Just over a year after retiring from my firm I attended the Annual Retired Partner Dinner. It was my first as a retired partner. I walked into a place that I’d known so well for over 20 years but this time as a guest rather than a host. It felt quite strange. I was greeted by my former partners as a guest, no longer as a colleague. I was no longer an insider, this wasn’t my place anymore.
This was definitely a “What’s Next” moment.
I certainly hadn’t gone “cold turkey” on my old firm. I had been in contact with a number of people since but for those who I hadn’t seen there were the inevitable questions. What was I upto? What had I been doing?
I talked about our travels and then there were questions about whether I was consulting on boards etc?
This is where all conversations seem to head. The assumption is very much that after a career in consulting that I’d continue but in my case I haven’t. For me the process of “What’s Next” was reaching the decision that consulting was not a key part of my post professional life. Sure I have a couple of consulting roles, but really I had taken the student route and I definitely feel most comfortable with being described as such.
As the conversations over the evening continued, I said that while I’d loved my time in professional services that I was now really enjoying being out of it and being incognito. I mentioned how I thought it was funny that I could walk down the street in jeans and a t-shirt with my backpack and people I’d known for many years in my professional life didn’t recognize me out of corporate uniform. I went on to discuss how people who had said they’d keep in touch after I left the firm hadn’t and that I hadn’t lost a moment’s sleep over it. And when I did reflect on it from time to time it was very much with a wry smile.
Perhaps this makes me unusual as I know that many others find this transition difficult. For professionals so much of our personal identity is tied up with our title and firm. I completely understand this as I try to make appointments with people to get data for my research. Previously people would take my call not because of who I was but where I worked – my title was what mattered.
However with that lack of recognition has come a freedom. I am no longer constrained to being tied to my professional persona. I realise this when I talk to my former colleagues, sit and talk to my cycling buddies long after others have shot off home to get ready to got to the office or when I walk down the street with my earbuds in listening to some music or a podcast largely incognito – I have to say I love it!
Don’t get me wrong its not all “beer and skittles”. Studying is difficult and definitely a full-time obligation. It’s a lonely existence and certainly not well paying but just as my professional career was it is fulfilling and fun – well most of the time!
Just over 18 months into “What’s Next” I am still adjusting but I am enjoying it. How could you not when it allows a relaxing Sunday night taking in this glorious country susnset?