Many years ago I sat at the kitchen table of the older woman who boarded my dog for me while I tried to figure my life out. She lived out in the country; I lived in a city apartment (no dogs allowed). She was easy to talk to and I often found myself using her as a sounding board for the intense emotions the 20-something me struggled to understand and conquer.
I remember confiding in her about my fears when I became pregnant. I wasn’t sure we were ready for a child, or how we’d manage the extra expenses and responsibilities of parenthood. Maybe it wasn’t time yet, I told her.
“It’s never the right time to have a child,” she told me. “Just give up that fantasy right away, if you want to be a parent. You have a child and you make it work, somehow. It takes a leap of faith but once you take it, you’ll find that you’ll be able to manage just fine.”
She was right.
Life is a series of such leaps of faith, and most of us experience several in our lifetimes. Leaving my longtime corporate career was another memorable one for me.
Corporate downsizing had been a way of life at my company for several years by 2008, but when it happened to me, I was still blindsided. The meeting about a department reorganization became an announcement about a 10% staff reduction. Anyone over age 50 was eligible, but only a few were encouraged to stay.
I wasn’t among them. In a relatively short time, I decided to accept the generous buyout, and settled into the long incubation period leading up to my departure. I remember feeling invisible: still present but no longer a vital part of the organization I’d worked in for so many years. Long-range planning for the newly-configured department excluded those of us who were leaving; new bonds formed among those who were staying, as their ties to the rest of us began to loosen.
I had over a year to stew over questions like: Will I have enough money in retirement to last the rest of my life? What kind of work do I want to do next? Will anyone want to hire someone my age? How do I build new meaning and purpose when I walk away from the career that’s sustained me – financially and emotionally – for so many years?
Once I’d left, new issues and concerns joined the ones I was still grappling with. Everyone recommended I take a few months to decompress, but on the day I officially retired, I got two job offers. I didn’t feel like I could say “no” to either, so I accepted both.
That was nearly 7 years ago. Long enough to say that while I don’t regret my choice, I see how it set back my transition. Instead of taking the time I needed to decompress from one life before beginning another, I jumped right back in. It’s like dating too early after a divorce: you forestall the pain of recovery so that when it all falls apart (again), the unresolved pain returns with a vengeance.
Some 6 months into my freelance career, I crashed. I spent the summer doing the minimal amount of work required to satisfy my client’s requirements and hours in mindless pursuits like watching television.
I spent exactly zero time thinking about the future of my post-corporate career.
But I also pursued an important long-range goal: a major reconstruction of my home. For 4 months, the first floor was a complete shambles, but the end result was a place I’d want to spend a lot of time in. This mattered a lot to me since my home was now my office as well.
I also established a more disciplined exercise program and joined a new gym close to my house. Some months later I had one of those “aha!” moments when I realized I was organizing my work life around my exercise routine. I figured this was a good indication that I’d finally reached “there” – the other side of my transition.
I was wrong, though. Habits of a working lifetime don’t go away overnight. It takes time to reprogram yourself from one way of life to another. A year and a half into my “second” life, I was overcome by feelings of intense loneliness and longing for the workplace I was no longer connected to. I didn’t know that I was going through the normal stages everyone cycles through in my situation, and that it isn’t always a linear process.
Fast-forward to today. I’m busier than I’ve been in years, doing work I love and am uniquely qualified for – much of it for my former employer. On a daily basis, I’m faced with the differences between working there as an employee and working there as a contractor. The “me” of 7 years ago would have found this painful; those connective tissues took a long time to dissolve.
But now? I’m very clear about my purpose and expiration date.
Don’t get me wrong: I love being engaged again with some of the smartest and most talented people in the world. But when I log off my work computer at night, I leave that world behind. There are no buzzing mobile phones demanding my attention; no conflicting priorities fighting for my attention. There’s just me, with enough time to create the very best work I’m capable of while still having enough time for other important priorities in my life.
I’ve come to like that place.
Over the next several months, my former employer will shed a lot of jobs. Many of the people leaving will be where I was 7 years ago: anxious and uncertain about the future. Here are a few resources I’ve found along my journey that might be useful to them, and anyone else who finds themselves in the same place:
- 60 and over? Attend college for free. Here are the programs available at institutions around Ohio; this article lists other states that offer such programs. Speaking of which…
- NowU.com – a service of Gannett. Just go ahead and register when you first reach the site; otherwise they’ll bug you to death until you’ve finished reading the three articles allotted to non-registrants. NowU attempts to be a one-stop shop for all things retirement, and you’re bound to find something of interest there.
- Next Avenue, a service of PBS. Like NowU, Next Avenue is organized in buckets and provides a number of ways to connect (including Facebook and Twitter).
- I’m a huge fan of Pam Slim’s. Second Lifers will find her new book, Body of Work, especially relevant. I love her blog posts, too.
- Encore.org aims to connect Second Lifers with opportunities to make a difference in the nonprofit sector.
- YourEncore offers excellent in-person networking opportunities for people in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Princeton NJ. They also offer challenging and well-compensated employment for people with the qualifications they’re seeking for client projects or as part of end-to-end solutions teams. YourEncore serves many of the major companies in the consumer, food and life sciences sectors.