Adapting is the name of the game

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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

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