By Caroline Hall
(Spoiler alert: you do)
When I drove away from a long marriage 14 years ago, I experienced an acute loss of identity. Did I still matter (or even exist) if I didn’t have a husband and children to take care of? I spent too much time at work because I felt needed there. At home, though, I felt invisible and alone until, many months later, it occurred to me that I might be one of my loved ones—and someone worth my loving care.
I was co-leading a retirement-oriented workshop for alumni of the Stanford Graduate School of Business last week, and one alum from the class of ’82 stood up and said something like “I have had high level corporate jobs my entire adult life. I’m actually ready to think about my next frontier and there’s a lot I want to do, but I don’t know who I am if I’m no longer Stanford MBA-ish.” There were murmurs of recognition in the room.
Others voiced sorrow over not developing their full career potential in work so far. Again, there were murmurs and nods.
Retiring is rife with loss. Loss of responsibility, influence, and position. Loss of the work community with whom you’ve spent most of your waking hours for most of your life. Loss of the identity and satisfaction that come with big contributions. And loss of external recognition and rewards (including, but limited to, your paycheck).
Endings are always challenging, and this one especially so, even if planning is underway for an extraordinary next chapter. Who are you now and who do you want to become? In what ways do you still matter if your organization is no longer counting on you?
There’s no getting around the grief, but there definitely are ways to address that sense of being lost in space. I believe it’s imperative to get reacquainted with your values, strengths, and your passions. What do you care about? Where would you like to make your next difference? And, who are your people now? Who are the friends you can lean into and invite to lean into you? How can you be a better parent of adult children, a better grandparent?
What rewards and motivates you in this next chapter tends to become more internal than external. What fulfills you now? What brings you joy and pleasure? What creates meaning? Who are you loving and serving? Answering questions like these will reel you in from space and ground you in the life you want to create now.
A life well lived doesn’t mean hanging on to your big job forever. There’s a time and a season to transition to your next chapter. So let the ending be sad while you allow for the possibility of a joyful new beginning and fulfilling new work,
Life Reinspired is a program for senior executives who care about leaving well. And living well. Join us in the conversation and the opportunity to design what may well be the best part of your life ever.