To retire or not to retire, that is the question!
Why is everyone so afraid to retire?
From the day most people enter an occupation; unfortunately, they look forward to the day they’re going to be able to retire. It totally violates the “smell the roses” theory but is understandable.
The human condition seeks to be safe and comfortable. Retirement sounds wonderful with early morning coffee, followed by a round of golf and maybe a brisk walk. Then a cocktail hour followed by a nice dinner and repeat the same daily over the next ten years, throwing in some fishing or gardening and all the time with your grandchildren, etc.
There’s no reason it can’t be that way, but the warning for people hesitant to retire may be that if your identity as a person is tied up in your title what happens when you no longer own that title?
As somebody who has retired and unretired more than the former great quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre, I always challenge myself why, after 38 years, am I still doing this? If you had told me when I was 25 that I would still be doing this at age 63, I would’ve told you that you were going to lose that bet.
Before the pandemic, in a class I was teaching, a young Fire Officers asked me, “Chief, would you say you’re in the fourth quarter of your career?” I quickly told him no, which put a puzzled look on his face. I think he was afraid I was going to stay forever!
Instead, I told him it is more like the two-minute warning. I’m deciding whether I’m going to take a knee or throw into the end zone and see if the game goes into overtime. There’s no doubt it will be hard not to be walking into a firehouse with a uniform on and being called Chief. I will miss being part of a team. My obstacle to overcome is to be OK with being just Pat, not Chief Pat. Pat, as a dad, grandfather, friend, and hopefully a teacher still contributing to the fire service on many levels needs to be valued.
I think the challenge for all of us is to concentrate on what you want your life to look like in the future rather than lamenting how you used to be defined in the past. I was a very fair baseball player at best, yet I have romanticized and exaggerated really how good I was as the years have passed. That’s pretty normal. Like the little blue gill you caught turns in to a mammoth sword fish! However I have also struggled with not being able to do the things I used to be able to do. In the wrong context that can become your focus which can be debilitating.
REDEFINE SUCCESS AND ACHIEVEMENT
Leaving your career has many similarities to the diminishing physical skills, especially if you have attained a leadership position. If you make it to that leadership position, you have definitely achieved some level of success that has been recognized in some fashion.
In retirement, there are not a lot of standing ovations when you are watering your flowers or award ceremonies when you are cleaning the garage.
So how do you redefine the joy you get from leading and especially the adrenaline rush of being someone who sits in a key position?
The answer is fairly simple;
• You have to seek out something that simulates that feeling. My advice, however, is don’t look to try to duplicate the feeling because you won’t be able to.
• You have to redefine what feelings of success and achievement are.
That’s not as hard as it sounds, but it requires one thing that most people facing retirement do not hit head on, and that is back to my concept of human preplanning. We don’t prepare for what we’re going to do when we retire until about six months before we either have to or decide to retire.
So think about:
- What you want to do that will give you some satisfaction?
- What makes you feel like you’ve achieved something?
- And most importantly, what are some things that will provide you with joy?
That identification need to begin no later than the half way point of your career. For most of us that is somewhere between 15 and 20 years in an occupation.
Will that vision be what you will end up doing? Probably not exactly, but you will be forced to see what alternatives are out there and begin the process of “life after” versus it being dictated to you on the day you retire.
DO NOT CONCENTRATE ON THE THINGS YOU NO LONGER ARE
As I am face to face with that decision currently, I truly believe, as the Marines feel, there is no such thing as an ex-marine, and there is no such thing as an ex-firefighter. As a firefighter, once you retire, you are just in the inactive mode. If you see an accident, you will pull over. If you are driving and you smell smoke, you will drive around the block to see if you can help. Those things will never change, and they shouldn’t. But you won’t be rushing into a burning building or trying to do a cardiac conversion to save somebody’s life anymore.
SO WHAT DOES THE NEW SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?
It may be teaching your granddaughter how to read. It may be your grandson‘s first base hit in T-ball or planting your first flower that doesn’t die as everyone I ever planted did. Except for the plastic flowers I stuck in the ground one year to see if my wife noticed.
Personally I am there now, looking across the line of scrimmage as the clock says two minutes. I would be kidding you if I didn’t say the thought of that scares me, but also, the thought of just hanging around probably frightens me more.
DON’T RETIRE IN PLACE
In the fire service there is a phrase used when someone no longer has the passion for this vocation and just does the minimum to collect a pay check. We say they retired in place because while still physically there they are not invested anymore. That may be a fire service term but it can apply to any profession where you just hang on. Maybe because of the fear of the unknown of retirement or you are just too comfortable. I don’t want to be characterized as one of those people that retire in place, and neither should you. Truly go out, leaving the place a little better than you found it, and then looking for the next challenge outside of that profession. You want people to miss you not celebrate when you pull away.
Just like I never thought when I was growing up I’d be a firefighter let alone a Fire Chief what you think you may be doing when you retire needs to not be rigid. Let that flexibility drive you where you’re supposed to go, and as I believe through my faith, God will send you where you’re supposed to go; you just need to leave your ears and your heart open to hear the direction. Have the confidence that the success you have attained will carry over to the next adventure God sends you on. Have a plan with contingencies before you leave but also trust your instincts when something comes along you never imagined that looks good for you, it is not by accident.