Shaping the career exit

This is another contribution by our guest author Christoph Henties, who is no stranger to loyal readers of the Thank you, Christoph!

Planning the next step

The End is My Beginning is the title of the autobiographical Spiegel bestseller by Tiziano Terzani. The book is a hymn to the possibility of being what you want to be. The journalist and writer begins a wonderful conversation about the venture of freedom, about courage, love, sickness and grief, about transience, moments of beauty and how you can learn to let go.

A fresh start at work is not easy. Replacing well-known structures and organisations with familiar people with something new and developing curiosity for the unfamiliar is a challenge. Anyone who has changed jobs more often will find it easier.

The reverse is persisting in the same job for years. This, however, harbours the risk of energy and drive loss and finding yourself subject to creeping dissatisfaction.

The transition from a successful, fulfilling career to the phase in which you no longer have to work is equally difficult. I deliberately avoid the word “pensioner” because it only describes the state of being supported by insurance contributions paid in over many years. The aspect that I would like to emphasise here is the emotional, not the financial provision for old age.

Many successful leaders and high achievers do not think about quitting, either about when, or about how. Simply giving up years of success and the single-mindedness that goes with it, without knowing what is coming, cannot be easy. For those who find this transition easy, the time to take leave may have long since passed, the passion may have already been lost or the decision to quit may have been made psychologically long before. Added to this is the fear of older managers of ending their careers when they are to be replaced by potentially younger people. The bitterness lies in the fact that private life has been sacrificed for the success of careers.

Early consideration about retiring is more than sensible. If all professional action for your career was characterised by an illusion of limitlessness, among other things with regard to economic action in companies, the transition that now follows expects you to accept a mode of finiteness. It should be understood that managers had shaped a position or role and enjoyed considerable respect. Being confronted with finitude is key. Those who have lived and felt meaning in life accept finitude more easily, while those who have suppressed their needs and matters close to the heart have a hard time of it. In the period after successful employment, everyone can catch up and go in search of meaning.

In their mid to late fifties, at least career-oriented workers find themselves surprised by the option of phased retirement, which companies offer in order to relieve themselves of costs by means of state subsidies. In plain language, this is nothing more than the reduction of long-serving staff, combined with the employer foregoing the work services and skills they offered. Whether through early or phased retirement, others have decided on the sudden end of their professional activity. The ever-active manager has excluded this possibility – and that does not fit at all into the previous self-image of successful professional action and status!

To stop, to listen, to hear, to consider, to reflect, to listen to your inner voice. This is already formative and enables thoughts for change. The word “hearing” contains the word “ear.” Keeping your ears open to others; everything that has to do with listening is always directed towards something outside yourself. All forms of introspection too are directed outwards, towards that which is distanced from yourself. The inner voice forms a counterpart, so to speak, which is an effective advisor.

Retirement implies pulling back. In order for someone to stop, something has to be ended. And that is already an active, self-determined process towards a self-confident new orientation.

Man is a being dependent on answers

In this phase, or even before, it is possible to listen to your inner voice, to what resonantes, for example when others talk about their activities. Listening within would be the next step.

It is difficult to overcome the present persistence when the future is not yet visible. Just as the autumn with falling leaves and bright colours is followed by the resting phase of winter, allowing buds to sprout again in spring. In order for the new phase to come, a resting phase of reflection is necessary. Only this makes the new successful orientation possible.

The end, the expiry of one’s professional life, needs to be prepared. The responsible job no longer shapes the daily routine and is the meaning of life. Many people associate the idea of no longer being employed with emptiness.  Managers who were once forced to look for a job and had to reinvent themselves may know this feeling of “living life uselessly day by day” and using the suddenly free time to put house and home in order.

Let’s just call the phase from the age of 55 the professional portfolio phase. In the financial world, portfolio management is understood to mean the compilation and administration of a portfolio, i.e. a collection of investments in the sense of fixed criteria with a view to expected market developments. Two strategies can be distinguished: The top-down approach, starting from goals and deducing the individual steps or actions from them. The opposite is logically called the bottom-up approach, i.e. starting with details, and determining the procedure. So at the age of 55 at the latest, everyone can decide whether they want to prolong their youth or their old age.

The analogy of a portfolio can therefore be applied well to your own professional situation. Becoming self-aware can start with the question “What can I do?” by noting down your acquired knowledge once in a while. With the question “Who am I?” other people can give individual feedback to increase your personal awareness. This is immediately followed by the questions “What do I want to experience?”, “What do I want to pass on?” and “What do I want to leave behind?

With my thoughts I do not want to describe the multitude of popularly described activities or options on the occasion of growing older. Whether someone chooses to serve on an advisory board, to be socially active in a voluntary capacity, to mentor younger people, to be self-employed, to take on an interim role for companies in the same industry or even to retire, it is always about the conscious process of stopping.

Is there a life beyond work?

Knowledge and experience are highly valuable, demanding compensation for what an experienced manager has to offer. The free spaces and opportunities that present themselves allow for the balance of action and retreat as well as boredom. If action was the focus of action in professional life, effectiveness gains in importance with ageing.

The power of transition: transitions can succeed, can be powerful, can expand access to the inner self. In this, preparation and awareness are important in order for you to be in connection with yourself, your needs, your desires, your abilities; and of course in connection with other people in the transition phase. It is the time of harvest and effectiveness in composure. A being able without having to. A giving from a life well-lived because it is an inner desire and not a compulsion.

Or acoustically formulated with a well-known jazz standard The Best is yet to come.

“Happiest is the man who can connect the end of his life with the beginning.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Original text: Christoph Henties
English translation: BCO


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