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.  

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WHO WILL INHERIT MY ORANGE SALAD BOWL???

If you happen to be in the underground Rockefeller Center walkways any weekday between 12 and 2, you’ll see a long line of people snaking down the corridor waiting patiently to snag their healthy, fresh and tasty lunch from JUST SALAD.  Furthermore, you’ll see about half the people with their pre-purchased bright orange, green or white heavy plastic bowls which both help the environment (because you don’t use a new one every time) and make your salad tastier and bigger (because you get not one, but TWO free ingredients in your salad.)

While working, I go to JUST SALAD about three times a week and truly look forward to my “Thai Chicken Crunch with no wontons  and apples instead of wontons, please and chop it into the orange bowl.”  As I am writing this, I know that JUST SALAD withdrawal symptoms are going to set in EIGHT DAYS FROM NOW when I join the ranks of the not-working class and can’t walk downstairs to get my delectable lunch.  

And that thought lead me to think about all the other similarly “not-life-altering-things” that will change on Retirement Day—

 

  •  I will never again answer the phone saying “Susan Leader” in that monotone professional voice.  I get to say..Hello..or Hi fill-in-the-blank

  •  I won’t have business cards to introduce myself and make people remember me.  Thank heavens we now have smart phones to exchange contact information without that piece of paper.

  •  Those key cards that get me into the building?  GONE.  If I come to visit friends, I’ll have to get registered with security and then suffer the indignity of waiting in that endless line downstairs in the building I once called home.

  • I won’t have to wear all those business suits any more…and guess what’s even better–someone else who needs them is more than welcome to them.   Hello Dress for Success–a truck load of 20 years of suits and blazers is coming your way!!  I wish the new recipient as much success in them as I had.

  • Anyone who emails me at my prior business address will assume that I have disappeared off the face of the earth…along with that email address which will cease to exist.

  • To add insult to injury, my W-2 information will be lost to me forever.  It stays here, while I go elsewhere.

  • My iphone will be considerably easier to operate when I get rid of that Compliance-mandated MobileIron security app with the 6 digit password and other complications.

  • If I haven’t collected all my flex spend dollars, they too will go up in smoke.  (Stop writing and submit those forms NOW)

  • I’ll have to give up my beloved Outlook and use not-so-user friendly GMAIL instead.   Seriously, Google, can’t you figure out how to create archives????

  • I WILL have time to clean out my closets and drawers…which frankly look like they haven’t been cleaned in five years.  (Oh wait… it’s actually more like 7 years)  Who had the time or inclination to do that?

  • I WILL save so much money in airplane and train tickets because I’ll be able to plan personal travel at the “cheap times”.  And then of course, I will eat up those savings in scheduling more flights and trains..so it will be a wash.

  • I WILL and have planned a lot of trips.  Admittedly, paying for them is another matter, but I will deal with that question later

  • Etc…etc…Etc….

 

The very very excellent news for me, personally, is that I am TOTALLY and FULLY OK with all of this.  You remember the denial period that I talked about, which was followed by the acceptance mode.  (With apologies to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross because this is clearly not death-like).  But her stages of grief do provide a good construct.  Anyway, with those 8 days to go, I am so ready to go over to the Dark side.  It’s sort of like the days before your first child goes away to college—by the time the day comes, you’ve been so busy obsessing about it that you’re just ready to give up the obsession and the fact of your child leaving home is sort of secondary.  

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PROFILE: THE QUASI-RETIREE WHO COMBINES THE BEST OF RETIREMENT AND WORKING

If Column A was to continue your stressful, travel-filled, more-than-full-time job and Column B was a 2-3 day a week law practice at a firm where your name was still on the door and you could earn enough money to pay both your AMEX bill and for some expensive hobbies…I’ll bet many of you would pick Column B.

And that’s exactly what Andrew did. He had built a very successful practice specializing in insurance law. Starting with nothing but his law degree, he put up his shingle before he was 30 and 25 years later, the business had mushroomed. He had brought in two partners, 30 lawyers and the firm was a magnet for insurance-related business, both domestically and in London. And it was Andrew who had made that happen. Fortunately for him, he was building this business before this business niche became incredibly competitive, with fee cutting and fee-auditing processes the name of the game—a whole new profit-squeeze environment.

