PROFILE: FROM FULL TIME TO RETIREMENT….AKA FULL TIME AND NOT PAID

If you heard a business person use these words, what would you think?    “Passion about what I do, setting and achieving goals, seeking new challenges, mentoring and coaching, creating new structures, putting pressure on myself to achieve more.”  Right, you’d think that’s just how people with careers they love talk about their work.  Well in Grace’s case, these are the words she uses to describe her RETIREMENT CAREER!

By way of career background, she never set out to be a banker, but fell into it and then thrived.  She moved up the ladder of a local bank and survived a number of mergers until one last acquisition by a foreign bank.  Not uncharacteristically, they assigned coveted jobs to their own staff, while quashing the jobs of highly paid career employees in the acquired company.  Undaunted by she leveraged her non-profit banking experience and contacts to take on a senior development job at the State Community Foundation.   Several years into this, she spent an agonizing 6 months analyzing whether to retire.  Bottom line, there were parts of the job that just weren’t satisfying and she decided to move on to Retirement.

One of the very early…and still lingering biggest difficulties Grace faced as she moved out of the working world was accepting the word “retirement”.  In her world view, THAT word applied to someone else—not her!  When your identity has been tied up in your career, who are you when the words “here’s what I do” no longer define you?  Definitely, she was not about to lose her identity to the lack of a title or job description.  

Logistically, she retired (ok I can use that word even if she won’t) at the beginning of the summer…and even she would give a very definite shout out for retiring in the summer.   After a life of living indoors in offices and in restaurants entertaining clients and prospects, all she wanted to do was be outside.  She went through a litany of blissful activities which had been sorely neglected during her long and time-consuming career– gardening, building a patio and her first love—boating.  And then, as fall rolled around, the Non-Profit Board offers started rolling in and a new retirement skill was required:  SCREENING!   Given her broad-based non-profit banking background,  she was sought after.

To sort through the offers, she developed very specific screening criteria for evaluating not-for profit offers:  

  • She needed to like the people…adding that since work wasn’t forcing her into this, then she’d better want to be around the folks she’d be working with
  • If there wasn’t something new to learn, then why bother?
  • The ability to actually make a contribution—she wanted to be sure that her experience could provide some real benefit to the organization
  • Stay away from organizations you don’t respect or those without a top-notch brand
  • And… of course, she had to really care about the mission.    

Two years into retirement, she sits on 4 Boards, is chairman of 1 and just turned down chairing one other.    And I would add that these are all serious commitments and not resume padding.  She’s fully “invested” in each responsibility.   In addition, she loves handicrafts and takes a bunch of classes.   

We agreed that really, it is totally inaccurate to categorize her as retired.  She’s just working hard and not getting paid. “And that’s definitely OK”, she adds.  Putting a wonderful spin on this part of her life, she quoted the husband of a colleague who talked about his retirement:  I AM NOT RETIRED. I AM JUST SELF DIRECTED.”    

Taking a step back, she confesses that her life has TOO MANY OBLIGATIONS—she’s gotta slow down.  On the other side, she still defines herself by “what she does”: her “retirement” work is still “Who she is.”  I mean how many people working full time or not have the bragging rights to 800—yes, I said 800 — active LinkedIn contacts with whom she is still in touch, even though she isn’t in her old job…and has moved on to that second not paid career!!! In other words, Grace was…and is still–defined by her career.  She is definitely someone who continues to set goals, define her objectives and figures out how to achieve them—whether working or in retirement.  And she’s not about to change now that she doesn’t have a W-2.  Looking at her from that 5000 foot overview, I’d say that she has successfully morphed her Retirement into the role that works for her.

But it isn’t nirvana, she adds.  This whole retirement “thing” is a process and not an end game, she notes.  Here’s the negatives:

  • There’s just no structure, she admits.  “I was so used to structure and now I have to build it in and that’s a problem, because actually you end up having no boundaries on your work time.” And don’t laugh at this one…because it’s the truth…. that led us into a discussion of using laundry day to add structure to your life…and this from a real Type A driven goal oriented person!   
  • Finally, she admitted that she really did need to give herself a little more of a break.  When you’re working, you tend to take the weekends off and some evenings.  In her current life, there’s little break, because there’s always something that needs to be done for someone.  Admittedly, many people retire in order to be able to take long breathers…like a two week break.   “Have you?”   I ask…”NOPE!”  She does give herself a pat on the back in the “break department” for not scheduling early morning meetings!  She calls this “an accommodation to myself”.  And that admission makes me think of the dieter who “brags” that she’s not depriving herself because she gives herself the “treat” of one lonely  spoonful of ice cream a week!  
  • While many people include house clean up on their bucket list, she confesses that her house is messier that it was when she worked!  With involvement in 6 different organizations and a full commitment to each, there are files everywhere.   Why not hire an organizer? I ask.  “Who has time to do that?” she quips.  
  • Lastly, she admits that she is still searching for that “passion” in this new life.

And so we agree that even two years in, Retirement is still a TRANSITION PROCESS.  And she is moving along in it…adjusting, re-thinking and still pursuing.   She typifies Ben Franklin’s comment that “When you’re finished changing…You’re finished.”  And Grace is clearly very happy.  But she’s surely not even close to FINISHED.  

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