We are constantly faced with transitions that take us from one stage of life to another. We finish school and go to work, we fall in love and start a family and we change from one job to another.
If we think about it, transitions take place continuously throughout our lives. We are always in the midst of moving from one thing to another, even if it’s merely driving to work.
Career transitions are significant and often seminal points in our lives. They require adjusting to different environments (a new office or moving across the country for work), setting new expectations (doing something different than in our previous job) and leaving relationships behind (work relationships can be some of the most meaningful) as we find new colleagues. Transitions can be both hard and exhilarating at the same time.
The word “anxious” comes to mind, in both its meanings. We feel better when the transition is something we have controlled or set in motion. Leaving a job by choice and moving on to something new is a powerful experience in empowerment. But often, our transitions are not ones of choice. Companies fold, job requirements change and what we thought was a nice fit is no longer the case. Even in these cases, we might have had a role in the change, sometimes unbeknownst to ourselves. Maybe our work attitude changed over time, and we either failed to recognize it or did and accepted it as a fait accompli and moved on.
I’m closing in on 60. In my father or grandfather’s generation, 60 meant awaiting retirement, planning leisure activities and looking forward to kicking back. But the reality is that, until recently, 60 was considered “old age.” Health issues would soon overtake us. My father died at 62. But today, the average life expectancy for Americans is nearly 80. Many of the illnesses that affected us then are now easily overcome. Today, many of us will continue to “work” however we define it — like volunteering at our grandchildren’s school — until our physical and mental functions fail us. At 60, it’s not hard to imagine another 20 years in a “career” of some nature.
This doesn’t mean what we are doing at 60 we will be doing at 80. I imagine many of the stories of workers I see at my local Home Depot: “I retired after 30 years at X company, and still needed to get out of the house, make some money, find some purpose or just keep busy.”
These individuals have transitioned from what was probably a long-term profession to working part-time at something they might have never imagined. For them, the process of letting go of the past (30 years at X company) and recognizing they still had things they wanted to do was a learning process, allowing them the opportunity to reflect on who they were, who they now wanted to be and how to make that happen.
I have a friend who moved to Florida a number of years ago taking early retirement from local government in Massachusetts and found that his real loves were both building supplies and building theatre sets. He now balances his time between working at Home Depot and volunteering at the local community theatre company.
Transition gives us a chance to stop and reflect on our life and purpose. In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes that, increasingly, we are looking for purpose, and sometimes it’s not until we close in on 60 that we have the opportunity to act on it. This gives us the chance to make a purposeful and meaningful transition. Not only can our career roles change, but our roles as parents or grandparents and community and civic members (now that we have the time) come into full view. We can take the full measure of what we have done in the first part of our lives and consider how we might transition ahead, facing both new challenges and opportunities. It’s a transition to embrace.