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Career Transition

The Cocktail Party Answer to “What Do You Do?” – After Your Retire

“What do you do?” While I have no empirical evidence, I would guess that this is one of the top, if not the number one, question, regardless of setting, asked when meeting new people. And, I admit that it is often my standby. It is an easy question, does not require a lot of thought by either the one asking or responding or it reveals something that can open up further conversation. That is — should either party be interested in pursuing. And, let’s admit it – sometimes we do just ask, not really listening to the response. It just pops out our mouth and avoids an otherwise awkward silence.

But after retiring several years ago, I quickly realized that question is no longer that “easy”.  It does in fact require some thought, either in advance or on the spot, particularly if I am the one responding. And, if I ask it first, then most likely, I will also be responding.  Social quid pro quo – right?

It is not easy in that I no longer have a “safe” tagline.  I am no longer the CEO or CFO of XYZ insurance company. While my title/career was never my complete identity, it was definitely a significant part of my identity and a public part at that.  I could share that information without any forethought and know I was sharing a “safe” amount. It was not more than was intended in the casual asking and it was not revealing too much about myself to a complete stranger. And, in most settings, particularly professional settings, it provided credibility. People might not know the company or the industry, but they knew I had achieved certain professional success.

With retirement, I no longer have that safe answer. I can say that “I am retired”, leaving it at that. But that potentially leads to an awkward silence or work on the part of the person asking, the avoidance of both were likely the purpose in the asking.  So I often go on to explain that I am retired but previously worked in the insurance industry.

While it may serve the purpose of the small talk, the persona I am revealing, however, is one of the past. And quite honestly, I really do not want to be talking about things that I did long ago. I am enjoying retirement and my interests have expanded; I loved my career but I chose to retire and to retire for a reason – to have flexibility beyond what my career as an insurance executive allowed. So, why define myself to new acquaintances in a way that is somewhat limiting?

So, the challenge  – a pithy spin on “what do I do”. Many people who decide to retire early do so to explore a burning passion, something known that often took second (or third or fourth) priority relative to their career.  But for me, that was not the case. I knew I wanted to maintain the intellectual stimulation found in the professional world but also explore, and find, other interests in retirement – and hopefully to find my next passion – but “it”, whatever it is, quite frankly is still an unknown.

And therefore, the challenge of responding to “what am I doing?” I could rattle off a list of how I spend my days but not only is that too much information, it is not the meaningful statement that I think my exploration deserves. And, admittedly, regardless of how casual “the ask” may be, I do want to make a memorable impression – and by that, one of being active and adventurous and not the woman who shared too much information!

So what is my perfect social/professional/whatever setting response to “what do I do?” Actually, I am still working on it – it is very spontaneous, far from perfect, and not as interesting as I might like. The best answer may be “I am taking time to enjoy being, after many years of doing” – but I have not tried that one yet for fear that too might make me be the memorable crazy woman!

While it may serve the purpose of the small talk, the persona I am revealing, however, is one of the past. And quite honestly, I really do not want to be talking about things that I did long ago. I am enjoying retirement and my interests have expanded; I loved my career but I chose to retire and to retire for a reason – to have flexibility beyond what my career as an insurance executive allowed. So, why define myself to new acquaintances in a way that is somewhat limiting?

So, the challenge  – a pithy spin on “what do I do”. Many people who decide to retire early do so to explore a burning passion, something known that often took second (or third or fourth) priority relative to their career.  But for me, that was not the case. I knew I wanted to maintain the intellectual stimulation found in the professional world but also explore, and find, other interests in retirement – and hopefully to find my next passion – but “it”, whatever it is, quite frankly is still an unknown.

And therefore, the challenge of responding to “what am I doing?” I could rattle off a list of how I spend my days but not only is that too much information, it is not the meaningful statement that I think my exploration deserves. And, admittedly, regardless of how casual “the ask” may be, I do want to make a memorable impression – and by that, one of being active and adventurous and not the woman who shared too much information!

So what is my perfect social/professional/whatever setting response to “what do I do?” Actually, I am still working on it – it is very spontaneous, far from perfect, and not as interesting as I might like. The best answer may be “I am taking time to enjoy being, after many years of doing” – but I have not tried that one yet for fear that too might make me be the memorable crazy woman!

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