My First Day Off
Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former secretary of state

When I retired from the army in 1993, there was a huge ceremony at Fort Myer in Virginia. President Clinton was there, as well as Vice President Gore; there were 1,000 people at the reception. I had served 35 years. I'd had a staff of 1,500. I ran wars. I commanded more than two million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Now, after all those years, it was suddenly over. I was in charge of me. No more alarm clock. No more name tag. And I was ready. I was looking forward to being normal again—getting to the point where I could maybe even go to a garage sale. It's important to get back to being normal.

The first morning, I slept a little later than usual. Then I went downstairs for breakfast, and my wife, Alma, said to me, "The sink is clogged." I was delighted.

I got under the sink, took it apart, cleaned out the trap, put it back on, and made sure it didn't leak. An accomplishment.

The same thing happened after I left the State Department, when I had to replace a toilet—which, by the way, involves more than what they give you at Home Depot.

Before I decided to become a plumber, I used to rebuild Volvos. There's something invigorating about working on an engine. You know something is wrong, and by the process of elimination, you figure it out. Plumbing is the same way. You do the work, and you can test it. Either it holds water or it doesn't. The problems you deal with as chairman of the Joint Chiefs or secretary of state are usually not that amenable to rapid analysis and solution.


Next Story