Leading Yourself Through Transitions

This post is written by Jim Davis, a trusted colleague whom I have worked with for nearly ten years.  He draws from a wealth of unique experience and is passionate about inspiring people to be confident and authentic leaders. ~ Todd

I officially “retired” eleven months ago. “Retired” is in quotes because when you work for yourself, primarily as a freelance sub-contractor, as I had for 33 years, there can be long periods of time when one is not technically working. Those of you who are or have been in this situation might recognize the important distinction between hours and days for which you are receiving pay (working) and those hours and days…and days and days…when you are not! I mention this simply to note that I have long been familiar with free and unstructured time, something for which I am grateful.

However, when I got the call saying a final contract I was counting on to help me further delay the start of Social Security and the beginning of living off my retirement accounts was cancelled…well, that was a feeling of finality I had not previously experienced!

The transition from being a working person to being a retired person can hit pretty hard. Not me. My reaction immediately after that phone call was a kind of stunned panic- which lasted about 90 seconds. It took only that long for the realization to surface that I would be just fine anyway. I had other, easily available funds that would see me through. After that minute and a half…well…woo hoo!!!! I was ready.

One of my neighbors retired two months ago from a high level, five day a week job he’d held for 30 years. His was a more traditional retirement. He knew the date for months. His colleagues celebrated him as he left. Still, literally, one day he worked, the next not. It is taking him a lot longer than 90 seconds to get to “woo hoo”. He is a little lost, in a kind of limbo; in between and not yet being able to see the “next”. It’s painful.

Every life transition begins at “now” and proceeds toward some “next”. Sometimes it is our choice to make the change, sometimes not. Always, I believe, there is the possibility of stalling out in the “in between”. And, often to our surprise we lose momentum after we are already into the “next” thing!

How can you lead yourself from “now” to the “next”?

Whether or not you have chosen to transition, do an honest self-assessment: understand what is motivating the change; feel and honor ALL your emotions; remind yourself of your strengths (especially) and where you have gaps in your skills and attitudes; identify the people and resources available to support you “in between”; rest a bit before you charge ahead.

There are other, obvious considerations, such as have or make a plan, utilize your network, etc. All well and good, all necessary…but not sufficient in my mind. It is the unexpected and the unknowable that can most easily derail you. Embrace the unexpected! Be excited by not knowing! Enter the “next” with confident humility and patience.

It’s a beautiful Fall day as I write this. I’ll be getting on my bike for a ride in a bit. There are a few younger professionals who have asked me to coach them. I spend time giving back to an organization that has nourished and sustained me for years. My wife and I gather with good friends regularly, and we are trying to hike all 72 of Minnesota’s state parks…35 so far! Life is good. And, my eyes are wide open, because I have no idea what’s “next!”

How about you?