Experience

Win in the End

With a fighting spirit, I greeted my retirement as the dawn of a new day.

by Peter Rothfarb
Glastonbury, Conn.

In August 2020, during a weekly virtual meeting with our business manager, he leaned back, exhaled long and hard, and dropped a bombshell on me and my right-hand man.

“You know guys, I’m beginning to ask myself why we’re even doing this.”

The “this” he was referring to was the million-dollar project we had been meeting about for months and which I was spearheading for our company, one of the largest in American health care. For a while, no one spoke. We were waiting for him to outline a new direction. He didn’t.

In my 37 years at the company, no project of this size had ever been terminated under my leadership. Broadly, my team had been tasked with streamlining our company’s interface, but my supervisors seemed unable to agree on what the word streamlining entailed.

A month later, our project was put in the dreaded “yellow status,” and my immediate supervisor told me that I might be sidelined because of a lack of progress. (Toward what? I wanted to know.)

While pondering the word streamlining, I began to meditate, quite involuntarily, on the meaning of another, more personal word: the “senior” in my title, senior project manager. At age 74, I was feeling the word in new ways. How many Monday mornings, how many late nights do I have left in me? I wondered. Retirement appeared in my mind in these terms: the end of Monday mornings.

I’d almost begun to echo my manager’s question: Why was I doing this?

And I had to admit, I wasn’t sure. It didn’t feel good.

Around this time, I’d been reading The New Human Revolution each morning. A passage from volume 16 struck me. Ikeda Sensei vows to follow the example of founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who waged his battle for the sake of Buddhism in his later years, until the end of his life (see The New Human Revolution, vol. 16, p. 56).

I felt a fresh wave of determination. I vowed that whatever my team’s difficulties, I would fight to the end, striving to win one more time.

I rolled up my sleeves.

I embarked on an ambitious daimoku campaign toward the victory of everyone on my team, reaching out to see how I could support. I jumped in and committed to coming up with a plan to bring our portion of the project back to life. I worked like a new employee, sometimes almost through the night. My team and management noticed and they started to join in. I then reworked our budget so we would have the required resources. I did not take “No, we can’t do that” for an answer. To my amazement and gratification, my supervisors, too, lent their support, and we were on our way.

My efforts seemed to create energy and momentum. The team acquired a single-minded purpose, and I was in awe of the work they were doing. I often spontaneously shared this awe and appreciation and respect with them in meetings. It wasn’t a tactic. It was sincere and just poured out of me. It seemed to add to a growing wave of direction and teamwork, and it was fun. Even when we were together on the phone at 2 in the morning working a problem, we were laughing and having a good time. We were not defeated, ever.

Of course, the hours were taking a toll. Beneath the fatigue, however, was a budding excitement, a sense of promise. As a young man, I’d earned a living teaching classical guitar in Montreal. But since returning to the States in my early 20s, I had not pursued music again in a serious way, telling myself that I would when I was ready, when the time was right. The fatigue now was telling me something:

Peter, you have to admit, you don’t know how much time you have—three weeks, three months, three years, 20…? Don’t assume you’ll have this chance forever.

I began to look at my next phase differently. It was no longer “When will this end?” but “Don’t you want to explore life’s opportunities with the new freedoms you have, the new perspectives on life you have gained through your practice and life experience?”

I decided this project would indeed be my last hurrah and set April 30, 2021, as my retirement date.

Our team delivered what we said that we would, and management was very happy.

Peter and his fellow SGI-USA members in Hartford, Conn., May 2019.
Peter and his fellow SGI-USA members in Hartford, Conn., May 2019.

Today, I’m studying under a wonderful jazz guitarist and playing regularly with a friend. I’m also using my technology skills in new ways to record a friend’s performance and commentary on the song cycle Winter Journey by Franz Schubert. By far, however, the most enjoyable and meaningful work I am doing now is with the men and young men in my chapter. I often, especially in my youth, encountered obstacles I thought would do me in. Every time, someone listened and shared the guidance I needed to get back on my feet, keep fighting and win. Being that person for others is now my greatest joy. Fighting and winning is what life, what Buddhism, is all about. And that’s why we’re doing this.

What advice would you give to the youth?

Peter Rothfarb: When it comes to this Buddhist practice, stick with it. Find someone you trust, a senior in faith, someone you can speak with about anything. Don’t be afraid to open up. It will be to your great benefit.