I had an interesting conversation with a friend who retired about 18 months ago. It centred on the difference between needing to work versus wanting to work.
Mark was only 54 when circumstances forced him out of his position. Given the professional demands he had faced he decided to take a six month break to travel and reconnect with his family and life. He commented to me that he didn’t even think about work during this six month period, but had a general expectation that something would come up and he would return to his old professional life.
Not that he needed to go back to work for financial reasons. Mark had accumulated more than enough to ensure he and his family shouldn’t ever have to worry about money again.
The problem was that he felt like he should be working, even though he didn’t actually want to go back to his old profession.
The need to work was not a financial one, but work had provided significant value to him beyond the financial rewards. It had provided him with a sense of identity and purpose. He commented that one of the strangest and most confronting experiences was being introduced to someone at a dinner party who asked him the usual question of ‘so, what do you do?’, and when he responded that he was retired the conversation quickly flagged and the person couldn’t wait to find someone else more interesting to talk to. Now while this individual might have been excessively venal or material and just looking for a potential business contact, it highlights that retirement as a description focusses on what you are no longer doing (i.e. working in your chosen profession) rather than what you are now doing.
For Mark, this highlighted his need to find something that would provide meaning to his life that work had previously provided him. It was something that he struggled with for six to twelve months. His professional success had provided him with significant experiences such as managing people and businesses, and his initial thoughts were to take this and apply it in boardroom roles within not for profit organisations. But after a lifetime of this he wanted to experience the impact of his labours more closely. This led him to work at the coalface of two different charities, and work directly with the people they try to help.
Now if he is asked what he does, he doesn’t mention what he used to do but talks passionately about the work being done by the two charities he is involved in and the way they are able to assist vulnerable people.
Everyone knows what they are retiring from but do you know what you are retiring to?
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