In My Mind I’m Going…

Dawn on Debordieu, SC

In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina

Can’t you feel the sunshine

Can’t you just feel the moonshine

And ain’t it just like a friend of mine

To hit me from behind?

Yes, I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind.

  • James Taylor

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It feels like I just got back from my last vacation, and here I am, coming down the home stretch for my next one. Two more days of work, then we’re on the road, South Carolina-bound. It’s okay, though. I don’t feel guilty about all the vacations I take. This is how I pace myself.

I earn five weeks of vacation each year, and I usually take them. For a while there, I had to take the vacation time, or I would lose it. I had so much time accumulated, if I didn’t take the five weeks I earned each year, I would lose the time — not be able to carry it over to the next year. That’s like throwing money out the window. I would carry six accumulated weeks over, year to year, the most that I could carry over.

However, since becoming an executive, in October of 2015, I can carry three times as much time over, year to year. Last year, I only took four weeks, and carried an extra week of time over. Not this year — I’m using it all. Why not? The idea of earning vacation time is, when you have it, use it. It’s there for a reason. I think unused vacation time is a sad thing — opportunities missed!

I’ve been seeing some of my old co-workers who have retired, on facebook lately, reminiscing about their work days. They always say they don’t miss the work, but they do miss the people. Well, I like both — the work, and the people. The people are great — some of the times. They’re also a real pain in the rear — some of the time. People are people. Sometimes they do stupid things. Sometimes they’re brilliant.

The work I get to do is something I love to do. I get to ply my accumulated experience to problems at hand, each day, problems that I am in a unique position to try to solve, because of the experience I have gained through the years, and because of the decision-making opportunities I’ve had. The more you make them, the more you gain the confidence to make tougher ones, the next time. It’s never easy — but, it is challenging. I love to face challenges. So, what’s not to love about what I do?

Oh, and, if I do my job well, it makes the jobs of every employee in this 9500 employee agency’s jobs easier. It allows them to focus on their mission work, which is to protect the public from foodborne illness, and not have to worry about whether they’ll get paid on time, if they’ll be able to get the supplies they need to do their job, or get their contracts through on time, or be able to hire the people they need to get the job done. Again — what’s not to love about that?

Right now, I have no desire to retire. I like to work. But, I don’t think I’m a workaholic. I was, when I was younger — I know what that looks like. It was okay when I was just finding my place, and figuring it all out. It had its place.

These days, it’s all about maintaining that balance, between work, play, travel, and family time. I’m probably rarely striking the perfect balance between it all, but it’s something I strive for.

Today, I get to attend the retirement luncheon of one of my favorite employees, someone I’ve worked with for the past 20 years. When I was first standing up the national field supply center for the agency, she was a secretary for my boss. She was looking for something more interesting. I had the most interesting work in headquarters, at the time. What I did touched all the employees in the field. She came to work for me, and never looked back.

After mastering the field supply system, and being my key person in charge of making sure that was run smoothly, she became the back-up to the vehicle program manager, then when he moved into my old job as the supervisor of the unit, she became the vehicle manager.

She’s done such a fine job with that program, when we briefed the new Secretary on what we do in Food Safety and Inspection Service, the vehicle program was one of two areas he wanted to know more information about, because it looked to him like we had the best run vehicle program in all of USDA. That was a tribute to Sue, and how well she’s done as the vehicle program manager.

She’s someone who has really earned the right to retire. She’s had a rough road, at times, and is now in a position to truly enjoy her retirement. They say that nobody is irreplacable, and it’s true — but, Sue may be the exception to that rule. She’s really one of a kind. To be able to bid someone like her adieu as they sail off into retirement is one of the things I love about what I do. I helped to make the last 20 years of her federal employment interesting, and she took that opportunity, and really ran with it. I love that!

So — back to Carolina. We leave Friday morning. I can’t wait. I do find myself already there, in my mind. Another road trip — I can’t wait!

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