Adapting is the name of the game

For the first time, I’m writing this post in the WordPress mobile app instead of on my laptop; primarily because I am a bit late in writing due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but also because I wanted to try it out. I’m actually doing this while riding (not driving!) in a car with my family, which also means that my writing environment is quite different than my usual practice. Needless to say, I’m having to make quite a few adaptations to how I normally write!

A surprising number of adaptations are required when you leave the workplace. Many of these are desired and unsurprising changes – no more morning alarm clocks, for example. Others are a bit different, particularly those that are emotional in nature, and this is on my mind this week – largely because I was reflecting on what Thanksgiving was like this year, with the necessary adaptations most of us had to make.

The workplace is pretty social for most of us

One thing I realized pretty quickly after leaving my job was the social vacuum that this created. Even if you don’t work with people you consider close friends as I was fortunate to do, there is a lot of socialization at work: chatting in the lunchroom, small talk before meetings, or just catching up with your cubicle mate during the day. I came up with a pretty long list of these things in only a few minutes of brainstorming.

Leaving all that behind is a pretty big change – doubly so when you leave the workplace during a pandemic. My last few months of work were Mar – Jun 2020, so almost entirely remote. We all agree that Zoom meetings are no substitute for in-person interaction. But they are actually pretty good, and still provide a mechanism to connect with people in real-time. When I no longer had work meetings to fill my day, that easy path to socialize with colleagues even remotely, fell away as well. It really started to get to me after about a month after I left my job.

What to do? I’ve made a few adaptations that I’m finding help address this gap. These include joining regular Zoom “happy hours” online, including one with former work colleagues. These are great and I realize many people have done the same. I’ve also expanded my social media network to include former work colleagues. It’s great to see what they are doing and to interact with them online. It’s generally not real-time but it still fills a need. Lastly, once conditions re: COVID improve, I hope to meet up with some of these people in person. This period certainly has helped me realize how much I valued the time I had with them.

The workplace is an important source of positive validation

Like many, my work was a great source of personal pride and fulfillment. I was fortunate to be most recently employed at a company doing incredibly positive work to advance human health, and that felt great. I had thought a lot about what it would be like to leave that behind, so I was fairly prepared for it to go away. What I didn’t realize is that we fulfill so many other emotional needs at work, including receiving positive validation.

What do I mean by positive validation? I’m referring to the various forms of supportive feedback you receive from your manager, peers, customers, direct reports, etc. in response to the work you’ve done. I suspect we all differ in how important and impactful this is. But it’s my experience as a longtime manager that we all have a very real emotional need to feel that our work is valued and appreciated by others. When I left the workplace behind, so went that source of positive validation as well.

For certain, I didn’t anticipate this gap at all. I doubt many people would! How did I realize it? About two months after retiring, I was feeling frustrated that my family wasn’t appreciating my cooking, projects around the house, and things like that. Sometimes no one seemed to notice my efforts and it really bothered me! After thinking on this and talking to my wife, Lorri, I realized what it was. Don’t be mistaken- my career was not full of coddling, praise for each and everything task accomplished, or anything like that. But I worked in influential roles and endeavored to impart large, positive impact by my efforts – and these were noticed, often praised, and sometimes held up as examples for others. That didn’t happen anymore, which was a big change. Quite honestly, I was feeling pretty bad about that loss.

Do I have a sure solution for this? Not really. But now I understand the change and how it’s made me feel, and that’s very positive itself. So I’m learning how to adapt to that difference from how things were in the past. My family is being very supportive as well. Importantly, I’m re-learning how to allow a personal sense of fulfillment be just as important if not more so, than validation I receive from others. It’s a work in progress!

Roll with the punches!

I’ve mentioned it before – the one thing certain about retirement is how many changes result from leaving the workplace. That’s where most of us spent the majority of our waking hours, right? What I’ve learned in the past five months is that the changes keep coming. Much of this comes in the form of how you feel – your emotions, in other words. It’s important to give yourself the time to reflect on this. The surprises will continue to pop up but in processing those emotions, you will learn much and emerge stronger.

Make no mistake- I don’t question in any way my decision to FIRE. I love the freedom it has afforded me, and I remain very excited to have this opportunity. I’m enjoying pursuing many passions, most of which I never devoted sufficient time to in the past. It’s already been such a rewarding change for me and I believe for my family as well. It’s great spending much more time with them. But it’s also true that I’ve learned a lot about myself, and that includes understanding my own motivation and emotional needs much better.

For sure, the changes will continue to come! I will surely write more on this topic as i have found it hugely helpful to my processing of these emotions. My sincere hope is that this may aid some of you in your own lives as well.

