Are you thinking about “retirement”? Or maybe your employer is suggesting or even requiring that you take “early retirement” or accept a “package”. In addition to the financial questions, such as “Do I have enough?” are you asking yourself “what will I do with myself if I don’t work?” Or maybe you have many ideas for all your time. Let me share some of my experience.
In 1996 I had plans to retire early, within the next year, was my plan. But some high level cost cutting decisions led to an offer for “early retirement” before I was quite ready. My preparation was to complete projects , delegate or re-assign work and say good-bye. Then suddenly I was no longer employed! I had simple visions of what I would do with all my “free time”… read, visit friends, work in my garden, set up my consulting practice and catch up on postponed house projects. After a few weeks, I realized that I had made little headway on any of those things and not accomplished anything else either. I felt listless and un-motivated. I was wandering around blindfolded with no destination in mind.
With some self-reflection, I realized that continuing with my professional work gave me meaning and purpose. It was part of my contribution “to make the world a little better”, as my father used to admonish me. But I didn’t want to work at the pace or with the stress that had surrounded me in my corporate employment. I still wanted time to garden, read, volunteer, visit friends and enjoy my personal life. Gradually my purpose and my goals for this stage of my life began to form. But I found this early formation wasn’t enough; I was still wandering despite being clear about my destination. I had relied on the schedule of my employment to structure my days; now I had no structure. I was accountable to my boss, my staff and my internal clients; now I had no accountability. I needed to give myself more structure and find a way to be accountable.
In the thirteen years since I became unemployed, I have been clear about my purpose and my goals; provided my own structure to my days and accountability for my results; and brought in needed additional income with my consulting practice. But I have also gotten trapped by a couple of the risks that Bill Sadler and Jim Krefft identify in their book “Changing Course”, “To Do ism” and “Second Age Addictions”. The “to do list” which keeps us so organized amidst the driving tasks and multiple plans of family, career and personal life during our second act, became my accountability record in my third act. My “to do list” included items to be accomplished or addressed from my consulting practice, my volunteer life and my personal life. Getting things done when I had laid them out in my plans became so important that I became worried and anxious when I did not complete my “to do list” for the day or the week. When I realized what I was doing and how I was tying myself in knots, I had to laugh–I was creating my own stressful environment!
I also transferred addictions or habits from my second act into my third. I enjoyed the professional recognition and acknowledgement that came with leadership in professional organizations, publishing, and speaking so much that I found myself clinging to my professional identity. If I no longer had my professional identity, who was I? Wow, when that question surfaced in my mind, I was stopped short! Had I become so invested in my professional life that I literally didn’t know who I was outside of that identity? As I explored this issue, I realized I was accepting work that I no longer wanted to do to reinforce this addiction.
In the last few years, I have loosened up on my accountability. I let go of many professional activities, consulting and memberships and I carved out more time for meditation, exercise and visits with friends. “Being” is much more important than all the “doing”. I continue to have my purpose and my goals as my guiding star but I realize that it doesn’t all have to be done today, this week or even this month! Having a sense of fulfillment is much more important than a sense of accomplishment. Sadler and Krefft point out one of the tasks of this stage of our lives is to craft a new identity based on paradox, to have both/and. For me the both/and is to continue making a professional contribution through coaching and The 3rd Act Workshops, to volunteer and use my skills and experience in my community and to be and enjoy time with my family and my friends. I am a professional, a volunteer, a partner, a Grandma and a friend.
 Bill and Jim use the terms “second age” and “third age” where we use the terms “second act” and “third act”