Getting stuck in a life transition isn’t fun. Even smack in the middle of a lull when we feel something’s bound to come along to move us forward (we’re not sure what) is enough to make us think we missed a step we should have known about.
The situation prompts us to ask, “How did this happen to me?”
In the last two months I met three people baffled at their current lot in life who did want to talk (quietly) about being lost and stumped. They also disclosed how surprised they are to find themselves stupefied by the future.
With long and successful careers, each established firm future financial footing and chose traditional retirement in January of this year. If you think they were euphoric leaving the rat race behind to fill their Google calendars with what they wanted to do, you’d be right.
They were excited and exhilarated. But it didn’t last long. Their forays into freedom and wellbeing had a shelf life less than those onions you keep in a bin in your garage.
- As a district manager of sales at Sears for over twenty years, Sara, 60, left in January when new management was at odds with her values. “It was time to go,” she said. By mid-March she’d done everything she ever wanted with a block of free time – clean out the garage, swim off Maui, paint the guest room, and visit old friends. “Now what am I supposed to do?” she asked. Friends tell her it’s time to volunteer but that doesn’t excite her at all. “I’m way off course, no idea what’s next and to be honest, a little dazed.”
- John, 57, ended his 22 years as a school principal with a celebration. “I’m very pleased with my decision to retire,” he told me. “My heart just wasn’t in it anymore.” John said he was very restless after six months of not working and is concerned that his time ahead isn’t filled with more meaning. “I guess I’m shocked that I’d still like to work at something.” John also thinks about moving from Florida to Arizona. “I always dreamed of living in the desert.”
- Penny, 59, left her position a small accounting firm in January then found the bliss of not working wore off in a mere 60 days. Her husband has no plans to retire. “He comes home from work full of things to talk about,” she said. Penny does yoga, goes to the cleaners and unloads the dishwasher. “It all makes a life that’s mighty uninteresting,” she whispered.
These spontaneous conversations with each individual at different social gatherings were clandestine in nature. Why? Because who wants to shout out, “Hey, come on over and hear me discuss how adrift, bewildered and stumped I am about what to do with my life.”
Regardless of whether retirement is a good choice, people do it. The arbitrary marker of our late 50s or 60s yanks us like a champagne cork and we go flying toward what we hope is a different, wonderful life.
Don’t know about you but more than half of my champagne corks end up in the bushes or strike my kitchen ceiling with a bang.
The Five Stages of Retirement. Yeah, Yeah. This is Important.
While Pluto mesmerizes space physicists, other scientific types get jollies in assigning stages of human development. The information can be helpful.
I’ve summarized this simple model – The Five Stages of Retirement – to help us understand that retirement is a progression, a route to be managed or perhaps avoided altogether.
The Five Stages of Retirement
Anticipation can start up to five years before retirement. You’ll feel excited, hopeful and anxious. This begins one of life’s most important transitions. Yet, even with the opportunity to create your plan to journey to a fulfilling retirement and bring more certainty to your future, most individuals do not do this. Most plan to skip with nonchalance, indifference and gaiety into a lifestyle of free time and fixed incomes.
Now retired, you feel great. You do what you want to do; no rush-hour, nasty boss, deadlines, meetings or urgent emails. You can paint, travel or watch old reruns of Bat Masterson. Many retirees are in the Honeymoon stage up to two years. For some, however, the honeymoon is short.
The honeymoon is over. You may still be doing things you did in the Honeymoon stage, but you feel on the sidelines of life. Disenchantment descends and you feel letdown, lonely, bored, disappointed or depressed. Estimates are that more than a third of retirees experience some level of depression over the years. The Disenchantment stage lasts varying lengths of time. Sadly, many people get into Disenchantment and never get out.
This is the stage in which you take stock of your situation and decide to climb out of disenchantment. You work to design a lifestyle you want including work that has meaning. Re-energized and engaged, the needle descends to hit just the right place on the vinyl and you’re off, finally, with a late-in-life groove.
An ultimate goal for any stage in life, this Fulfillment stage is particularly important when you are marching toward your last thirty years. Match the lifestyle to your needs and resources results in high energy, good health and wellbeing. Life is good. You are still making money! Life is filled with connectedness, giving back, pursuing your work, personal growth, and fun.
Some individuals who follow the proprietary formula of traditional retirement will never get past “Disenchantment.” Others will avoid the Disenchantment stage altogether. For instance, if you develop and implement your plan before you retire (during the Anticipation stage), you can minimize or, perhaps, even avoid the Disenchantment stage.
