Retirement Myth 3 – It Will Be Harder On My Business Than On Me

Most executives become business leaders because they have demonstrated a commitment to the values and culture of their organization that makes them, in a sense, the embodiment of that organization. They are key to the vision, mission and progress of the business. Over time the leader and the organization seem synonymous. Although in a sense the leadership forms the organization, the truth is that in the life of a well-functioning organization everyone is replaceable.

For most C-suite executives, the connection to their business is the most important relationship in their lives. They have invested more time and energy at work than anywhere else. The 60-70 hour work weeks have become the norm and essential to building their reputation and career. Their personal identity has been primarily formed by the organization. Their sense of self-worth is rooted in an extrinsic reward system: the recognition of their business peers via promotions, compensation and power. Most business leaders do not even realize how much their sense of self is wrapped up in their business until that identity is stripped from them. Upon leaving the corporation, they have little sense of who they are without the organization, structure, title, authority, perks, staff, and clients. In giving themselves to an organization, there are benefits but those benefits accrue to the organization and the title not to the individual.

Although we treat them as if they are individuals legally, corporations are not people and we cannot develop true relationships with them. An organization does not have a moral or emotional center to which we can form a real attachment. A business has one purpose to make money and provide economic value. When we cease to be the individuals that can best further that objective, we are expendable. Most executives find this a major shock to the system. They have been loyal to the organization and some how expect that loyalty will be returned and rewarded. What they find instead is that the business has a life without them and continues with barely a blip on the radar. And then they find that their business “friends” are really only business focused. Once the opportunity for mutual career benefit is gone the calls stop coming. They no longer get the expense and travel budget, the invitations to speak, and the executive assistant attending to every detail. The framework of their lives is no longer provided for them.

Retiring executives experience significant stress. Strangely enough, it appears to be more stress than they experience in their high-powered careers because of the dramatic change in lifestyle. In order for executives to make the transition to retirement with ease, they must step back and reflect on who they are apart from the business, title and career. The energy they directed into developing business relationships must be directed in other directions and in order to form other interests and connections. New friendships based on other common interests must be formed.

It is critical to have something specific and significant to look forward to prior to leaving work. Hobbies and vacations can only play a small role in a fulfilling retirement. They really only hold interest for a short period of time. The successful retiree shifts their life to focus on intrinsic rewards and the things that give meaning and purpose. Make no mistake, retiring will be harder on you than on your business. It is important to prepare ahead of your retirement date, so that you can have the support and resources to make this shift as smoothly as possible.