Losing a Job but Regaining a Vision

So you just lost your job, and you’re over 40. Maybe you’re well over 40. What does that mean for you? Does it mean depression? Disorientation? Alienation? Embarrassment? Discouragement? Or does it mean that you have a chance to recreate something even better?

A Panel of Retirees in Transition

These questions led me to participate in an online panel discussion entitled “Post-Career Work Opportunities in Retirement.” I was surprised by the number of people attending from all over the United States. The panelists included two former attorneys. Each attorney had departed from the law to pursue other careers before retirement. One had been a U.S. Forest Service employee who guided people on forest tours. The other had been in the addiction community providing recovery services for addicts. Another was a woman who had been in the university system and held a number of high consulting positions. And a fourth person had worked as a paralegal for 15 years and had now begun working with school districts to improve student attendance following behavioral science principles.

The moderator of the virtual panel stated the purpose of the hosting organization was to be helping people during the transition from pre-retirement to post-retirement and part-time employment. If there was a consensus among the panelists, it was that they sought work post-retirement that provided both flexibility and was more meaningful. But who decides what is “meaningful?” Clearly, the panelists matched their interests and experience to the available work opportunities. All the panelists desired to contribute to something significant and be personally stimulated by their work. They made it sound easy, and their choices naturally arose from their personalities and experience.  But is it so for the many who have not gone deeply into defining what is meaningful?

Why Submit the Reshaping of Yourself to Another Organization?

I was a bit dismayed that no one talked about what work was. And no one pursued whether work could be created for oneself by meaningful personal projects rather than joining an organization. All seemed to agree that seniors didn’t have it as bad as some seniors might lead us to think. All seemed to concur that opportunities for older workers were greater than ever because of the need for qualified labor.

Age Discrimination, Struggle, and Resources

The resources some of the panelists mentioned included basic networking, which meant being curious about others and engaging them in conversations that may lead to information. The lawyer turned social service worker in the addiction treatment field mentioned the basics of  Indeed, Monster Board, Glassdoor, and, I will add independently, LinkedIn. But what became apparent to me is that each of these individuals came to their choices of post-employment work by a measure of serendipity. They used their previous training and accidental life experiences to match their work with their interests and passions.

Also of interest to me as an employment lawyer was that the panelists denied experiencing age discrimination. At the same time, as I watched the entries in the chat, persons, one after another, wrote that they experienced some form of age discrimination, with one person saying that he or she had experienced it on three separate occasions just recently.

One of the people in the audience arrived late, interrupted the panelists, and stated that she was experiencing depression related to putting the pieces together after retirement. I suspected that this woman hadn’t voluntarily retired and was experiencing some ageism. But her point was wonderful. She was struggling, and it was taking a toll emotionally on her. To my dismay, no one on the panel seemed to pick up on her lead or admit that searching for significance, value, affirmation, and, yes, post-retirement earnings was emotionally and physically challenging.

Your Retirement Projects Will Re-Shape You and Your Future — Why Not Be Bold?

In conclusion, I formed the impression that even the panelists, to a large degree, left to chance how the framework of their future would be made after retirement. To some degree, they all succeeded in aligning their interest and experience with their current part-time work. But I was disappointed that neither the questions nor the answers addressed creating work for ourselves, that we can evolve our sense of self through the projects we design and the organizations we create for our lives. Why not start a business in your 70s? We have people running for president in their 70s and potentially their 80s. It’s not too late to be creative and enterprising. It’s not too late to start your own business if that is your dream.

Finally, this online panel discussion coincided with my discovery of a book this week by Brian R. Little entitled, “Who Are You Really?” Professor Little acknowledges that our personalities are determined by biology and culture, but he adds a third component, the projects we choose to pursue. So beyond the shaping due to “biogenics” and “sociogenics,” there’s a third personality determinant –“idiogenics” or the personal projects we deem necessary or important.  These may range from the quotidian to the grand.  But by creating and choosing our projects, we shape who we are.  That is, we are not only humans doing things but actors creating ourselves.  The greatest job satisfaction comes from those jobs that allow us independence, autonomy, and challenge. Why not recreate yourself through the personal work projects you choose after retirement?  Maybe true retirement is just freeing yourself from other people calling all the shots.