News People Madonna King: Knowing when it’s time to leave a job is a skill many of us, especially politicians, lack
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Madonna King: Knowing when it’s time to leave a job is a skill many of us, especially politicians, lack

Why do some people easily move on from jobs, while others struggle to let go? Photo: TND
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Once upon a time, years ago, I was in the audience as Paul Keating took to the microphone to wish a joint colleague a farewell.

The former prime minister had lost his gig perhaps a year or more earlier, but it would have been impossible to discern that from his speech.

It went on and on. Articulate and funny, as always. But serious too. And it was at the point, when he started talking about the place Indonesia held in regional politics, that a friend whispered this: “Does this bloke know he’s no longer prime minister?’’

Some people find it harder to move on, than others.

Just take politics for example. Kevin Rudd, no doubt, still wishes he was plonked in the big office, micro-managing policy. Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t let go yet; he genuinely believes the country would be in better shape, if he was the decision maker. (Mind you, he might be right).

But their inability to move on stands out. Tony Abbott struggled for a while. Donald Trump’s the best US example, although the social media ban he’s subject to is certainly muting his success in being heard.

A new-look Tony Blair, some might say, is now considering a comeback too. And Campbell Newman, who became Queensland Premier in a tsunami of support, before being washed out of office in one of the biggest revolts in decades, can now snipe again with authority – having been brought back as a party elder.

Why can some people move on from their jobs, and others really struggle to let go?

Is it that they have too much time on their hands now? Or believe voters (or their own MPs) got it it wrong by forcing an early retirement?

Is it motivated by revenge; reminding those who played a hand in their demise that they will not go gently into the night? Or the need to protect a perceived legacy?

Consider the contrast with others.

Julia Gillard’s popularity, post being dumped, has ballooned on the back of a strategic decision to move on. She’s found a place, where her knowledge and enormous experience is valuable, globally.

Barack Obama has been busy writing, but not sniping. His legacy gets bigger every day, too.

Both have accepted that someone else has the job. And they’ve found a new one.

Others go halfway to a new career; Jeff Kennett’s legacy runs from politician to a stellar role in mental illness through Beyond Blue – even though the lure to fall back into political commentary remains strong.

Ellen De Generes’ decision this week to move on from her long-running talk show gig is a reminder that all jobs have a finish date.

DeGeneres has faced criticism over allegations of workplace toxicity, but on any measure her popularity and influence remains strong.

Yet, it’s not as much fun as it was in the early years, and she’s planning her exit.

Why don’t more of us do that? Pick a date in the diary, and decide to try something new; a different job, a new hobby, more time with our family?

It’s not just politics where workers – but men especially – are wedded to the job, no matter what; where they don’t consider what comes next, and where they miss out on an enormous amount.

Perhaps women haven’t had enough of the big gigs, and might do the same given the chance.

But in all the discussions around superannuation and retirement and living longer, we need to focus on the ‘opportunity cost’.

What might we be missing out on, by taking the same bus to the same office on the same day of the week?

And how could our long experience be used elsewhere?

A few years ago, while researching a book on fathers and daughters, I spoke to a cancer surgeon who has the unenviable task of telling someone when their condition is terminal.

Fathers always asked two questions, he told me.

One was about their prognosis. The other was this. “Why didn’t I spend more time with my kids?’’

And you don’t have to be a politician to answer that question.

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