People ask me what it feels like to be retired. The closest analogy I have come up with is that it is like the experience you have when you are pursuing a new job.
At one point in my career, I was preparing myself to compete for my first job in middle management. You could say that getting the job was sort of the pinnacle of my career. I had several other jobs after holding that position, but all the subsequent positions were offshoots of that first middle management job.
Before I got the middle management position, I spent literally years developing myself for consideration. I was doing all kinds of things to build my skills and to enhance my visibility within the organization. I wanted the folks above me to recognize my name and think of me as a strong candidate. More importantly, I wanted to have the talent and experience to actually BE a strong candidate. I was a first line manager for almost twenty years and I spent all that time growing my skillset. I learned from my experience and from my leaders. I tried to take the best of myself and my various managers to create a quirky cocktail of a leadership style that I employed in all my first line management positions. When I began preparing for the next level in earnest, I took classes, read books, took on extra assignments, and put myself in challenging situations to grow my abilities. I applied for, was accepted into, and graduated from a “readiness” program- which is sort of like rush week and hazing for management jobs in my agency. In short, trying to get the middle management job became nearly as much of a job as my “real” job at the time.
Ultimately, I succeeded. I competed for and got that first middle management position. There may not have been a ticker tape parade exactly, but there was celebration and rejoicing. I seem to recall balloons being involved. Everyone congratulated me and wished me much happiness. Colleagues and mentors who had been helping me in my development breathed a collective sigh of relief to finally be able to wash their hands of me and let me float on my own. It was thrilling and I was quite giddy.
For the next several weeks, I became engrossed in the practicalities of getting a new job. I finished up projects and tasks that I was doing in my current position. I prepared the person who would be acting in that position until the agency selected a new permanent manager. I packed my stuff and moved to the new office. I did the administrivia necessary to get authorized on the new computer systems I would need in my new job. I explored the lay of the land in my new office.
Once I completed all this “changing of the guard” work, I found myself in a difficult situation. I had held the front line manager position, in one form or another, for such a long time. I realized that I had become a master at it. It wasn’t that it was easy for me or anything, but I certainly had developed a certain facility and confidence and momentum in executing my responsibilities on a day-to-day basis. By the time I was selected for the target middle management position, it could even be said that I had become a master at the job of getting this job. Now that I had it and the novelty had worn off, I was back to square one. I was faced with the whole new challenge of actually having to DO the job!
All of sudden, “routine” tasks and decisions were not routine. Instead of tumbling through a day of problem solving and getting things done, as I had for years in my front line management position, I found myself stumbling over each step because I found all the steps to be new to me. The steps were all in unfamiliar places now, steeper, and made of different materials than I had experienced in my former job. In my front line position, I easily contemplated the possible strategies for addressing each issue of the day and experimented with reasonable confidence that I would find a way to success. In this new position, my mind felt tight and restricted when I tried to percolate new ideas. The stakes were higher and I seemed to have less mental resources and agility to propel me towards success. As certain as I had been that I would succeed as a first line manager, I was often as certain that I would fail as a middle manager. After all, you can only use the excuse “I’m new” for a short time. As I struggled with problem-solving and fueling effective operations, I was well aware that I couldn’t just try any strategies. I had to try the right strategies to produce results. I knew that, as some point, I would have to produce the results expected of me or I would have to face the fact that I had failed… no matter how hard I had worked or how many creative strategies I tried.
Retirement was kind of like that for me. I aspired to retirement for years. I thoughtfully and strategically set up my life to prepare myself to retire. When it finally happened, there was all manner of celebrating and well-wishing. For a few weeks, my life was a whirlwind of “getting set-up.” Just like when I changed jobs and had to deal with the pragmatics and tactics such as getting on necessary computer systems and arranging my office, I spent the beginning of my retirement packing and moving and making sure the processes of my new life were in place.
After that first flurry of activity, I came face to face with the same reality I did when I actually started my first middle management position. I had no real idea of how to “work” retirement on a day-to-day basis any more than I had any idea how to “work” the middle management job on a day-to-day basis.
It wasn’t that I was unhappy in either case or that I regretted my decisions to pursue the career-defining job or to retire. In both situations, I was excited and joyful. It is just that, in both situations, I was disoriented and lacked confidence that I would ultimately right my ship and sail somewhere wonderful.
In the middle management position, I may not have hung the moon and the stars, but I think I did succeed. I am proud of my little legacy.
As time passes in my retirement, I find myself experimenting with numerous strategies and approaches to craft a success of my retirement life. I think it is working. I am less disoriented and my confidence is growing all the time. I feel like I am clicking along well on all cylinders now.
I have learned that, in retirement, unlike in that next new job, the creative strategies I employ to succeed cannot fail as long as I satisfy myself.
So what do you think? Did your retirement feel similar to transitioning to a new job? Or was your experience different? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you an email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have an exciting (in a good way!) day!