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How To Get Comfortable With The New You In Retirement
The horror of the high school class reunion
I was met with a conundrum this week. I read this line in something I was reading “I was raised with the idea that the value you bring is your work.” I thought to myself, “yeah, a lot of people are like that. That’s why they need a coach in retirement. To help them find value in other activities and parts of their life.” I was reminded of several studies I have read, like this one from Hospice that talks about people’s regrets as they are looking at the end of their lives. They cite things like working too much and not connecting enough with friends as top regrets.
I’m proud to help people find the pathways to do those things so they don’t have those regrets at the end of their lives. I enjoy helping people think about their purpose and their “why.” I read this in a book called Forever Young by Dr. Mark Hyman: “For me the answer to why is simple: love and service. To meet myself, my friends my family and my work with love and to make the world just a little bit better.” Doesn’t that sound ideal?
Not only did I think I was helping other people “move on” from thinking their only value is their career, I thought I’d made that transition, too. On to making the world a better place in my little circle of clients and friends! Then, I got an invitation to my high school reunion.
As I was working through the horror of meeting these people I hadn’t seen in decades and living up to whatever life script you’re supposed to have completed by this stage… I was left with a dilemma. How do I explain who I am? My mind immediately went to explaining to them that I DID add value! I was a financial controller with one of the most influential companies of the past couple of decades. My life meant something, man! Um… but what about all of that hype about love and service? Isn’t it more important who I am now and how I help one or two people here and there and live my life with love for my friends and family? How can I make that sound cool to my old high school rivals?
Don’t you just love it when life hits you between the eyes?
I have an exercise that I sometimes ask my coaching clients to do. I ask them to list all of the benefits that working provides them and then give them an importance weighting from 1 -10. I start with these:
Sense of utility or usefulness
Then I ask them to add any others. Then, we go through the list and find activities in retirement that will fulfill the most important aspects of the career they are leaving behind. I spent zero time on this exercise for myself. If I had done it, I’m sure I would have rated status as very low importance. Heck, I didn’t have status. I was just the bean counter. But thinking WAY back when I first started my career, telling people what I did was a source of pride. I think I leaned on that more than I thought I did.
It turns out, I’m not alone. Dr Teresa Amabile is a retired Harvard professor who does work with creativity and exploring your identity in retirement. Just before she retired, she did a podcast on the subject. It’s interesting. I encourage you to listen. But what struck me about this podcast is that, at the end the host asks Teresa what she will tell people her identity is in retirement. She says that she’ll say she’s a retired Harvard professor! Even she may need to do a little work in this area.
I encourage you to do this exercise. Even if you are retired, what do you miss about your job that you haven’t replaced? Is it OK to miss it? Or, like me have you moved on, but some seed of you has not? Be honest with yourself.
As for me. Part of my identity is that I was a financial controller and did some really cool stuff in my career. But now part of my identity is that I’m having a ball in retirement and changing my little world one hug at a time. I think I can work that into the conversation at the reunion. The people there are mostly politely listening until they get their chance to tell me how they changed the world, anyway. And I bet they aren’t getting as many hugs as I am.