PROFILE: THE EX-CEO WHO IS REBUILDING THOUGHTFULLY

There we sit, John and I, at the Regency Bar and Grill, bastion of the power lunch in NYC, looking like any other deal makers.  Except that we’re not.  We’re probably the only retired people in the room.  I suppose the other diners would have known that if they’d stayed long enough to see that we were the last to leave while they went back to their deal-making offices.  

The shattering irony of our discussion which focused on the “loss of power and identity and connections in retirement” in a room filled with networking business executives is pretty striking.  Seriously, can you imagine the head turning from those power brokers if they’d heard John say this:  The crux of retirement for me is “the loss of the sense of self which is only magnified by the fact that you’re not at the center of the action anymore—No one needs to stay in touch with me now.”  He goes on to talk about the “ego satisfaction of the job and the fact that “so many high powered guys have a sense of bravado” which needs to be fed.  “Everything I did was attached to my business success…everything my parents taught me.”  And when that ego satisfaction is gone, it’s a hard fall.  All of a sudden he admits “you realize that it wasn’t YOU that people sought after— it was your position.  When you’re in the JOB, you’re the person people seek out. But your Power stemmed from the business you worked for…and without that business, you’re just a regular guy, whose calls are maybe returned several days later…or never.  He jokes that when he was the CEO, he could call anyone…and “I never got put on hold, and now… I’m always put on hold!”  Now, there’s a proof statement if I ever heard one!!!

John knows a lot about Power—he was a very big deal in his industry.  If you look at his LinkedIn profile, you’d see 3 CEO positions of companies which are household names and several Board memberships.  So, he was a Player…a Big Deal.   But the C-suite can be pretty fickle and in his late-60s, power struggles derailed him out the door.

The awesome thing, I think, is that he’s not despondent or complaining about the magnitude of the change in his life.  Far from it…John’s an incredibly thoughtful guy and our discussion about his “path” since that last power position was fascinating.  After picking himself up and licking his wounds, he has spent a year and a half honing in on “what makes him happy” and how he wants to define his next step. He knows it’s a different chapter in his life…he’s big on “chapters” and he wants to dictate the terms of this chapter…and not let life control him.  

He talks a lot about “time” and “happiness”…not exactly C-Suite words, huh?  In each chapter of your life, he says, you get to figure out what it is that makes you happy…and then build that into your life so you spend time on those things. (Words to live by, I’d say!)  Of course, this is a path or bridge that’s easier said than done to navigate, and his is a work in progress.  

He talks a lot about a seminal book that he’s found incredibly helpful: Designing Your Life:  How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life  by two Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.  I’m not going to steal their thunder here, except to quote from Publishers Weekly: “An empowering book based on their popular class of the same name at Stanford University. Perhaps the book’s most important lesson is that the only failure is settling for a life that makes one unhappy. With useful fact-finding exercises, an empathetic tone, and sensible advice, this book will easily earn a place among career-finding classics.”  It’s just that John is applying these principles to his retirement life…rather than his career!

Using the book’s principles, he shares that strategic interactions with business colleagues were critical to his business happiness…and so he wants to insure that he “stays in the game” in some way, shape or form going forward.  Not as easy to put into place as he would have thought, but it’s still a worthwhile goal.

In addition, he’s identified Teaching and Mentoring as one path to answer this need to share ideas and to be involved with young people…another source of happiness for him. He’s reached out to Business Schools about making a contribution and this will definitely be part of his life going forward…and he clearly has a lot to share.   

He talks about enjoying studying and learning…whether about business or political events.  While in the past, he could use that information in formulating strategy, today, it’s the information and analysis that give him that happiness jolt.  

He’s still looking to do some consulting, based on a belief that “it’s a good thing to get paid for what you do…just gives some validation.”  While he admits that it takes a bit longer to reach people than it did in the past, he’s close enough to his prior life (1 ½ years out) so there is definitely the potential.

And then there’s the flexibility and fun stuff that’s so different from his fast-paced and pressure- cooker life.  “If I want to binge watch a new Netflix series, I can do that!!” he grins…almost like a child who actually did reach the cookies in that jar on the shelf…and guess what…”It’s fun.”

So..John is definitely on a path as he moves on to the next chapter.  And it made me ponder whether if Plato were alive today he’d change his famous quote to: “An unexamined RETIREMENT is not worth living.”  Certainly John’s life exemplifies that!  

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  • Jessica says:

    I like this one, too! Once again, something I can relate to, even if I’m not remotely in these shoes. Thank you, big CEO, for sharing your experience.

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