In this model, getting to ‘fulfillment’ may look like an end goal. Get to the Fulfillment stage will feel so good you’ll want to stay forever. That’s not going to happen.
You just can’t live without it
A shiny present in its wrapping
You can picture yourself and how it happens
And the newness wears thin
Nothing’s made to last.
Lyrics from”She Let Go of Her Kite”by singer and songwriter, Amanda Shires
Life is evolutionary. This explains why you are not a teenager anymore. Today’s gift of productive longevity means we can expect to be confronted with a second or third pass through more late-in-life stages.
Not what you want to hear maybe. But reality.
Now, let’s learn more about this ‘tough cookie voice’ thing. Tough Cookie loves reality.
Sick of Feeling Stuck?
The risk of not managing midlife is finding yourself on the sidelines. You’re benched; you’re out of the action; you feel low. One of the worst things to happen is when self-confidence plunges.
Diane Baranello, personal branding/career coach and principal at Coaching for Distinction, blogged about how career turns are not always about reinvention or starting over. “The biggest mistake mid-career pros make is losing confidence in what they’ve achieved and not leveraging their experience,” she states.
Faced with a challenge of Post50 life design while feeling stuck, we, too, lose our confidence – hard-earned confidence, built with care over a lifetime.
When believing in yourself becomes harder to do than squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube that’s trouble.
If you are 50 or 60, one of life’s turning places is ahead – crafting the last third of life. You are more likely to end up living with disenchantment if you:
- Chose traditional retirement only because it seems like the right thing to do.
- Make no plans for a new life of freedom other than those honeymoon activities.
- Do little to explore extending your career arc for after your fifties.
Will Sara, John and Penny find their way to a productive and happy future?
How will they do that?
Experts, authors, coaches make good resources and can help. But we can also facilitate transitions on our own by facing reality. We can choose to be hardheaded about who’s in charge (you) and what needs to be done (something).
Like you, my stock-still times in life when important choices loomed large weren’t permanent, but they weren’t easy to get past either. The fix weighs heavy and it should because coming out of some stuck places shapes a foreseeable future.
But what if we don’t want it to be worse than it is now and cannot grasp a glimpse of what’s ahead. Future? What future?
Ever confused and immobile, we often know in our bones when a shift in direction will require much more of us than we thought. Transitions throughout a lifetime journey differ in depth, pace, distance and the time it takes to get going full speed again.
In the midst of transition where we become weary and tired of spinning our own wheels, we can get sick of ourselves.
It’s more than just being “sick” of feeling stuck. We become disgusted with ourselves. At least I do.
That’s when my “tough cookie” voice kicks in.
A ‘tough cookie’ voice isn’t mean or vicious. The tone is more like telling someone something for their own good: something that could keep them from reaching their potential; something that could really mess up their life; something that could get them moving.
When reality that lurks in the distance requests a red flag, you can give that a voice. It’s a tough voice – stern, firm, often directive, and caring – like when my mom said more often than I wanted when I was a teenager and college student, “Don’t come home pregnant. It will ruin your life.” (It was the 60s guys.)
I have a tough cookie voice that kicks my butt when I’m stuck.
It also kicks other people’s butts.
My daughter recalls vividly where we were and what she was bemoaning years ago when I raised my voice so she could hear two rooms away. I’d reached my limit on a steady stream of her life’s ailments.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about you I don’t like.” Not specific perhaps, but it delivered a crisp message.
Silence ensued. Even though this tough cookie voice was not directive, Elizabeth figured it out. People need a tough cookie voice sometimes.
My tough cookie voice is unswerving when I am paid handsomely to help high level, accomplished senior executives be better leaders. There to dose out the truth, I tell them what no one else will – if they want to keep their jobs.
In the case of newly divorced Don, CEO, of a 50-million dollar manufacturing company in Texas:
Me: David, you are sleeping with your top female sales person; it needs to stop.
David: No, I’m not.
Me: Yes you are. Three members of your executive team know and soon the entire company will. If you want to undermine your reputation and future success, you’re on your way. Stop sleeping with her.
In the case of Lewis, Senior Vice President for a large telecommunications company:
Me: Lewis, you’re great at some things but so very lousy at giving credit to people.
Lewis: I think you are wrong about that.
Me: No, Lewis, I am not wrong. If you don’t make a plan to significantly change now, you’ll never be the great leader you aspire to be. Here’s the data from your 10 direct reports (Cumulative Rating: 2.3 out of 5) and I’m going to read seven quotes from my interviews with them to substantiate this.
