Some reflections on the passing of another year:
Every year my age group - the ones who still use a typewriter rather than a word processor and can't program a VCR - becomes smaller and smaller. And while I am proud of having been with this paper longer than almost anyone else alive, I can't help feeling the consequences of advancing age.
Visiting my 93-year-old mother in the nursing home always brings thoughts of the aging process to the fore. There, people who led active and important lives are treated almost like young children whose personality differences mean little.
It's How We Get There
Making it to 85 or 90 can be frightening. Seeing a tall, bent-over man shuffle by and being told by a nurse, "He was the head of a major company" brings home the point that old age in itself is no goal - it's what we do to get there that matters.
Often we forget this and concentrate on keeping going - like my friend's father who always pledged a substantial sum to his synagogue each year at the High Holy Days but did not pay until just before the next High Holy Days, on the premise that "If I owe God a lot of money, he won't take me away before I pay."
Observing the lifestyle in an old-age home calls to mind the startling fact that 2% of our gross domestic product goes into health care for people in their last six months of life.
In a world of limited resources this is certainly something that the new- administration will have to face as it analyzes the whole health-care issue.
As well as making us grateful that we still have our mental and/or physical faculties intact, visiting a nursing home always leads to an evaluation of what we do and whether we are doing the right things with our time.
Follow the Heart
In this regard, if you ask me what I have accomplished as a teacher who has loved his lifetime profession, one important achievement has been talking students out of becoming bankers or accountants just because their fathers were - and urging them to do what they really wanted.
I have talked one student into quitting his MBA studies to play piano with Johnny Mathis - because he would get a gleam in his eye when he spoke of the possibility.
He came back a year later and said "I thought my life would be music; instead it was bus rides."
And I have comforted bankers whose sons and daughters became chefs and foresters. The kids are content, but the parents are unhappy because the chosen occupations don't fit into their own conceptions of what one should do for a living.
In this regard, I always love Pat Kitchen's Career Doctor column in this paper. She has good advice that should be taken not only by people who have been "outplaced" but also by those whose jobs are secure.
For if they read Pat carefully, some might decide that they should go out and look for something else to do even though they don't have to - if happiness in the workplace is their goal.
More Freedom and Meaning
My own wife, who became a consultant after being let go in the drastic restructuring of Mutual Benefit Life, now finds that to be judged by what you do rather than when you do it provides freedom and meaning lacking in even the best 9 to 5 jobs.
Sure, the switch can be hard. Beverly is trying to sell her services as part of a small training group. "When I call people to try to sell a program," she says, "they often either don't talk to me or, if they do, they tell me |call back in six months.'
"But I guess that's the way I treated outside consultants when I was buying training programs for the insurance company."
Looking at the streamlining of American business and "downsizing" or "right sizing," I feel Bev's career change is like what hundreds of thousands of other American white-collar workers are going to have to do - work with smaller companies that must find or build a niche, instead of being part of large organizations whose jobs remain intact through sheer momentum.
In the Meantime
So the key point that comes up at yearend is: In the time between now and when we, too, enter the nursing home, will we be doing something that we like doing?
As an old friend once told me, "The fun is making the money, not spending it."
I recently took my class to Ryan, Beck & Co. to see how that New Jersey investment banking firm works. To me the key part of the day was a panel discussion in which three of the firm's top executives expressed honest and intense disagreement over whether a good MBA should expect to put in 15-hour days to make it to the top in finance, or whether such an approach was wasting the opportunity to gain much more of what life, work, and outside activities have to offer.
And no one should forget what Paul Tsongas said as he announced he would not run for re-election to the Senate after developing cancer: "No one ever said on his deathbed, |My only regret is that I did not have more time to give to my business.'"
Except for two years of military service during the Korean conflict, I have taught college continuously since my own graduation - and have loved every minute.
My New Year's wish for the readers of this column is that they feel the same way about their jobs in the world of finance. Happy New Year.
Mr. Nadler is a contributing editor of American Banker and professor of finance at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.