And then at age 58, he had health issues. After open heart surgery, Andrew said he didn’t have the desire, drive or energy to continue that singular devotion to growing the business any more. Facing his own mortality, he didn’t want to kill himself working—“It was great while I was healthy…but not when you have to face the fact that your days might be limited.” At the same time, he admitted, the business itself had changed dramatically and the profitability of all firms had suffered. “In a sense,” he admits, “if I was going to get sick, my illness happened at the right time.” What that meant, he continued was that “it was anything but a pleasant time for the industry, my firm…and for me.”

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And Dr. Freud asks:  How does it feel? The six months before I retired……

Retirement Whatever That Is, Susan Leader, One Baby Boomer’s Guide to Retirement

Honestly, I’ve been acting really strangely over the past six months, I say to the bearded Doctor in the chair. “Tell me about your symptoms,” he asks with a kindly smile…And here’s what I would have answered…if I had been on that couch talking to him.

First of all, I’m usually an amazing sleeper. In fact, that’s probably my greatest skill set. And yet, I now wake up at 3 in the morning, stare at the ceiling for a while pondering everything and nothing…and then maybe go back to sleep, or maybe not. That’s just not me and even I know that it has to do with this looming TRANSITION. I mean…next to having your first child, which changes your life forever, this has to be one of life’s most jolting moments. Accept that, my dear, says the Good Doctor, and maybe you’ll go back to your old sleeping habits.

But if you add to that the extra glass of wine that I drink every day….even when dining alone…..is that a problem, I ask? And then I say…well maybe this is all due to Trump-alaise (short for Trump malaise). I mean…I’m in good company with this sleeping/drinking disorder, right? And then I realize that I had this before November 8th…so this is one thing I can’t blame on our new President. And the Doctor assures me that this too will pass…to which I respond, it had better!

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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!!!

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THE BIG YELLOW BRICK ROAD TO OZ…AKA RETIREMENT

THE BIG YELLOW BRICK ROAD TO OZ…AKA RETIREMENT, Retirement Whatever That Is

Let’s just start with the statement that the path from the decision to retire to actually doing it is a really squiggly path and hardly a straight line.  Why?  I’m not sure.  That’s just the way the Retirement Gods plan these things…or at least how they did it for me.  

When I signed away my old life six months before Retirement Day, I was so flummoxed that I actually signed the papers with the wrong year!!!  Hmmmm…quite a Freudian slip for someone who prides herself on attention to detail.   And further proof of my sadly erratic behavior was this visual:  I literally threw the papers across someone’s desk in a rather rude manner…and I’m a pretty polite person.  (I mean I’m from Rhode Island…..and New Englanders tend not to be like pushy New Yorkers.)   

Going forward from there, my behavior continued to be pretty erratic, I’d say if I were watching from the outside.  The best way to describe it?  Classic denial.  Sort of like when you see that bunion on your foot and it absolutely kills you when you put on those spikey heels and you adamantly claim that there’s no bunion and it doesn’t hurt and you come home and have to soak your feet for two hours—and they still hurt!  So, I just went about my merry way at work, didn’t tell anyone or talk about my decision and just did what I always do:  I continued in my goody-two-shoes behavior and was my normal good corporate-citizen self.  I mean, if I behaved like I would be working forever, then perhaps I hadn’t actually made that decision, right?  If I didn’t talk about it, then maybe the decision was lodged in some alternative universe (in the same galaxy as alternative facts) and not in my world?  And if I behaved normally, then maybe the Gods would intervene to change things…or maybe lightening would destroy the docs and it would all be a bad dream?  

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PROFILE: THE “FORMERLY FAMOUS” DESIGNER—WHO GIVES HERSELF AN A—AND CAN SLOW DOWN

I’m not sure about all the men reading this…but most of the career women will know—all too well—that dreaded illness: The Imposter Syndrome!!!  And trust me, if you don’t know it, you are very very lucky indeed.

I never asked Carol whether she suffered from it, but I am 99.9% certain, she wouldn’t even know the term.  And I say that with a tremendous amount of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Acting as an amateur shrink here (with absolutely no credentials at all…), I would say that this single fact is one of the key reasons that she’s been able to move from that uber-high-powered A-List Designer job to a very comfortable and happy sort-of-retired person.  Admittedly, you do have to add in the fact that she hasn’t totally “retired.”  She’s still able to take on a few projects and have a toe…or a foot…or, if she wanted it…a leg in the door.  “Design will always be part of my life” she says forcefully.

