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29. November 2018

Your Best Days Are Not Over

by Mark Linsz, Co-Founder & Senior Managing Partner

When I retired from Bank of America, a question kept nagging at me: “Are my best days behind me?” At the time, I was almost embarrassed to acknowledge the thought, let alone put voice to it. But I have since learned that it’s a question that runs through the minds of most senior-level folks walking through retirement transition.

Big corporate jobs are generally demanding and stressful, but they come with many perks: invitations and access, trips all over the globe, and feelings of validation and affiliation. You are a magnet, and there is much metal around you. When you retire, there is a severing that happens; you lose the gravitational pull from others, and perks go away. Part of you mourns those losses.

A helpful framing for me around this was the 2014 Gallup poll regarding the relationship between identity and work. The study revealed that more than half of U.S. workers derive a “sense of identity” from their jobs. I could sure relate! Our job, career, achievements, work relationships, and honed skill sets are all central to how we define ourselves. It’s the thing we lead with at cocktail parties and when we meet new people: “What do you do?” “I am [fill in the blank] at [company].” Retirement creates an instant gap in conversations like that and perhaps, even more painfully, it creates a gap in our own understanding . . . Who am I now that I’m not that anymore? Do I still have the ability to get things done, to make a difference? Does anyone even care?

As the Co-Founder of My Next Season and in my role as an Advisor supporting clients, I see this pattern over and over again. Clients have a sense that they’ve had a great career but now it’s all done. Their best days are over. When I recently met with a senior executive who is in the middle of his retirement transition, I encouraged him, saying that he has many years of impact ahead; he responded, a little skeptically, “I just hope you’re right.” I could hear the fear and forlorn feeling in his voice—and I could relate.

It’s hard to believe this notion in the early days of “retirement” when you are still adapting to the shape and rhythm of a new season in life. It’s hard to see the horizon when you’re climbing a steep hill. It took me a few months, and it’s taken about the same for almost everyone with whom I’ve worked. Once you are past the initial weeks and months, you begin to see the opportunities stretched out before you.

Here’s my best thinking on how to achieve forward momentum toward your best days:

  • Ask the right questions. You might start with, “Are my best days behind me?” but move to more positive questions like, “What do I love doing?” or “What’s going to inspire the people around me?” and “What’s going to have a lasting impact?”

  • Tap into your relationships. Surround yourself with people who care about you and who will be honest with you. You will need to bounce your concerns and ideas off of someone, whether it’s your spouse, a close friend, or a trusted mentor. If you’re worried that your days of impact and influence are over, find someone you can talk to about it. It will be a source of encouragement and maybe even a help in brainstorming what you might like to do next.

  • Trust your skills. The skills you’ve accumulated over the course of your career won’t be wasted in your next season. One of the boards I serve on is comprised mainly of academics. At first, I felt like an outlier, but I soon realized my skill set is tremendously valuable to this board. I have been able to help them leverage their platform, both on the financial side and on the practical side of managing a global team. Your skills will translate to the companies and organizations you choose to engage with in your retirement.

  • Try things. Very simply: try something! Don’t sit back and wait for the “perfect opportunity” or a sudden dose of passion for a cause or industry—try something, and if it’s a good fit, the passion will follow. If you want to make a difference, start by looking for where the need is. Who could benefit from your skill set and experience? Then offer your help, and see what happens.

Now that I am happily settled into a new season with the firm I co-founded, I have the perspective and the experience to know that my best days are not behind me. I am now able to focus on the things I’m passionate about in ways that I simply didn’t have time for when I was immersed in my high-pressure corporate job. I’m seeing the fruit of my efforts with my new company, with the companies and non-profit organizations I advise, and with my family. I’m able to invest in people and causes I care about in ways that will leave a lasting impression.

One set of perks has been replaced by others that include time and choicefulness. I now have time for family, personal interests, working out, and the chance to give my energy toward things I care about. I have never been happier.

It might be hard to see right now, but your influence and impact can be exponentially bigger in your next season after retirement. You’re stepping away from something that was rewarding in many ways, but you’re also stepping forward into a future that can bring even more fulfillment and joy—if you allow yourself to live into it fully.

Your best days are still ahead. Trust me.

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