Image credit: “Thanksgiving background with fried chicken, pumpkin, leaves, cutlery and medical mask” bywuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Giving thanks: a truly great reason to reflect

m&m candies spell "Thank You!"

Introduction

Next week is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. This is typically a time to reflect upon the many things and people for which we are thankful. While the ways in which we observe the holiday may change this year given the pandemic, it is no less – if not more important to take the time to consider all the things for which we are grateful. It has now been just over five months since I left the workplace, and I would like to take my 20th blog post to do just that. This is a different kind of post compared to those to date, but I hope you will find value within. Writing this has been a very positive experience for me.

I am thankful for my family

My wife and daughter are the center of my universe. They have always been supportive and patient with me. While in the workplace, I often worked long hours and traveled frequently. This was rarely easy for them and at times, incredibly challenging. My wife and I knew this was temporary, as it was always our plan for me to retire early. That didn’t make things any easier to manage during those years, yet complaints were rare. I have never known the right words to express my sincere gratitude to them for the endless support I have felt.

I am grateful for my parents, and how they sacrificed much to ensure that me and my siblings had a strong start in the world. I cannot imagine how challenging it must have been for them to navigate parenting at a much younger age than Lorri and I did. I’m thankful that they always supported my education, as well as my many hobbies and interests growing up. While we have lived apart for many years – and I do feel bad that work has taken me far from them, my siblings, and other family, the one positive thing this pandemic has done is remind us all of the value of “getting together” often, even if only virtually via Zoom.

I am thankful for my entire family, whether presently or in memory – my two siblings, the great family I gained through marriage, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; everyone! We were close and were together often growing up and I have many fond memories from the times we shared.

I am thankful for my friends

I feel fortunate that some of my best friends are those I have identified by that label for nearly 35 years! We are far from thirteen years old at this point, yet we can so easily fall back into the same conversations and fun times we had way back then, all these years later. Again, I am grateful that the tragedy of COVID-19 has brought us back “together” via our weekly Happy Hours sessions over Zoom. Particularly since leaving behind the social element that comes with the workplace, I find our gatherings vital to maintaining sanity.

It’s easy to malign college fraternities by associating all members with the terrible behavior by some among our ranks. That said, I am grateful for the great group of smart, caring, and fun guys with whom I went to college, and remain in regular contact with even today. I am privileged to call you all my Brothers. TEPs are Tops!

The other friend group for which I am incredibly thankful are the close friends I made throughout my years in the workplace. Fast-paced tech companies, including startups, can be pretty stressful places to work. One of the things that made that not only bearable but quite enjoyable, were the friendships made along the way. I have been fortunate to know so many talented, fun, and wonderful people, some of whom remain very close friends.

I am thankful for mentors and teachers

I have previously written of my gratitude for the strong mentors I have known, so I won’t repeat all of that here. That said, I am grateful for those teachers who truly cared, and from whom I learned much. Great teachers can never be paid enough given how impactful they can be on young lives. I am also thankful for the managers and mentors I had in the workplace, all of whom positively influenced my development and impacted my chosen course throughout my career. My path to FIRE assuredly would have been different – and perhaps substantially protracted, had I not known these talented and caring people.

I am thankful for my former colleagues

Leaving the workplace has made me realize just how much I appreciated working with so many talented people. It’s easy to miss just how impactful these relationships can be, and to underestimate the loss that comes with retirement. I learned so much from my former team members, peers, and managers over the years. It’s a huge change to no longer see these people on a daily basis, to have meetings with them, to travel with them, and work together on projects. I am grateful to have known nearly all of them, and am thankful for all that I gained from our interactions.

I am thankful for everything

As I have written before, I feel so fortunate to be in the circumstance I am in. I achieved financial independence at 46, and left the workplace a year later. While I did not grow up wealthy, I am truly privileged to have everything that I did. Importantly, I had the full support of family, lived in a part of the world with all the amenities needed for success, and had access to people and things that could accelerate my path. Didn’t I still have to work hard to get where I am? Of course I did! But that doesn’t change that I had a leg up over the majority of people on this planet and I never lose sight of that.

In full transparency, this blog is often awkward and uncomfortable for me to write. It’s weird “talking” so frankly about matters so personal and central to my life, knowing anyone can read them. I keep doing it because I’m at such an unfamiliar stage in my life, and this really helps me process the associated emotions. That said, I do hope that others find value in what I write. I remain grateful for any and all feedback that is shared with me.

This post has been a bit of a different one for me but it’s provided me yet another opportunity to reflect on where I am today and how I got here. Thank you for being with me on this ride. Be well, stay healthy, and I wish you all the best in achieving your goals. Mahalo.

What are you thankful for this year?

image credit: “DSP 147: Thank You! 2007-10-11” by vernhart is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received

old rotary telephone

Always take the call.

