Hiking with friends in Yorkshire

Self-esteem in retirement

As an executive coach, my work helps facilitate clarity, confidence and options for clients who are planning for or going through career transitions and challenges, often stepping up into more strategic leadership positions.

But navigating through change doesn’t just have to be next steps ‘upwards’ – sometimes a ‘deceleration’ might be best, or it’s time for some form of retirement.

City of London in sunshine

Moving on from a high-powered career?

Coaching is a collaborative process, a safe space and dialogue to catalyse your best thinking – not just ‘connecting the dots’ but connecting your dots – so your energies and motivation are aligned with potential pathways ahead, and possible new role identities as part of that.

Applying this to decelerating or finishing your ‘main’ career just requires a slightly different emphasis – less of a plan / the first 100 days – and more of a shift in mindset for a continuing journey in life, an exploration and experimentation in what will keep us stimulated and challenged, and provide a sense of meaning. Perhaps we’ll replace the status of a senior organisational role with a greater sense of personal and core self-esteem. There’s a danger that losing the power and structure that comes with the former can leave us with some loss of identity, confidence and self-worth.

Let’s say you’ve got enough pension, you are financially OK for the years ahead (and you’ve already discussed that with a financial adviser). What other preparation or choices might you want to consider? Do you still want to learn and grow? What will make you feel good? Which duties or beliefs or ‘shoulds’ can you let go of now? What will you want to say to your friends? What’s this next stage in your self-narrative?

Barbara Hepworth sculpture

Visit Barbara Hepworth Museum in St Ives!

My first thoughts about this change were that a key issue might be this loss of ‘status’ and identity – moving on from a senior title and authority over hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, to ‘just’ yourself and your life. I decided to check this out with a bit of research, interviewing a number of senior executives (all male, so far) after ‘retirement’ or shortly before. And I gained some insights from this:

  • It’s not really about status – yes, power attaches to a position, but they all still saw themselves as the same person and didn’t feel that role status transferred to them. This might not be true for every senior executive though!;
  • They did miss the ‘cut and thrust’, seeing and working with a lot of good people frequently, from different countries and cultures, and the companionship of that. So they actively create new opportunities for that;
  • They were happy to let go of the daily/monthly demand for performance, deliverables, the long hours and the imperative for urgency over importance;
  • More important now was to develop interests, be active and social, use their time purposefully – it’s 24 x 7 x 52! Do things that have meaning and fun, be there for others, share your wisdom, something that excites – all of this feeds self-esteem – which seems to be the fundamental core aspect for well-being or ‘mojo’, keeping self-doubt at bay;
  • A key element of success in making this transition is in having a supportive and accepting partner or a network of close friends and collaborators to share the journey;
  • And, once retired, enjoy yourself and stay active while you can, don’t let a mindset of ‘old’ limit you, because physical limitations tend to increase with age;
  • Some advice to their younger selves? Spread your focus more (beyond just work), create space for longer term interests, lighten up! And give yourself access to a thought partner as you approach key changes.

Perhaps there are few surprises in the above feedback. But there’s probably a lot more to retirement than ‘doing’ – reading, gardening and travelling. It’s also about ‘being’ and feeling good about yourself.

Porto, Lisbon and river

Learn and enjoy travelling to places like Porto

If you’d like to have conversations to help you:

  • explore what you can believe about yourself now and find balance in the multiple ‘identities’ shifting around in you;
  • clarify how you want others to see you and avoid unhelpful comparisons with your past ‘best self’;
  • navigate the emotionally charged social construct around being ‘retired’;

then please do get in touch! Discretion assured…