About a week before my last day at work, I was in the break room chatting with a coworker--one of the good ones. She asked me where I was headed. I answered that I didn't really know yet.
"I just know I've been here long enough," I continued. "I gave the better part of my twenties to this place. I'd rather not spend the remainder here."
She didn't respond immediately, but I saw on her face that forced smile I recognized, as though she were straining to hold back words of disapproval. I was prepared for that reaction. I knew my decisions would strike most people as irresponsible in this economy.
Finally, she said, "Well, I understand. I'm a lot older than you." Then she walked past me back to work, and I was left feeling rather like a child.
A few days later, I found out that her birthday had just passed. Oh crap, I thought to myself, as I reflected on what an ass I had made of myself.
After work that day, I headed out to pick up a birthday card for her. The first one to catch my eye made mention of fine wine, cheddar, leather, and friendship as things that got better with age. Open it up, and on the inside it read, "And so do you." Yes, that will do, I thought. Let her know that I appreciate how she improves with age in the manner of a good cheddar.
And so I grabbed the card and was about to check out, when, at the last minute, sense gripped me, and I realized what a terrible idea that would have been. It occurred to me that, if she were really self-conscious about her age, it would probably be best to say nothing about getting older at all, especially as I was younger than her and had no idea what she was going through.
So I grabbed a different, more innocuous card, wrote a few words, and left it on her desk the next morning. She seemed to genuinely appreciate it.
Another few days, and it was time for me to go. As I got up to make my final exit, she came up and handed me a card from her. It was signed by several coworkers, but it had been her idea.
She was one of the good ones.