-a former manager of mine

Introduction

Today I found myself thinking about guidance I received over the course of my career. I quickly thought of one that has really stuck with me and which I’d like to share. I heard this gem about ten years ago from my then-boss, an executive at a start up company. Quite honestly, I can’t even recall the context under which it was spoken – but that doesn’t matter. The core concept is simple: make sure you pick up the phone, read that email, or have that conversation. About what? That surprise inquiry wondering about your interest in a potential role change, opportunity at a new company, etc. Whether it’s from a former manager, past colleague, or perhaps someone you don’t even know – don’t dismiss it without at least a little detective work. You never know what opportunity might be waiting around the corner!

Yet another cold call from a recruiter

Let’s set the Way Back Machine (remember Mr. Peabody?) to August 25, 2014. I was in a good job, working with fun and talented people, at a company I’d helped grow from a scrappy start-up to a real industry player over the past five years. I knew it was time to start thinking about what might come next for me, but admittedly hadn’t yet done so. Besides, I was busy, I had a great boss from whom I learned much, my role had changed in recent months, and I was enjoying the challenges that came with that. That morning I received yet another recruiter inquiry on LinkedIn, which I read as was my usual practice. It began:

There was a bit more information in the next two paragraphs but not much. It was clearly a cold call based on LinkedIn screening. I replied that I wasn’t presently looking for work, and asked for a few details. Even if the job wasn’t for me I could always refer somebody else for it, right? I learned the company name and a little more about the role. Now I had a choice: accept his offer for a call to learn more or simply pass on the opportunity because on the surface it didn’t seem very interesting? I decided on the former.

Taking the (first and second) call

I took the call and candidly, it was pretty typical recruiter stuff. The guy went over some of the material he’d sent and asked some questions about my background. Based on that, he recommended I speak with the head of the recruiting firm, as that individual was much more familiar with the hiring company. Wait – another call? I was busy after all, and I wasn’t yet very interested in this role. The company seemed to be doing well, but it operated in a technology area not half as “sexy” to me as what I’d been doing for most of my career. I worried it might be a step backwards, potentially boring by comparison, and not somewhere where I could keep learning. He implored me to take the call as he was sure I’d be interested in the posting. Based on his passion, I agreed.

The call with the VP of the recruiting firm was good. He was able to share a lot more details and had some insightful commentary on the business and the executive team. This was really helpful in assessing the potential fit for me, despite my reservations about the attractiveness of the technology area. He was a good salesperson though, and he kept me on the line, wanting to hear more. Once the conversation had run its course he asked about setting up some interviews. Reading my very real hesitation he said: “OK how about just one meeting? I think you’d like the COO (who turned out to be the hiring manager) and I can set up time with him. I know you’ll want to hear more after that”. His confidence definitely piqued my interest, so again I agreed.

Hook, line, and sinker

OK so I once again “took the call” – or meeting in person, this time. Long story, short: it went really well. The COO and I hit it off immediately. The hour in which we talked simply flew by. He shared openly about the company as well as what this role would be about. This guy took the time to answer all of my questions, and spent great effort to ensure I understood why I’d had the wrong read on the opportunity. By the end of that hour, I knew the role could be a good fit, and I could contribute a lot as well as build my own skills further. Quite honestly, my head was chock-full of ideas about the potential of taking it on.

The recruiter magically knew when I was back on the road headed home, as my phone rang minutes after I left. He was pleased that the meeting went as he’d predicted, and I agreed to a slate of interviews with the rest of the leadership team within a few weeks. Those interviews also went well, I got really excited about the job and the company, and they offered me the role. I accepted the job, put in my notice, and I started at the new position by December. I ended up working there for five and a half years, in three different roles.

In conclusion

It’s hard for me to contemplate missing out on those years of exciting and fulfilling work, great friendships, and all the great knowledge I gained. In fact it turned out to be one of my favorite jobs, and it all started by “taking the call”. Do I mean that you need respond to every email or call, and accept every interview request? Of course not. But be wary of dismissing these inquiries without appropriate consideration. I’d suggest the bar is even lower when they come from people whom you know and trust. They’ve likely really thought through the potential fit based on firsthand knowledge of you. Therefore, you should ensure you do the appropriate level of diligence before taking a decision.

Is there only “one best path” for each of us, and should we fear making “the wrong decision”? For me, the answer to both of these is a hard no. That said, reviewing my own career yields numerous examples – I’ve only shared the most recent one here – where “taking the call” has led me to an exciting, productive, and fulfilling unexpected career change. I wholeheartedly endorse that you do the same as well, and embrace the potential for change. Who knows where it might take you?

image credit: “Telephone” by plenty.r. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0