I recently attended a discussion group in which high-performing women nearing or at the end of their careers talked about how they wanted to continue with the rest of their lives. This group included CEOs of regional companies, executives from national and international companies, owners of multiple franchises, and professionals in the legal and educational fields – all had earned good incomes and had been successful in their chosen careers. Many had changed professions or careers or companies at least once before.
Yet we all struggled anew at this point in our lives:
- Who am I if I am not a high-performing professional in my field?
- What do I want the rest of my life to be about?
- How do I feel about leaving the working world behind?
- How will I challenge myself in future years? How will I learn and grow?
- What will others think of me when I am no longer powerful in my field?
I don’t think these questions are unique to professional women nearing retirement years. Men who are retiring face similar issues. Women (and men) who quit paying jobs to stay home with children must address these questions as well, as does anyone who switches careers mid-stream.
But what is unique to professional women is that the baby boomer women who are now retiring are the first generation of women who “made it” in large numbers. Across the nation, women may not have reached parity with men in numbers or income levels, but many, many women have had successful careers for the last thirty or forty years and are now leaving the workforce. These women – as much as their male colleagues – have defined themselves by their workplace roles. They have thought to themselves “I am what I do,” and family and friends and colleagues have seen them as what they do also.
As our group wrestled with questions such as how to decide what we want next in life, how to discuss our choices with spouse and family, how to tell friends and co-workers of our decisions, and even what to call ourselves in the next phase of life (“retiree” does not suit most of us), we came to the following conclusions:
- First and foremost, give yourself permission to shift focus. You are not what you do; you are much more than that. Only you can define who you are.
- Enlist the support of family and friends – your “tribe” who see you as what you are beyond your job. They can help you determine how to change your life to be more authentically you. Some might need a therapist or coach, if you don’t have personal support. Many have found their own wisdom through journaling.
- Find resources to aid in your transition. Among those resources should be financial planners, attorneys if you are selling a business and for estate planning, career advisors, family, doctors to assess health issues, elder care consultants if that is an issue for you, and training to prepare you for your next field of endeavor. You do not need to make this journey in a vacuum.
None of the women in my group questioned the wisdom of leaving the work world at this point in her life. We only questioned how to make the rest of our lives meaningful.
More power to us. We have much left to give.
What other resources would you use to assist in re-purposing your life?