A Handshake and a Lapel Pin: Why Personal Goals Are Important

As I sat in the audience of over a hundred people, names were called one after another. After a few moments, my boss stood up and called my name. I walked forward to the front of the room. The Superintendent of the school district where I work shook my hand and handed me a lapel pin.

People clapped.

I sat down.

That was it.

No speech, no words, no recognition.


13 years of service in the school district technology department and all I received was a 25 cent lapel pin and a handshake.

The other eight people retiring from the facilities department received the same treatment.

The whole retirement ceremony was over in less than ten minutes.

Nothing was said about all the years of getting up in the middle of the night checking databases. Nothing was said about coming in nights and weekends to make sure the proper data went to the state. Nothing was said about expanding our server room from a closet to a major data center.

My friends had warned me that I shouldn’t go the extra mile and I certainly shouldn’t put in extra time.

They said it would be this way.

I didn’t believe them.

It turned out, they were right.

It was a sad day.

Sure, I’ll get a retirement check, but there is more to life than money.

I felt bad for the others, many of whom had been with the district for many more years than I. The guys from facilities, who did the tough work of bringing the district from one school in 1986 to the 20 schools we have now. The maintenance guys who have kept things going year after year. The custodians who clean up after 22,000 kids a day.

No personal recognition… nothing but a pin, a handshake, and a generic thank you to the department.

I’m sure this same thing happens across the country all the time. Jobs come… Jobs go. Many people are given no notice… just escorted from the building. People retire, expecting a gold watch, only to find the watch stopped working years ago.

It’s easy to be bitter…

But not helpful.

In fact, yesterday was a huge wakeup call for me.

Now, more than ever, you have to take your future in your own hands.

You have to set goals. You have to plan out the rest of your life.

Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

They aren’t coming. It’s not going to happen.

Thankfully, years ago I found an organization called Toastmasters. Through their leadership and communication program I gained much needed skills.

Skills to reach out on my own.

Skills to write a book, give a speech, and lead a group.

Without Toastmasters, I would have been very angry yesterday.

With my new found skills, I’m excited to move forward. I’m excited to move through those doors that have been opened.

Yesterday was actually a great day.

The rest of my life is ahead of me.

Are you in a similar place? Do you feel stuck?

Are you working for a lapel pin and a handshake?

If you want more, I have three ways to help you get started.

1. Create a Life Plan. My friend, Michael Hyatt, has created a great document to plan out the rest of your life. If you feel stuck or don’t know where to go, download his free life plan and take a couple of days to create a path to a better future.

2. Set Goals. Written goals are the best way to move forward. Our goal setting toolkit is a great place to get started. Print out the cards, write down your goals, and put them where you will see them.

3. Join Toastmasters. The best personal development organization that I know is Toastmasters International. With over 270,000 members worldwide and over 13,000 clubs, there is sure to be one near you. Just use the Find a Club page to locate one in your local area.

Toastmasters can help you…

There are lots of success stories to get you started.

Overall: Sometimes the tough things in life motivate us to change. If you aren’t where you want to be, why not take the first step today. Don’t wait until they hand you the pin to get going.


  1. says

    I just wanted to encourage you, John. Your writing has improved significant;y since I first began reading your stuff. This is a great post—and not just because you mention me!

  2. says

    Thanks Michael. This was a tough one to write, because it hits so close to home. I know so many people that are afraid to take the next step. I am really looking forward to your new book. I think that will give hope to a lot of folks who are on the edge. The message is simple… Don’t wait for the gold watch, it died years ago.

  3. Albert E says

    You have definitely changed our lives and made us who we are today. You have showed us how to be sincere and encourage us to work as a team. Thanks to you for being there for us!

    • says

      Thank you, Albert. You have no idea what your words mean to me. We have always had a great team! As you say, it’s our friendships that will endure and tie our group together.

  4. says

    Wow John – what a tough post to share. Nicely done my friend. I’m sorry it happened though. Just a little bit of thanks – and a little bit of story – could have made a real difference in your story. Alas – their loss is your gain, as this will be an amazing story for you to tell from the platform.

    Congratulations on the next chapter of your life. You have been inspiring me for years – and now you’ll be able to inspire me (and MANY others) in a more full-time manner. I can’t WAIT to see what awesomeness comes out of your additional productive time!

    • says

      Thanks Phil. There is a lot more to life and a job than money. Just sharing a story, or acknowledging a job well done, can go a million miles to build someone up. Some of these guys kept the schools clean and running smoothly for over 20 years, with literally hundreds of stories of the lives they changed and kids they helped. I certainly remember the custodian at my elementary school. He was the main problem solver on campus. If the projector didn’t work, or the lights didn’t turn on, he was the savior of the day.

  5. says

    Wow John, what a tough experience. As a young person who works full-time and is trying to get up the nerve to really put effort into my fledgling home business, this really hits home for me. What a great question, “Are you working for a lapel pin and a handshake?” That really made me stop and think. Full time corporate work is fine, but having your own work that you shape and create is much more rewarding. Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. says

    Great post John, sorry it went like that. I was hoping for a better experience for you but I think you are certainly looking at it the right way. What helps me is thinking about how what effort you put into this place really does eventually trickle down to the students. Even if they don’t know it yet, they appreciate everything that you’ve done over the years.

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