I was speaking to a client who recently retired as a senior executive in a well-known global telecommunication company. We have become friends over the years of working together and he was sharing with me his initial experience of retired life, and what he had learned so far about how to have a successful retirement.
One of the things he pointed to was that in order to have a successful retirement, we need to be able to disassociate ourselves from our past professional title, status and position. While this is certainly true for executives, I believe it is relevant for everyone.
After our conversation, I was thinking to myself that doing this might be easier said than done.
First Story: At the age of eighteen, I was drafted for my army service. I spent the first four months in intense basic training. In our platoon, there was a clear hierarchy and pecking order. The Sargent was feared, the Second Lieutenant, our direct officer, was admired and the Captain, head of our company, was revered.
After almost five years of service, I retired from the military service as a captain and continued on to my professional life. Four years later, I was a successful consultant in an international training company.
One day as I was entering an office building on my way to a client engagement, I bumped into my ex-Captain from my basic training.
My heart skipped a beat. Even though I was a successful twenty-seven-year-old married consultant, in an instant, I was transferred in time. And for an instant, I was transformed into an eighteen-year-old apprehensive private in awe of his God-like Captain figure.
Thank God I snapped out of it in time to be able to reminisce with the man who was standing before me as a full grown adult.
Second Story: I was employed by an international training and consulting company for fifteen years. It was my first job in life and just like in the army, I rose through the ranks very rapidly, progressing from a junior position and title to a senior executive position and title. At the height of my employment, I felt at the top of the world. I was highly regarded by the CEO and all the senior executives of the company and I was often invited to participate in company-wide events.
But, one day I decided to move on. It was a tough decision as my entire identity was associated with this enterprise. I lived the first fifteen years of my professional life in that company. I became who I was in that company.
I left the company and found myself in an identity crisis. I was questioning: “Am I really successful and great or was it just inside that company?”
Thankfully, the story has a great continuation. Fast-forward seventeen years; I have become a successful business owner consultant.
Our identity often does seem to be wrapped up in our professional and social title and status, as well as what comes with it.
In today’s world being a “celebrity” or “VIP” means something. People generally seem to be much more in need of external validation. Title and status make us feel more important. It increases our self-worth.
I travel a lot so every year I want to reach the highest frequent flyer status, as well as the highest status in certain hotel chains that I like. Yes, it’s because of the added perks and convenience, as well as the special attention I get when I fly and/or walk into a hotel. However, if I have, to be honest, it also strokes my ego and makes me feel more special. It is part of what shapes my identity.
In conversations with colleagues and executives the question of “how many miles have you flown this year?” or “what status are you in this hotel or airline?” comes up a lot.
Even though some people say “title and status don’t matter,” In most corporate environments, formal and informal title and status are very relevant. People tend to bring the topic up when they feel insecure or when they feel others are not giving them the respect their title and status entitles them. But, the self-consciousness around title and status seems to always be on alert.
I mention the military and corporate America environment because these are two sizable environments that have a great deal of impact on people’s identity.
I have had the opportunity to coach high-ranking officers in their transition from long military careers to civilian life. In many cases, this was a challenging transition from an identity standpoint.
So, when my retired client and friend shared his insight with me, it made me think about my own identity and how easy or hard it will be for me to disassociate myself from my past professional title, status and position when the time comes.
I guess that is why we often have to remind and encourage each other that “There is life after whatever we are doing today.”