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Retirement: How Do We Close a Chapter?

A significant client and friend recently retired. I participated in the celebration of the event at his retirement party and reflected on the idea of transition out of such a successful career. I’ve watched dozens of friends make this perilous journey out of “what I do” into “who I am”. I recommend putting on a helmet and elbow pads for the leap, because for some it can be treacherous.

What I mean by that is that most of our careers we become what we do. Everywhere we go people ask, where do you work? Our jobs, our output, our careers become our identity. When we retire, we let go of the work that has been the consumer of our time and the shell of our identity. A shell, because despite our best efforts to become our jobs, we are still “us” deep inside. We have just lost touch with it.

I do an exercise with my clients called “who am I”. It’s a simple process of identifying the categories of “us”. Starting with the work I do, through the roles I play, the values I hold and finally the talents and characteristics that make me uniquely me. If through our lives we have stayed connected to this bottom box of who I am, then retirement is smoother. Notice I didn’t say easier, because a significant life transition can still be difficult. We must mourn the loss, acknowledge the change and accept and build the new season. How we manage and spend time and relate to others shifts dramatically when we are not fully invested in a job/career. It can be smooth, however, if we are still very connected to who we are.

Gifts, talents and characteristics that make me uniquely me can still be used daily even if I’m not at work. When I am connected to “me”, then I know what I need to use daily in exchange with the world to get out of bed each day and feel satisfied at the end of it. For instance, I am a connector, a depositor and use emotional insight and intuition to help people be the best version of themselves. I do this in coaching and training executives today, but I also use it to raise teenagers. I could drive a forklift and still use this. I still use this to parent my parents, someday love on my grandkids and in volunteering in my


What it is that you are built to do is directly related to who you are hardwired to be and the set of skills and talents that were given to you at birth. So how do we reconnect? How do we prepare to retire? In today’s workforce retirement is incredibly different than it was a mere 50 years ago. In 1910, the average retirement age was 74 and only 1% of the population reached that age because the life expectancy was only 50. Now, the average age of retirement is 62, with the life expectancy of 73 and 15% of the population reaches that. More and more people are wrestling with the transition into retirement and living more years in it. How do we do that transition well?

Back to the statement in the title, how do we close a chapter? By being prepared to turn the page. When I am reading a book, I know a page turn is coming. I know a chapter break is coming. I am prepared for that because it is a known. Some people I see that have difficulty with retirement have denied the page turn or chapter breaks are coming. They are so ingrained in their job and their value in that job that they believe change is not coming. They will work until they drop. The company can’t survive without them, etc. Change is inevitable. Change comes to us all.

I know people who don’t “retire”, they just turn the page by slowing down, going part time, selling off their company and consulting. Becoming a silent partner, entrepreneur or and angel investor is another path to transition to. Same energy, same knowledge but using the gifts and talents another direction. For some, a chapter break is the way to go. Chapter breaks being more sudden, like retiring from a career or full time job to do nothing. By nothing, that could be travel, golf, enjoying hobbies or grandkids.

Denial that either are coming is detrimental to success where you stand. I know some that remain working full time in their businesses, that does not necessarily mean denial. A mentor, Helen Galloway, still works 6 days a week at 91 and is very active in the community. It keeps her young and vibrant. She also began Women of Wichita years ago that takes dollars from hundreds of local women and puts it right back into charities in our community. She turned pages by knowing who she was regardless of her career!

Denial comes for others who aren’t connected to their “who am I” selves and the page turn or chapter break wreak havoc in their environment. They feel bored, lost and empty. The drive and fuel of daily challenges must be replaced or transitioned somewhere. That is part of the preparation or in the all knowing of who you are and what you need to “breathe” each day.

Examine whether you are facing a page turn or a chapter break. What do you need to prepare to be ready for that? Is it succession planning? Loosening of the reins? Reconnected to your inner self? Take the time to self reflect, get out of the denial pool and prepare. Seasons change regardless if we invite them to.

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