We found our ‘forever’ puppy seven years ago. He was the last of a litter. When we first saw him, he was living in a 4 x 6 wooden box with a smaller box inside for sleeping. He was eager to play with us as long as he could stay inside his box. But when we took him outside for a taste of real freedom and an opportunity to explore the world around him, he froze. As confining as it was, his box was all he knew. Once we took him home, it took time for him to recognize that he had a whole new world to explore. But with a little help, he learned to thoroughly enjoy each day and all the opportunities to play, to socialize, and to explore. Life can’t get much better than that.
Many of us may think we are ready to leave the confines of what’s familiar to us—we are eager to move on with our lives and to have the freedom to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and how we want to do it. But a surprising number of people aren’t ready for freedom from their jobs; instead, they end up wanting to return to the security of their workplace routines.
Preparation Was Essential
I had worked in education for a quarter of a century. I enjoyed my work and was comfortable in an academic environment. But, when I left my position in 2018, I had no regrets. And honestly, I haven’t missed my former life for even one moment. I love the life I am living and am enjoying all that there is to explore—even with some of the limitations we are all facing because of COVID-19.
Even though I didn’t realize at the time how much it was going to help me, I think the preparation I did prior to leaving my position was invaluable. Beyond the obvious financial preparation necessary for leaving a solid, income-generating position, nonfinancial preparation is absolutely essential.
Starting about three years before I officially walked out of my office for the last time, I read every book and article I could find on transitioning out of the workplace, on retirement, on post-career options, on encore careers and related topics. I even got certified as a retirement coach—not that I wanted to actually be a one-on-one coach, but because I needed to understand retirement-related issues. In other words, I became familiar with what to expect outside of the box I’d worked in for so many years.
Following My Own True Path
Because I had an idea of what would be different, challenging, and possible after leaving my familiar surroundings, I was able to visualize what I wanted in my next chapter. However, before I could even start visualizing my future, I needed to get in touch with myself a bit more – who was I beyond the roles I served in education? What was important to me? What did I want to carry forward and what did I want to leave behind? I’ve always liked aspects of teaching, training and development, and knew I wanted to apply what I had learned about preparing for life beyond traditional work through using my background in new ways.
With that vision, I started developing a plan for my new life. But because I have a husband, I also made sure we both talked about our assumptions as to what life might be like for both of us once I was home a bit more.
New Challenges, New Opportunities
I recently read a study about how many people who leave the workplace want to return after about a year because they are bored. I have not been bored. However, I intentionally choose not to let boredom be part of my life. Even when having to stay home more because of a pandemic, I can always learn something new by reading new research, reading, learning new skills, or challenging myself in some new way. But I have to keep myself on task – even if that means setting weekly goals, writing lists for myself and keeping track of what I am doing. My new life is my new work!
Prior to the pandemic, I was doing some workshops and presentations on positive aging and living our best lives at any age and stage of life. Now I need to learn more about the use of different types of technical equipment and platforms for the work I am needing to do virtually.
I enjoy connecting with people – both professionally and personally. I use Zoom quite a bit. With friends, I tend to meet up for Zoom “happy hour” every once in a while. Social connections are important for all of us. Sometimes we have to figure out new ways to stay connected, but we can do it.
No matter what comes, life can be what you make it and how you respond to it. I want to live my best life now and in the future. How about you?