The surprising thing I miss most about the workplace

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Can you guess what it is?

As I write this, it has been five months since I left my career behind and entered upon this next phase of my life. I suspect there are a lot of things that may come to your mind reading the title of this post. Good guesses might include: the friendships I had, the fun business trips, the sense of achievement when a difficult milestone is realized, the exciting pace of working in high tech, having positive impact on human health, or perhaps my former salary or annual bonus? Those are all good guesses for a variety of reasons! However, none of those are what I’ve recently realized is lacking in my otherwise great and fulfilling existence in “retirement”.

Spoiler alert: it’s mentoring

Upon reflection, one of the most rewarding aspects of my career resulted from the many opportunities I had to mentor colleagues. Sometimes these were people working for me, but just as often they were not. Mentoring takes many forms of course, and I am not only referring to formal mentorship programs. Rather, I mean the many occasions we have in our careers to coach and support our associates, and model the leadership behaviors from which we hope they can learn. If you’ve read my “Keys to Workplace Success” series, you may recall that the power of mentorship is something I hold in high regard. I benefited tremendously in my own career from working with great mentors, and I learned over time that I had a similar ability (and responsibility, I feel) to positively impact the careers of others.

Since I left the workplace, there have been a lot of changes in my life. I don’t have any employees, I no longer work on project teams, I don’t teach classes, I no longer facilitate workshops, nor do I participate in any formal mentorship programs. So there is a serious lack of opportunities in my life to mentor people these days! If you’re thinking that those things sound like work, that’s because they are! So that’s not what I’m missing. I’m still happy to not be working full time for somebody else. Rather, what I am missing are the outcomes of having opportunities to mentor people.

So what’s the big deal?

If you have experienced the satisfaction, sense of validation, and the joy that comes from feeling you had any part in the success of others, you know what I’m missing. Sometimes it is as simple as observing the growth in an associate firsthand: seeing how they handle themselves in an executive meeting or with a difficult customer. Perhaps they knocked it out of the park leading a big project for the first time, and received wide acclaim. Maybe the individual merely thanked you for the role they felt you played in their latest promotion, or in landing that new role they were seeking. No matter what form it takes, the positive feelings you experience in these situations are tough to beat. It’s rewarding to realize that you had any role to play in the success of someone else. It also feels good to know that some bit of knowledge you gained was able to help someone else. It’s great validation for all the time and effort spent working hard over the years!

So that’s what is missing. I’m no longer receiving the positive feedback, the fulfillment, and all the “good feels” that I once had. In fact, this is an even bigger change for me than it might have been otherwise, as my last two years in the workplace involved a lot of mentoring. It was very much a core aspect of my last role, and it is one of the things I enjoyed the most about it. I don’t mean to sound whiny – leaving the workplace was my decision after all, right? I’m not questioning that! Rather, I just want to share this experience, as it caught me by surprise. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted this would be something I missed so much.

Filling the need in different ways

OK so recognizing this deficit is good. But what to do about it? My first thought is I’ve at least started to do something. This blog, while initially (and still is for sure) serving an outlet for me to document what I’m feeling in this next stage of my existence, could help fulfill that need for me. I’ve received some great feedback and questions from readers that makes me feel that at least some of the time, I’m covering topics that can help others. Admittedly this is not a super frequent occurrence – my reader base is rather small at the present, but when it happens it definitely reminds me of the satisfaction I felt in workplace mentoring. That’s a very positive thing, indeed.

But the blog is just a start! I’m actively seeking other avenues and opportunities to share anything which has any chance to help others. Some of that takes the form of conversations with friends regarding their own FIRE pursuits. I’m fortunate to have some truly talented and wonderful people in my life, and if there’s anything I can do to facilitate their own journeys – particularly avoiding mistakes I’ve made, I’m glad to share. Just to tease a bit – I can’t disclose details yet, but I’m kicking off a collaboration with a friend that I think will absolutely scratch this itch I’m feeling. I look forward to telling you more about our project in a future post!

Wrapping up

One thing I read a lot about pre-FIRE, and now have first-hand experience with: there are a lot of emotions to process after leaving the workplace. I’ve written about this as well, including in my “Milestones” posts (and probably will again in my upcoming 6-month article!). This blog absolutely helps me to work through many of these emotions, and that’s definitely one of the things that keeps me writing. I’m often surprised by the things I miss from the workplace, and these feelings about mentorship are just the latest “aha!” moment I’ve had. I’m sure there will be more to come, and I’m thankful for all of you who are on this journey with me. Be well!

PS – the image for this article is one that I’ve loved for many years. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share it. All true leaders recognize that they are accountable to provide mentorship!

image credit: “Leadership vs management” by ocd007 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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