Lewis doesn’t want to hear the quotes. He insists he’ll prove me wrong by calling his wife on his speaker phone. He introduces me and I ask her to rate her husband on a 1-5 point scale on the behavior of “positively recognizing her as his partner in life.” She hesitates. “I’ll be kind and give him a 3.” I then ask Lewis if he’d like me to call his kids. “No, I get it now.”
But these examples use our tough cookie voice on other people. The very best place for a ‘tough cookie’ voice is when we use it on ourselves.
Here’s what my tough cookie voice sounds like used on me:
Okay, Barbara. Here’s the situation. It sucks and it’s not getting any better. What are you going to do about it?
Oh, Babs. Aren’t you tired of hearing yourself whine? Day-after-day and nothing changes. Such a drag and you’re doing squat. Shouldn’t you get on with something?
Look, sweet girl. Life is tough and wonderful. This is a tough time. You’ve got to get out of this rut. What’s one thing you can do this afternoon to make it better?
When we’ve had enough – enough sadness, inertia, lost days. When we’ve let ourselves off the hook so many times it’s nauseating. When we’ve beat ourselves up so much our spirit sags or hides.
When enough is enough.
- My tough cookie voice cornered me as I wept huddled once again on the bathroom floor of a beautiful home in an unhappy marriage of ten years. When I saw my face in the mirror on the back of the door, she started talking. I left nineteen months later.
- My tough cookie voice showed up three years ago when I mistakenly started to dissolve work as part of my late-in-life plan. What the hell are you doing? You get more miserable by the day. Fix this. I did and part of the fix is writing this blog for you.
We all know the phrase, “When life gets tough the tough get going.” According to Wikipedia, the meaning of the phrase is “When the situation becomes difficult, the strong will become engaged.”
The origin of the phrase has been attributed both to Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969), father of John F. Kennedy, and sometimes to Norwegian-born American football player and coach Knute Rockne (1888-1931.)
While the tough cookie voice will have fits if you don’t get going, you don’t have to be strong to rustle it up. You don’t have to have a lot of money in the bank like Mr. Kennedy either.
Tough cookie voices don’t whisper. Neither do they scream. This voice comes from a part of you that seems to believe there’s a chance things could be better. Call up your ‘tough cookie’ voice, take her advice and you could end up believing that too.
In our 50s, 60s and even 70s, many of us are trying to conjure up a best last chance for a life we want.
Yoo Hoo! Tough Cookie Voice….over here. Here Cookie, Cookie, Cookie.
When we are stuck, stuck is the problem. Finding the perfect solution is not.
Just get unstuck.
Eventually with more clarity about the future you’ll feel the excitement that comes as you change yourself up for a new period in life.
If leaving adolescence was fun, planning for your next twenty years can be funner. I would have found this hard to believe when I was stuck, but I tell you now with great confidence, wisdom, experience and research.
I’m putting the finishing touches on The 100 Day ‘Tough Cookie’ Plan to Get Unstuck. Arriving in the next two weeks so be on the lookout!
I think you’ll love it. I guarantee you’ll move out of stuck if you try it.
For now, work on your tough cookie voice and practice.
What have you been thinking about then doing nothing?
What needs doing and you’re not doing it?
Could life/work be better if you call 5 headhunters, try online dating, add a company page to Facebook, plan third quarter marketing for your new business, find your new business, Botox your face or book a campsite in the Tetons? What about finding ways to extend your career arc into your 70s as part of your late-in-life lifestyle?
We’re all stuck on something.
What might you say to yourself about your stuckness?
To find a good ‘tough cookie’ voice, follow these four rules and and apply the model:
Be succinct, not wordy.
No brash and bawdy like a Donald Trump voice. Nice but straightforward -like Aunt Bea from Mayberry subbing for Nancy Grace.
You must use your actual voice and talk to yourself out loud. A ‘tough cookie’ voice means to be heard.
Make sure the voice is close to perfect and works on you before trying it on others. (Come to think of it. If you’re new to being a ‘tough cookie,’ when it comes to others – even your kids or partner – best to squelch the urge for a while.)
Model for Finding Your Tough Cookie Voice
State the reality. Describe your stuck situation. Do not rationalize ‘why’ you’re stuck. Tough Cookie doesn’t care.
What are the bad feelings you have about this situation?
What does staying stuck get you?(There are pay-offs for staying stuck. What are yours?)
What are the negative consequences of staying stuck?
Now describe how much you’ll enjoy these consequences and how they benefit your future.
See you soon!
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All Photos by B. Pagano, 2015.