She summarized her current state of mind so beautifully: “There comes a time in your life when you can actually say to yourself that–“I am f-ing good at what I do. With all the holes that I climbed out of in my life, I really accomplished IT.  I feel like Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat up in the air and saying…’I made it after all.’”  “That self respect,” she summarizes, “allowed me to accept retirement.”  And as I listened, I sat back and applauded that she could actually give herself that often elusive “A”.  As she talked on, I thought of something she said during our conversation about why she was so frequently featured in all the decorating magazines– “I gave good quote.”   

Carol didn’t start out life wanting to be a designer.   I mean…if you were a woman graduating college in the late 60s, many people substituted the word BA …with an M-R-S.  There was a belief that College was a way to get a husband. She didn’t just do that.  She had a child as well.  Stifled in that role, she found her calling at design school.

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THERE ARE “8 MILLION STORIES IN THE NAKED CITY”

OK boomers…you all remember that quote from that iconic TV show The Naked City, right?  Well, according to the 2014 Census, there are 76.4 million baby boomers.  And each of them has a story, right?    And each of them at some point will be thinking about… has thought about …or has actually “done” retirement. The stories and the actions are as diverse as their backgrounds, I imagine.

I’ll bet you know where I’m going with this.  Where I’m going can be summarized in the true tag line from the Naked City: “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City: This has been one of them.”  So, my retirement saga that I’ve been telling on this blog is just “one of them.”  Granted, mine is an interesting tale, (especially to me), but there are many many many stories out there and many more exciting, deep and noteworthy than mine. 

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TO RETIRE OR NOT TO RETIRE—THAT IS THE QUESTION

PART TWO:  THE RETIREMENT NEGATIVES—REASONS TO STAY AT WORK

Let’s be totally honest:  who am I if I don’t have that business card and that work identity?  I can’t remember a time when I was ever “just plain me”—without some title or responsibility attached to my name.  Candidly, it was always a point of honor for me to differentiate myself with my work persona.  And those trappings make me feel proud, accomplished and capable.   The thought of being that sort of random person walking the streets at 10 am NOT wearing a business suit is pretty terrifying.  That business suit says something…and something very positive about a person. Without it, who in heavens name am I?  Uh-oh…I’ve never been a “no one” and I am not sure that I should start now.  Work is sort of like a hard-shelled cocoon which gives you this wonderful protection of invincibility and identity and ego satisfaction.  Can I survive without that shield?????  

Related to that is the fact that when you work, you always have the chance to rack up another A.  Let’s face it…I have lived a life looking for the next A, the next good housekeeping seal of approval, the next affirmation that I’m good at what I do.  What will I do without that?  Is my own self esteem at this stage of my life big enough to withstand no more pats on the back for doing a good job?  I mean…I’m a heat seeking missile for approval…and what happens without it?  Honestly, I just don’t know and I cross my fingers that I won’t feel worthless and undeserving.  The fear of that could make one re-consider this decision, that’s for sure.  

For all its negatives, one of work’s biggest positives is that you’re being challenged all the time—in new ways. If you’ve spent your whole life seeking to conquer new territory in some shape or form, what happens when life is flat…without a mountain to climb?  I don’t know.  And conversely, if I wanted to, could I identify a new mountain?  Or not?  I mean, Thomas Friedman may think that “the world is flat” is a positive.  For my life…I’m not so sure.   

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TO RETIRE OR NOT TO RETIRE: THAT IS THE QUESTION

PART ONE:  THE RETIREMENT PLUSSES—LEAVE NOW!

Family First— I am a lucky lucky lady with two wonderful daughters and spouses and FOUR grandkids, who are young enough to still believe that I walk on water.  Now that is pretty awesome stuff.  And while working, when I go to see them all in Washington DC, I arrive on Friday at 6 PM and then wake up at the crack of dawn on Monday morning so that I can take the 6 AM ACELA and can get to work in NYC by a little after 9.  Pretty insane.  Instead, what about being there during the week and picking them up at school or taking them out to some fun activity on school days off?  Am I an imbecile for not being there as much as possible during this incredibly wonderful time of their lives?  And furthermore, I do know that this blissful period doesn’t last forever—blink and you miss all the good stuff….and I’m sorry but doing that would be a cardinal sin.   Let’s get real!
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