The Next Act series at Management Excellence is dedicated to helping experienced leaders and professionals revitalize and reinvent.
In the dozens of discussions I’ve held with 50-somethings on this Next Act career topic, I can literally count on one hand the number of individuals who expressed satisfaction with their work. It seems that after several decades of hard work, people are growing tired of the corporate grind. The most common answer to, “What’s next?” has been, “retirement.”
And please note, I’m not seeking out people who are dissatisfied or leading the witnesses in this informal research initiative. I’m simply reconnecting with old friends and colleagues and if the career discussion emerges (and it always does), I ask questions.
When asked how they might spend their time in retirement, the typical answer is, “play more golf.” While that’s an option, playing golf for the next 20 to 25 years might not be as interesting or fulfilling as they imagine. Frankly, it strikes me as a potential tragedy and loss of potential to have so many wise, experienced and capable people out on the links chasing around a little white ball.
Rethinking Your Options—Pivot to Your Superpower:
After listening to their career and job laments, I eventually work in some form of the question, “What is it about your work that you still love?” I watch people light up as they focus on aspects of their work that give them energy and joy and fulfillment. One senior executive went on and on over his passion for mentoring younger professionals. Another loved the challenge of solving vexing technical problems and several senior sales executives described their passion for working with customers. While they didn’t use the word, “superpower,” it’s clear to me that these areas of enjoyment reflect their own unacknowledged or under-utilized superpowers.
The answer to this dilemma of late-career fatigue is simple. Simple, but not simplistic. This is the point-in-life when we are finally able to tap our great reserve of know-how and discover the incredible source of fresh energy that comes from tapping our respective superpowers. I’m not sure what laws suggest that the senior executive who loves mentoring cannot create a new, productive and yes, even lucrative role out of coaching or advising. (No one said you have to take a vow of poverty as part of this finding fresh joy in your work.) The senior sales executives might prefer to pick up a bag again, perhaps in another firm or more likely as a contract or manufacturer’s representative. The technical expert is needed in all manner of different environments.Extending the process, there are a tremendous number of problems in our world looking for solutions.
How might you pivot to focus your considerable experience and wisdom on solving one of those problems?
For most of us, our work up until our early 50’s is about our families and our security. If that mission has been accomplished, it’s time to turn our abilities towards making a difference for someone else and as a result, for ourselves. Success was the driver before and shifting gears to significance can be career and life extending.
The real challenge may be finding the courage to escape the golden handcuffs binding you to your corporate situation as part of pivoting to your superpower. After a lifetime of climbing the ladder and earning the rewards of success, the gravitational pull of the status quo is strong. It’s easy to do the math and to rationalize running in place for a few more years. And for some, this is enough. For many however, there’s still the urge to do more, achieve more and help more. It’s just that the definition of success has changed.
The trappings of corporate life in our later years are mostly illusory. The office, the title, the power are all superficial and capable of being taken without our consent at a moment’s notice. Yet, you have something you are great at…something that you are passionate about and an audience waiting for you. Somewhere.
The answer to “what’s next?” other than marking time on golf greens until you die is likely right in front of you. It’s your superpower. You just need to take the time to see the intersection of your skills and your passion. Most of us know right where to find this sweet spot. However, we stop short of making the pivot. It’s uncomfortable to think about and frightening to undertake. Until you do it.
If you believe there’s something more for you to do with your productive time in life, it’s essential for you to figure out how to make the pivot.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
When the fire goes out on your urge to participate in the issues of your time, it’s a loss for all of us. Before that pilot light is extinguished, take the time to remember what it is you love to do and how that might play in fixing, helping or guiding someone or some group. While pushing away from the corporate desk might seem impossible, it’s not. The only one holding you back is staring at you in the mirror.
Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.