtaposes cycling and work photos. Yet another treasured gift. There is a lot of symbolism in each of the visual elements in the poster, and I am awed by and grateful to my colleagues who put this together.
It was a fitting and fun farewell, and I am pleased to have left the company on a high note and in high spirits.
This week I also learned a very important management lesson: it’s the small stuff which matters most in the long run. While much of the workday revolves around budgets and ratings and deals and presentations, what matters years later are the many small moments which create the magic of memories.
Waking up on Saturday morning, with all the farewells behind me, was a little weird at first. I am still getting used to the concept that I am a former. But on this first day of the rest of my life, I went cycling while my son had a marathon playdate with a couple of friends. I rode hard on Lantau island, from Disneyland to the Big Buddha and back. Not once did I miss my crackberry or think about the conferences calls and regular meetings which I no longer have to attend. I don’t miss the Company at all. But I sure do miss some of the people.
As the Germans say, Auf Gehts. Let’s get it on.