Retirement. For some of us that word invokes feelings of freedom, bliss, and exciting anticipation for the next stage of this incredible journey we call life. We count down the days, weeks, months and years with utter delight considering all the new possibilities ahead in our next chapter. For others that word has a darker side. It brings feelings of fear, loss, and despair. Fear of the potential disconnection with a world we have worked so hard to create for many years. Despair as we consider the potential of losing our identity, becoming isolated, insignificant, and lacking purpose in life.
Retirement has a special significance for entrepreneurs. Business owners have a special connection and “identity of self” with the businesses they conceived, developed, nurtured and grew. It’s especially hard for this group to navigate the uncertainty that comes with letting go and moving on to retirement. One owner once told me “I just don’t know what I will do that will bring me as much fulfillment and give me the feeling of self-worth I get running my business and working with my clients”. For some entrepreneurs, running their business is all they have known for so long because they poured their heart and soul into their company’s and therefore can’t imagine doing anything else. These leaders are hit hard with the emotional side of retirement and this can be a lonely path if one has to walk it alone.
The emotional side of retirement is many times overlooked when a business owner is faced with the prospect of transitioning their business. Whether the business transition strategy is to sell, pass on to the next family member, merge with another organization, or hire in a partner, at some point every entrepreneur will have some of the feelings of loss that go along with transitioning their business to the next owner. Here are some strategies to help navigate the emotional side of retirement.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself. Business owners typically hold themselves accountable to a higher level of performance. They don’t allow themselves the freedom to be vulnerable, and in many cases, feel that emotional weakness has no place in their business model. To navigate the emotional side of retirement, it’s important to give yourself some slack. Emotional transition is tough and doesn’t come easy. Allowing yourself time to experience the emotions related to retirement in a non-judgmental way is key. Give yourself a window of time to work through these emotions. Whether it be a week, month or even a year, setting a timetable for navigating the emotional as well as the tactical aspects of retirement and transitioning your business will go a long way in working through both.
- Identify the emotions you are experiencing. Write down all emotions, both positive and negative, that come to mind when you think of your impending retirement. What is your fear of loss? What is your hope of gain? Naming these emotions is a critical first step in addressing and eventually overcoming them. Share your list with someone you trust and talk through the underlying concepts that create these emotions. For example, do you fear there will be no one who can run your business or serve your customers as successfully as you? Are you afraid there will be family conflict if you choose one family member over another to take over your business? Will you feel a loss of control? Are you concerned the legacy of your business may not live on? All of these are valid issues and emotions related to business transition. If you can name them, you will be better positioned to move through them.
- Identify the root causes of your emotions. What lies beneath the emotion? If it’s fear, then determine what is causing the fear. Have you prepared for a successful business transition? Have you developed a thoughtful change management plan to help you and your employees work through the changes as you retire? It is often helpful to talk through these emotions and root causes with someone you trust as this will provide an opportunity for objective dialogue and in some cases offer greater clarity to them.
- Develop an action plan to address the root causes of your emotions. This is the tough part. Emotional awareness is one thing; figuring out how to move through the emotions in a healthy, productive way is another thing completely. Sometimes this requires specific behavioral change work to identify the approach to navigate personal, social and structural strategies to get you to a positive desired future emotional state.
Retirement should be something we embrace as we move through the various stages of our lives. It’s a time to transition from what “has been” and look forward to “what’s next”. As with every transition, it’s important to have a clear path from where you are to where you wish to be. Carefully moving through the emotional aspects of retirement, coupled with a solid business transition plan, is critical to successfully crossing over to the next stage of life and reaping the rewards that are yet to come.