We were catching up during our 35th college reunion at our old fraternity house overlooking Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, N.Y. About 50 of us lived in the Tudor-style house, complete with secret basement room, and there was a ladder that allowed access to the relatively flat, painted aluminum roof. When the weather allowed, we climbed the ladder to sun ourselves on top of the house. We also flung water balloons at unsuspecting pedestrians with a sling shot device made by attaching rubber tubing to a funnel. The “funnelator” was very accurate to about 50 yards away. We were kids, and climbing that ladder meant fun, and we climbed it as often as we could.
Despite what many would have predicted when we graduated, my fraternity brothers became a very successful group of CEOs, vice presidents, doctors, lawyers, chairmen, and consultants. Our house was just off Cornell University’s campus at the top of Ithaca Falls, an idyllic setting on a beautiful June evening for my brothers to sit around, laugh about the old times, and philosophize about life. We recounted our life after college and reveled in each others’ accomplishments.
After climbing the roof ladder for fun, we had each climbed a different kind of ladder to success in our respective fields. We all really enjoyed the climb. I don’t think it is a coincidence that many of my brothers and I are now done climbing our ladders. Many of us are getting out of the rat race.
One of my friends is resigning as chairman of an academic ENT department. I remember his discipline in college, leaving the house after dinner every night to climb the hill where he studied in the quiet of Uris Library, which is attached to the iconic McGraw Tower. His hard work paid off with an acceptance to a prestigious medical school where he continued to excel. The author of more than 200 published manuscripts, with four senior-authored papers already this year, he is at the pinnacle of his academic success. Yet, he resigned.
Similarly, another of my fraternity brothers had recently resigned from his position as Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for a large health care system. He would have been in line for the CEO position had he stayed. He has written well-received books on leadership and financial acumen for physicians. As a result, he is a frequent public speaker on similar topics. Yet, he resigned.
They were not the only ones resigning positions that others covet. I, too, resigned my position as Department Chairman earlier this year. None of us were fired, none of us were asked to leave, and none of us are burned out. So here we were, three accomplished physicians all resigning from powerful posts at the same time for what turns out to be similar reasons. Our priorities changed as our children moved out.
I would like to say that we all had the wisdom to know that our leadership skills were deteriorating and that we all wanted to get out while we are at the top of our game. Had Arthur Brooks written “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think” in(July 2019) before we made our decisions, I may have made that argument, but it would not have been true. All three of us feel like we have accomplished what we sought to achieve when we took our respective roles and now we wanted to leverage that experience into something different, if not better. None of us have settled into new roles yet, and all of us are still trying to define exactly what it is we want to do next, but all of us agree that we are no longer interested in driving ourselves to succeed at the expense of our family, friends, and relationships.
My fraternity brothers and I gushed with pride talking about our children and their success. Our progeny are starting their individual climbs up the ladder of opportunity in whatever field they have chosen. My friends and I, on the other hand, had already climbed a ladder and feel comfortable stopping. Or maybe we just want to start climbing a different ladder.
Dr. Kalaycio is editor in chief of Hematology News. He chairs the department of hematology and medical oncology at Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute. Contact him at.