If we want change, we have to initiate it ourselves - Not Wait, Not ask permission, Just do it.

Steve Sammartino

Feeling I was not getting the support, recognition and prospect of promotion that I believed I deserved, after 25-years of total commitment, from the school’s newly appointed Principal, I resigned. Though, at the time I felt courageous and decisive, I had given absolutely no thought to life post teaching. I found myself staring into a huge void. No longer being part of the hurly burly of school life left me empty.

Initially, I filled this emptiness by undertaking further study. However, shortly after its completion feelings of grief associated with the loss of my working identity, the disorientation of not knowing who I was, filled me with fear and self-doubt. But most concerning of all was the question: will there be something next?

When I complained of my desolation and disorientation to family and friends I was told not to worry because eventually something will turn up. Or why not volunteer. I did my best to find organisations that would offer me work that was meaningful, interesting, suited my schedule or matched my skills set. But no luck. It was far from easy to accomplish. Time and time again I was pipped to the post. Many, many others had thought to do the same jobs, or there were long waiting lists, (at the time, the zoo had a 2-year waiting list!). Volunteering had proved harder than I thought. Consequently, I continued to suffer in silence, to feel inadequate, bereft, isolated and alone.

Nancy Collamer, author of Second-Act Careers, wisely advises those of us who are contemplating their next act not to “expect to fully re-invent.” She maintains that while the concept of reinvention is tantalising thinking, “fresh slate” or “unrealised dreams,” most individuals don’t construct a new career from scratch at midlife and beyond. The stories we read about—the accountant turned restaurateur, or doctor turned vineyard owner—make for great press, but they are exceptions not the norm. She argues that, in reality most individuals choose a second-act career that is in some (small) way shape or form relates to what they had done before. They figure out which parts of their old career they most enjoyed (the skills, people, the industry) and then blend the “old pieces” with the “new” interests, hobbies and passions. By doing this, they are able to leverage their years of experience, while still getting the benefits of a more lifestyle friendly career.

Harvard sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls this process, “looking back and giving forward.” In my mind, this refers to the transferring of skills honed by our life experiences and wisdom, to fresh endeavours. This is what has led me on my journey to reinvention.

During my ‘wanderings in the wilderness’ I contemplated re-training as a TESOL teacher (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) as this in part would’ve utilised my teaching skills, but when I sat in on some classes, it didn’t appeal to me. Another option was to become a writer of curricular. But on examination of the various syllabi, I realised that there had been so many changes I wasn’t conversant with so again I abandoned the idea. I attended various short courses searching for meaning and direction. During this time, to familiarise myself with what others had experienced, I began to read about retirement.

 Soon I wanted to actively engage with, seek out, and interview individuals who had retired, in order to capture their experiences. With time, patterns began to emerge in my sample. I visited my local library and found only 5 books on retirement sitting on the shelf. I decided, there and then, that I wasn’t interested in writing a book—an additional one that would potentially and indefinitely sit on the same shelf.

What I wanted was to be able to combine my growing knowledge in the field and my extensive teaching experience: “looking back and giving forward” in order to compose something real, based in real experience—something interactive and engaging—reminiscent of my experiences in the classroom. To compose a series of workshops for the “like-minded” who could share experiences, find support and direction.

Over the course of the next four years I read widely and voraciously in the ever-growing body of literature synthesising it into six strands. I became inspired by new stage thinkers like Peter Laslett, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and Marc Freedman who themselves had arrived at the same juncture in life: a new life-stage had dawned—a Third Age, Third Stage or Encore Years—an additional twenty plus years of active life between mid-life and old age. Years to fashion for ourselves. Pam McLean & Frederic M. Hudson, authors of LifeLaunch refer to this stage as “entrepreneuring our future,” taking responsibility for our life direction as fully as we can.

Hence Navigating Retirement was born: four two-hour workshops on key aspects of retirement for individuals thinking/planning to retire or for those having retired and finding their next stage to be challenging.

For me changing course was not a luxury, but an “existential necessity.” It was prompted in part by internal forces—a desire for rediscovering meaning in my life—as well as external forces—recognising that I was at a professional dead end. However, these bonus years and what each of us make of them is different for everyone.

Some food for thought:

  • Each of us is responsible for our future.
  • Each of us might need to give careful thought to how we want to live our lives.
  • We need to identify, re-examine or perhaps re-discover not only our Drivers—the types of activities we find emotionally rewarding and should be seeking— but also our Strengths and Skills that are part of our life portfolio, are transferrable and that accompany us into the next stages of our lives.
  • We might need to brainstorm all the resources available for empowering ourselves—utilising not only our strong connections, but especially our weak ones— as they are bridges to new worlds; looking for mentors and/or support groups to validate and guide us.
  • Above all, in the words of MacLean & Hudson, we need to, “learn, learn how to unlearn, and relearn.” Making learning our central focus.

I want to leave you with advice from Steve Sammartino, futurist, entrepreneur and author of Lessons School Forgot:

The good news about re-inventing ourselves is that all the gatekeepers have left the building. We can learn anything we want, on any topic, drawing on the world’s best thinkers. This has never happened before.  On the one hand, people are worried that their jobs and industries are disappearing; on the other, we all have the gift of choice of what we do about it. We can whinge as we watch another reality unfold, or we can draw on the potential we all have to reinvent ourselves. We can go out there and learn new things, create new value and start anything with next to nothing, other than time. Yes, the changes are mind blowing, but so are the choices or what we can do about them.

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