Who Are You Without Work?

I’m at the state in my life where many of my long-time colleagues are beginning to retire. Even looking back to my Dad’s retirement, it became clear to me that those who don’t have an active and full personal life will struggle to transition into retirement.

Part of the issue for those folks is the loss of their professional identity as well as just how to fill their time.   Filling the time can be hard. I spent roughly three years working 20-30% time while my kids were young and by the end of it, I was ready to go crazy.   There was also a definite transition period where I reconsidered myself from initially as a full-time tenured professor to part-time working Mom. It did not actually take that long, as I recall, but I also hadn’t spent most of my life with that identity at that point in time.

We’ve had a taste of that discretionary time this week as Chris and I vacationed in Paris. This week, we’ve had no agenda. No plans. No obligations. We can cook if we want, or eat out. The hotel maids clean our room. We can be as hedonistic as we want …. though hedonism gets old pretty fast (note: it hasn’t gotten old just yet).

I admit it’s been impossible to completely turn off work. Jet lag has meant we’ve had hours of being awake at odd hours and, well, I might as well go through my email. But we’ve largely turned off the work brain and just focused on being together, exploring and being present. Even my passion for positive psychology and training has been shut down this week.

Sort of. I know you’re thinking about me blogging this week but the blog is more for me than for you. I often will start writing without an end in mind; indeed I have no answer for this question that I posed to myself as I sat down to write. I know I am still ‘me’ without my day job but not sure who I am without my passion, as it so completely defines me right now.

The good thing about a passion though is that I can do it anywhere, whether my employer chooses to support or condone it, or whether or not I’m on vacation. My passion is my pleasure and my joy and provides meaning to my day and my life.   I like that it’s not dependent on a title or position at work, or the approval of someone else. I never thought I’d be one of those people that say that they will always want to work, because work to them is play.

Perhaps when our job is our passion, we jump out of bed to go to work each day, we can’t believe we get paid to do this work, and we never want to retire.

I realize that only 30% of people have that feeling about work.   Another 30% are perfectly happy with the status of their work being a career, not a passion, and another 30% are searching.   I don’t believe everyone must have an calling/passion to be happy. However, after our work and family raising responsibilities diminish we may struggle to find that meaning in our daily activities and could potentially leave a gaping void.  So even if you’re not searching right now, pay attention to what brings you joy, ease, and excellence. You may want to fall back on it some day.