Been There… Done That! Being in Transition at the end of your Career - Are You Prepared?


Been there... done that!

Being in Transition at the end of your Career - Are You Prepared?

One afternoon my thoughts wandered as to how many clients have sought me out when they have become stuck in a transition. The common denominator is that most have been leaders, executives or professionals, and all faced the end of their leadership role but not through their own choosing or timing.

For some it was due to mandatory retirement. For others, they were asked to step down - some may call it being fired; others may call it a resignation to spend more time with the family. Whatever the reason, months past the end of the leadership role, becoming stuck has become the sobering feeling. I personally went through this period, addressed it and now, after extensive academic and professional training, help others.

You see, the end of a leadership role is a loss. There is grief, a loss of identity, a sense of a lack of relevance and a feeling perhaps for many, for the first time in their adult life, of drifting in calm waters with a lack of direction and no horizon in sight. Simply stuck on how to move on. The self-confidence of a leader can be replaced with a sense of a lack of competence (e.g. technology skills) to deal with the next phase of life, a lack of clear purpose and uncertainty of who this leader now is and a lack of identity but a desire for authenticity and autonomy over one’s life.

For some, a spouse who fails to grasp the qualms felt, can intensify the fear by not understanding the stress of a transition. I have had a couple of clients advise me that a spouse who often says “I married you for better or worse but not for lunch” placed pressure on what to do after losing the leadership role by finding ways to fill the new time found, but not fulfilling time spent. How long before days of golf, tennis, staring at computer screens or lazing on your back becomes monotonous, yet was so desired when a leader. Why do we sense a loss and lack of understanding of the identity who we really are and want to be in the next phase of our life while going through this transition?

Well let’s start with recognizing that any loss needs to be grieved and worked through. Your identity has changed, your authority and power have dissipated and your role has evaporated. A transition is a journey and, as we all know but not always follow, enjoying the journey is more important than the joy of reaching the destination. So this journey should be enjoyed. Allow time to travel to the next stage, go through the grieving, spend time clarifying the desired new identity and seek help.

A transition is about understanding and accepting the loss, reframing your identity, reinventing skills if need be, refocusing on a desired choice of lifestyle and, most importantly, clarifying what provides a sense of purpose while at the same time focusing on what provides pleasure - hedonistic and eudemonic pursuits.

Developing realistic timelines and expectations, taking on some assignments to help to reframe your new identity (e.g. rewriting a new LinkedIn profile, updating that CV or creating a new personal web page) are all ways to work through the transition. It is when one feels stuck that having a guiding hand helps. Having experienced several transitions, I understand what one can experience, both feeling stuck and the flip side of being stuck; namely gaining momentum and direction.

If I could wind the clock back I would urge all to be prepared ahead of stepping down as a leader, whether on your terms or not. Some of the major accounting firms do an excellent job preparing people for mandatory retirement however in reality they don’t retire but rewire to the next phase of their life. So being prepared and understanding the issues that one may face when you lose the identity of your leadership role is important.

Are you prepared?

Dr. Andrew S. Kane