Consider “No” an Important Early Step in Retirement
by Richard Downen, My Next Season Advisor
A client recently told me they were having buyer’s remorse about a project they had agreed to when asked by a friend. It was shortly after retiring when a friend suggested that, since they now had plenty of time on their hands, they could help with a project at the friend’s business. My client confided in me, “Why did I say yes to that? The next morning, I already regretted it. I am less than two weeks out from having retired from work, and already I’ve lost control of my calendar.”
Throughout our careers, we are trained to say “yes” to opportunities, responsibilities, challenges, and relocations. Do what is asked of you. Get the job done and be rewarded for it. This pattern repeats itself year after year. Agreeing to requests becomes a reflexive, corporately-reinforced response.
Fast forward to now, and you have this equation:
stress arising from retirement transition “availability” + lack of clarity on “what will I do next?” + muscle memory of saying “yes” for so many years = saying “yes” prematurely to requests that come to you
Such requests you are perfectly capable of doing, but really don’t want to do. Net result: serious buyer’s remorse.
Saying “no” is a learned response—and one that is unfamiliar for seasoned executives. And when there isn’t a clear reason for saying “no,” our instinct is to simply say “yes.” This is where the remorse sets in.
As you step away from your successful career and step into a new season, it’s important to retrain yourself to be protective of your time and energy—which are both finite—even when you don’t have anything on the calendar. Saying “no” to a request maintains that optionality, which is so key—and so unfamiliar. But you can do it! So, how?
- Pause and Discern: We at My Next Season talk a lot about the importance of the “pause.” In those initial weeks and months following your retirement date, it’s critical to step back from the constant buzz of activity and productivity you’ve been in the middle of for decades. Now is a time unlike any other; you have the luxury of pausing and shaping what your next season could look like. This pause should be a time of curiosity, dreaming, and discovery. Protect your pause! Clients tell us one of the most valuable pieces of advice they received was understanding the importance of the pause and how to use it.
- Prioritize and Allocate: Your pause is a fantastic opportunity to set your priorities—and they will likely be different from what has driven you for the past many years. Many executives name their family as their #1 priority, but during their careers, their families probably didn’t get the lion’s share of their time or attention. If work was your biggest pull and you’ve been meaning for years to refocus on your relationships—or your health, or your hobbies, or something totally new—now is your chance! Think of your time as a pie chart; there are finite slices, and only you can determine how big of a slice to assign to each life category.
- Filter and Repeat: Once you’ve allocated your time, you can create a filter through which you can run all future opportunities and requests. You’ve already done the work of prioritizing and allocating your time in the pie chart exercise; use those answers as your personal filter or guideline, rather than agonizing over each opportunity that comes along. For example, if you have listed your top 3 priorities as spending more time with your grandchildren, continuing your learning, and giving back, and you would like to spend a large portion of your time on those priorities, then a request that doesn’t fit those parameters, or which would require your full-time attention, won’t pass through your filter.
- Say No and Move Forward: Don’t overthink it. If an opportunity or request for your time and energy doesn’t excite you—or fit the criteria you have identified in the above process—don’t wring your hands over what to do: Say no! One client told me, “I was asked to chair a committee in addition to the other board work I was doing, but I didn’t feel I had the time to devote to it. So I told them no—and no one got upset with me! They found someone else.” He said these words with a refreshing mix of surprise and relief. Don’t get hung up on disappointing others, letting them down, or hurting someone’s feelings. You’re not saying “no” to them as a person or idea; you’re not saying that their cause is bad or unworthy. You’re just saying that this particular opportunity doesn’t align with your current priorities, and there’s no reason to feel guilty about that.
Saying “no” when someone comes to you with a request for your time might be difficult at first. You will be undoing many years of the reflexive “yes” that likely spurred your career forward. Be assured that with time and repetition, you can retrain your brain to practice a new behavior.
There’s also a serendipity in turning down some opportunities: you will be freed to give an enthusiastic “yes!” to the roles, causes, or endeavors that really excite you! But if you don’t protect your time early on in your retirement, you run the risk of giving away all of your pie pieces.