A Pivotal Moment in a Major Life Transition
I experienced an awkward moment at a women’s event when someone asked for my business card. I had recently ended my 30-plus year career, didn’t have a current business card, and when asked what I did, I didn’t know quite how to answer.
Without my business card, I had no job title, company, address, or contact information. I felt invisible without my career identity.
I responded, “I recently retired.”
This answer often stops the conversation cold or elicits benign responses such as “must be nice”, or “oh, I could never retire”. Then the conversation quickly shifts. The better conversationalists ask a second question—- “so what are you doing now? Tell me more.”
We often define our self-worth by what we do, who we work for, and how much we earn, especially in Silicon Valley.
That became a pivotal moment for me. Such moments can arrive at any time we go through major life transitions or the realization that life is different and requires us to change course and redefine our lives.
For me, I began with the question: What now?
Challenged to find my own answers, I started a quest and used this post-career time as a (highly personal) research project. It became a journey where I was both the objective observer and active participant.
I created a list of the issues I was struggling with. Some were unique to post-career/retirement, others generalized to midlife and aging, as well as several uniquely personal issues.
Then together with my friend and colleague, Nancy Burns, we launched a survey on midlife issues to our networks of women—and received over 200 honest, personal and insightful responses. Interestingly, the top five issues in the survey included the same issues on the top of my list! I definitely was not alone in this.
Then…..I looked forward, did the work and have arrived in a new and happier place in my life.
Fast forward 5 years—I have researched, read, experienced, and learned. From others and from my own mistakes.
Mistakes Made: Lessons Learned
Here are three mistakes I made and what I learned. Hopefully, you’ll gain something from my experiences.
Mistake #1. I underestimated how many valued friends, colleagues, and social connections were solely connected to my career.
When my career ended, I no longer attended business networking meetings, consulting association conferences, women’s business organizations, or even local Chamber events. Although I didn’t consider these people close personal friends, they had been an important part of my professional life for decades and we’d shared so many experiences, conversations and business over those years. I missed the conversations, connections and social interactions. (Fortunately, several became good personal friends and part of my new life and community.)
Lesson Learned: I had to rebuild my community.
Take the initiative as soon as you can and get involved with non-career organizations, special interest groups, volunteer/non-profits, and social/fun groups. Especially if you’re an extrovert. Find groups that match the various interests you are exploring. Some will stick, many won’t, but that’s part of the exploration at this time of life. For starters, I found a writers’ group, a tennis team, and a monthly morning breakfast group offering engaging speakers with interesting women.
Mistake #2. I didn’t think I needed a calendar, routine or focus. I became nonproductive and had no sense of purpose.
No longer working, I became increasingly unproductive with no set schedule, no deadlines, no routines and nothing “important to do”. When I was a working mother with a career and raising two active sons, I was highly organized, productive and scheduled and knew what I had to do and especially “why”. With my sons grown adults and my career gone, I was adrift. Most of my good habits and time management skills eroded. I felt unmoored from a sense of purpose and wandered aimlessly for months.
Lesson Learned: I need a weekly routine and find new, important reasons to engage in life fully.
I need to find something that was bigger than me, challenging and to make a difference. Doing something of value for someone else, future generations, the world, my future self, or a higher good. I was seeking my North Star to help guide me and eventually I found it. This is a very personal journey for each of us, and we all need to find our North Star.
Mistake #3. Without a schedule, I dropped my habits of a good sleep, eating and drinking healthfully, and regular exercise. No surprise, my health, state of mind and energy suffered.
I gained weight, became less fit and flexible, had low energy, and just wasn’t happy.
In our survey, we learned that a major concern of midlife and older women is their health. We all worry about aging issues and lifestyle related diseases. I was not alone in recognizing healthier lifestyle habits are very important.
Lesson Learned: I need structure and routines and to make my health a priority each day. I appreciate the joy of the occasional open and unstructured day. Unfortunately for me, without the structure of routines and regularly scheduled activities, I floundered. I began by scheduling weekly tennis with friends, joined with other writers and began writing, joined a local running group, and took several classes. I enjoy these and several other activities. I met new people and am in great shape, physically and mentally.
I enjoy a renewed purpose, a happy, full life with future goals, cherished new and old relationships, and am engaged in many activities I enjoy.
This project of redesigning my life allowed me to the freedom to make mistakes, learn, and try new ideas, enjoy a variety of experiences, and meet dozens of fascinating people. I am engaged and energized with a renewed sense of purpose.
I love what I am learning, the experiences and conversations with women. I am developing my writing craft through blogging and writing courses and groups.
My intention is to share these ideas and experiences with others who, as they go through life-changing times, ask themselves, What now?