New responsibilities

“Off the hook” is an idiom that dates back to the 17th century and with increased popularity in the mid-1800s. It means to be “free from some responsibility; removed from some difficulty”. It’s been used as “a dated phrase to indicate something is cool, funk or enjoyable”. In a figurative sense, it’s when a boss or parent has someone ‘on the hook’; that person is trapped into some duty. If that person is ‘off the hook’, it means they are no longer under an obligation to perform that duty”.

It’s this later definition that my blog concerns, and after over seventy lengthy posts covering nearly four years’ duration, I’m finally explaining the name.

Readers know that I am no longer working (at a job, reporting to a manager or director, Vice President, owner or all four) after nearly five decades of doing so, I’m off the hook from annual reviews and weekly staff meetings. Listening to annual mission statements, product marketing plans and business unit strategic plans. No more reviewing the numbers. No need to smile to all, all the time while working despite whatever else was going on in my life. Staying above the fray, the gossip and the politics.

But as I continue my life and volunteer for just causes, I continue to draw from mostly excellent career experiences and lessons learned from colleagues and organizations in my field. As much as I’m happy to be off the hook, I very much appreciate all that I learned on the job in small companies, four start-ups, one turnaround and large global firms alike.

One experience though that was not appreciated occurred on the first or second day after I started at my first tech job in Westboro at a mini computer manufacturer located off Route 495. This young man (he was probably younger than I) asked me casually with a straight face as we walked off of the elevator “who owns you?” I smiled in reflex but was dumb founded. I was not impressed by this question, and said to myself, ‘What’s YOUR problem? Are you kidding me?’ Who owns ME?’. Granted, I had caught my first break, landing a job in a creative capacity as a catalog copywriter in the nascent DG Direct unit at a billion dollar high tech firm, but I knew that this was not going to work out if I were micro-managed by anyone. I learned early on that in this organization I had to work hard, listen, be agile and stand up for myself as necessary. As time wore on, I felt pretty good about it all. The pay was good, the commute was short, I learned a lot and I was having fun. This was a pretty good combination. I still remember the guys. I’ve looked up a few of them on LinkedIn. After leaving DG to join a start up software firm, I attended a few Grey Eagles reunions, but they got about as stale as the cheese and crackers and the cash bar. I’ve stayed in touch with one of the guys. We used to meet for breakfast every so often trying to plot out our careers in high tech knowing full well that it’s a young person’s industry and it wouldn’t be easy to navigate over time (as we lost our hair). He and I ended up working in a number of start-ups, and run into each other every so often.

In “off the hook” I’m pursuing new vocations, hobbies, causes and responsibilities. I’m getting to know myself in new ways. I interact with others in new ventures that I couldn’t do while working and raising a family. I may not report to a director or VP anymore, but I still have responsibilities and report to others. And I’m finding that business lessons and principles learned in the corporate world play pretty well in the non profit world.

I still have responsibilities. I have household responsibilities. And I’m am still married. I have responsibilities to maintain: finances, estate planning. I cook a lot from scratch. Every day there’s efforts to maintain or improve my physical health, mind and spirit. There’s my corporeal self, my emotional state and then there’s dealing with my self-talk (what I say to myself and the challenges faced). The words we use, especially when we relate to others, and how we speak to ourselves is vitally important at this stage in my life. I may be off the hook but it’s still vitally important for me to relate to others (and myself) with kindness.

Retirement in the midst of the pandemic and political upheaval has further underscored a responsibility to take care of our community. To look after others, to give to others who have less than the blessings we have. Those who have suffered by Covid. Those who are food insecure. Advancing the common good. Being kind and civil in all our affairs. Checking in on others with “less than”. Donating time and energy and money to causes that help our fellow man like at

Repair the world the sages say. Do so by improving one’s own lot and giving the balance to charity. There are mutual aid groups all over the country who beg for volunteers, there’s so much demand. I’m active in a number of capacities in the climate crisis, but have to learn more and encourage others in their own capacity to participate and adopt lifestyle changes to encourage energy efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is the time to act in a big way. Time is running out. There’s a weekly blog I follow called “Friday Forward” that often describes whom I call “everyday heroes”. People who practice kindness and respect, practice self-improvement and helping others. A recent post included a quotation from the Dalai Lama: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them”.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

One thought on “New responsibilities

  1. You’ve done 70 of these blogs? Wow.
    Speaking of the origin of the phrase “off the hook—and I enjoyed reading that– do you know the origin of the slang “hooker?” look it up.

    We had a nice chat today w Susan Hirshfield, partly about Ralph but also that she and David sold his dental practice. She was very upbeat about that.


    Sent from Mail for Windows 10


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