Back in March we released a newsletter titled “Finding Meaning in Retirement”. Many of you responded very positively to the article with your personal feelings, feedback on the article, and ideas and stories of your unique experience. It is a subject we almost all face at some point.
Leo MacLeod is a client of TenBridge and like many of you, he is also a friend. He is an author as well as leadership and communication coach. Leo has recently “retired” and struggled a bit finding meaning with his new reality, he recently wrote about it.
We asked Leo if we could share his thoughts, he graciously agreed. Thank you, Leo.
Finding Meaning in Solving Problems
By Leo MacLeod
I recently turned sixty-five and, for the first time in a long time, found myself without a plan for my future. I’ve always been a person who has done well with setting goals and following a schedule to accomplish them. But as I looked at retirement, I found myself staring into an abyss of having a lot of time without knowing how to fill it. I lacked purpose.
How do I decide what’s important to me, and how do I take the steps toward a meaningful future? This felt particularly tricky since retirement typically means unwinding. Luckily, I got inspiration from two places: a colleague who specializes in decision-making and a birthday gift.
Ursina Teuscher helps people make better decisions. With a PhD in psychology and a book to her credit, she’s got some pretty cool tools to help people like me narrow down choices. We had coffee, and I shared where I was stuck. In particular, I shared that I struggled with feeling alone, not only as a result of being less active with clients but also because of the cloud of the pandemic, which has everyone hunkered down and more isolated. The loneliness showed up in work and in my personal life.
After getting a good sense of what the problem was, Ursina suggested that thinking more explicitly about my underlying values might be a worthwhile next step. She pointed out we often skip that step and jump right to finding solutions for our biggest pain points, but it’s worth resisting the urge to act for just a little bit. We often find better solutions if we’re clearer about what we’re looking for. It’s worth not just figuring out the main source of unease (in my case, loneliness) but thinking about what else we might want to optimize in our lives. Taking time to get at the root of why something is important helps us identify larger, more profound needs behind a problem. When we identify those needs that resonate at the deepest level, we see them in a fuller, more comprehensive context. We see all the reasons why they make sense over other decisions we might make. And they fuel our motivation and drive to follow through, especially when the work of reaching our goals becomes hardest.
This got me thinking in a more nuanced way: I’m a social person and get energy from my interactions with people. The times when I feel energized are when I’m collaborating with other people—bouncing ideas off someone else, building on what someone said, getting excited about creating something larger and more interesting than if I sat alone with my thoughts. For instance, I just finished writing a book about my work as a leadership coach. It required tons of alone time, and I found it draining. By contrast, the last piece of the publishing process involved working with a marketing consultant and book designer. I really enjoyed interacting with them and getting energy from the collaboration. It gave me a boost to do more of the alone work I needed to continue with the project.
What if retirement didn’t look like an abyss with nothing to do and no one to connect with but was filled with projects where I connected with people? That certainly addressed my problem of feeling alone. But were there other reasons why I should fully commit to making collaboration center to my future? Here’s where a birthday gift came in to push the process into a truly meaningful level.
My wife had asked friends and family to write something about what they appreciate about me. It was a truly wonderful way to celebrate my birthday. The messages that really stood out for me were those that said I was remembered for doing something for someone else: I was there for someone in my life at a time when they really needed it. During an illness. A tough transition. A death. When I read those passages where I had made a difference in someone else’s life, I remembered “making a difference for others” gives me a real sense of purpose. Collaboration is important not just in taking care of my personal needs but in feeding a sense of altruism that speaks to me on a deeper level.
What could this look like, specifically? For my work, it could mean more teaming and collaboration in training, coaching, and content creation. For future books, it could mean cowriting a book. For my love of music, it means writing more songs collaboratively and playing with different musicians to come up with different arrangements.
I spent time imagining what it would feel like to do more collaboration. If I focus on collaboration, others will also feel the similar excitement and energy from working together. They will feel the same sense of connection and community and creative accomplishment I will. It will be a shared experience. And maybe even an inspiration for other people to connect. When I look at where I’ve had the most joy in my life, it’s where I created some spark that brought people together to make them feel alive, to challenge each other, to support each other. I will have made a larger contribution than simply taking care of my personal needs. I will help spread a shared community of creativity and cooperation so others feel connected, and we can find new ways of helping each other, probably even, in our own way, in our own corners, making the world a better place.
After reflecting on all of this, I ended up with not just one but three values that are embedded inside simply fixing a personal problem:
- Community. It’s more fun and energizing to work together.
- Service. I want to help others.
- Creativity. The best ideas come from many perspectives.
Wow, I started with a problem, but I found much more than a way to solve that. I found a solution that not only would make me happier but would make my work more satisfying, and finally, could help strengthen my community.
The next small step came easily: I emailed Ursina to collaborate on this article!
In a nutshell, here’s the process you too can follow:
- What’s a recognizable problem in my life that I want to address? How does it show up as a need? E.g., loneliness, lack of purpose
- What do I want more of? E.g., connection with people
- What’s a potential solution? E.g., collaboration
- What does it specifically look like in my life? E.g., co-coaching, sharing songwriting
- How does that solution fulfill other important personal values? E.g., community, service, creativity
- What’s an easy small step to get going? E.g., call Ursina
From the desk of Erik Lawrence CFP®