For some, retirement offers an escape hatch from an unhappy slog. But many prove Freud right in his view of work as a motivating impulse in life, right up there with love. The father of psychoanalysis framed it one way. We frame it another. In coaching high achievers on the brink of retirement, we focus on three basic motivational properties of the “self”. It’s this triad that we humans organize ourselves to protect, whether consciously or unconsciously. They are community, agency, and coherence. And every one of them takes a major hit when we retire.
Although I did not know it at the time, when I “front-ended” my retirement from Big Law at age thirty-five to focus on motherhood, I was disrupting all three of these core aspects of myself. I left my career, moved across the country, and thought I’d just “figure it out.” And while I eventually did tap into new sources of motivation and inspiration as I changed roles, it took years, not months. As I reflect back on why this is so, I now recognize that I had hurled myself into a condition where these core properties of myself—community, agency, and coherence—were all but wiped out when I dropped my career like a hot potato.
By “community,” I mean the desire to feel connected to others and to experience a sense of belonging, including feeling understood and supported by others. For me, there was the deep sense of community that working at my law firm created. After ten years at the same law firm, I felt like I was part of the fabric of the place. It was like a second family—I knew I fit there. They got me, and I got them. Most of our clients derive a tremendous sense of community from working life.
Agency refers to the desire to feel in control of one’s own life and to have a sense of self-determination. It allows us to push ourselves to pursue goals and to develop competence and mastery. In my case, my profession provided me with a tremendous sense of agency. Ten years of leading and closing deals had forced me to face innumerable challenges, solve thorny problems, push myself beyond perceived physical limitations—so yes, I had developed a strong sense of agency in part as a result of the demands I had successfully faced as a lawyer. Every person we coach shares this feeling—they are very good at what they do professionally.
Coherence refers to the desire to have a clear and consistent sense of self — for regularity, predictability, routine, and control. Obviously, my working life had created the scaffolding for my sense of coherence. When I was practicing law, I had a coherent view of how I needed to show up and what the routines of my life needed to be. When I left it all behind, I unknowingly lost those things, and the resulting incoherence began to degrade my understanding of what was expected of me and how I should deploy my time and energy. For our clients, the demands of working life have largely defined how life works—the patterns, routines, and habits that accommodate their careers.
As a change like retirement looms ahead, one of the greatest favors that you can do yourself is to think intentionally about how you will rebuild pathways for community, agency, and coherence. Once those foundations are reshaped, it becomes much easier to connect to new sources of inspiration.
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The experienced retirement coaches at Encoraco work with highly accomplished professionals to craft a path to fulfillment and purpose in retirement. Our team helps find the gaps, guide you through them, and leaves you with a ready to implement plan.