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The Twilight Zone - between inspired and retired.

A google search throws up this definition of the ‘Twilight Zone’:

“An ill-defined area between two distinct conditions”.

Well, it feels like the Twilight Zone.  A halfway house or waiting room to the ‘next place’. An understanding that we have departed one place but not quite reached the other. Or perhaps for some, a case of ‘one foot in each camp’.

We are talking about the pre-retirement zone – when we are not quite with the working masses, and not quite riding the waves of retirement. 

An author on the subject of ageing once commented; that there comes a time in one’s life when we start to see life in the rear-view mirror, a realisation that we have less time in front of us than we have behind us, and that can distort our view.  It’s very applicable to careers.

But hey, this is not an article about ageing, it’s about transition.  It’s about managing the changes in phases of our lives.  As we know from the last blog , we have many of those in our  100 Year Life.


Challenges in the Twilight Zone

Finding your place

What is interesting is the transition stage between each phase.  It can feel like a waiting room.  It’s like being at the bus station with bags packed and ticket bought, but not at your destination yet. You are not even sure if you want to go there, or what it will be like.  But lots of others have gone there so it seems like a good idea.  Besides it’s hard to turn back, because you have sold your house, said your goodbyes, and committed to moving on. 

Finding where you fit

In the ‘Twilight Zone’, it can be difficult to know exactly where you fit.  You are not yet retired, but you don’t quite feel part of the working masses.   Without clarity of destination, where do you sit on the bus?  Who is likely to be a good travel companion?

With so much of our identity tied up in the ‘day job’, it can be scary to think about how we will feel without that label.  Will we be comfortable with the new answer to the common question of; ‘and what do you do?’.

Losing your mojo

With the end in sight, it can be hard to keep your mojo for the day job.  You have run your marathon, and the finishing line is visible.  It can be difficult to muster the energy for the final mile. The excitement or dread of not having to do ‘this thing’ any more in the future can impact on the enthusiasm with which we do it today.  To continue the analogy; we are on the bus and just want to reach the destination, with not much enthusiasm for the journey.




Tactics to thrive in the Twilight Zone.

Recognise and accept it for what it is. 

You are in that place.  All change takes time.  The work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross on the change curves helps us understand our emotions at different times of change and what actions we can take to help ourselves. (More on this in the blog All Change).

Make plans for the destination.

You may have packed the bags and left the house, but you still need to do a bit of work on your destination.  You need to think about what the next phase will look like for you. Most transitions from one phase to another involve some aspect of push/pull motivation.  A push motivation involves a desire to push away from something we don’t want to do or have any more.  Think of that ‘rebellious teenager to young adult stage when we pushed away authority, constraints, and rules.   A pull motivation is fuelled by a desire to move towards something that we want.  Often mid-career changes are a reflection of pull motivation to get more of what we want in our job. We want more autonomy, higher status or the opportunity for growth. Many transition phases involve both, but the value lies in understanding the weight and balance of each. 

The Twilight Zone is a really good time to reflect on this. What is it about working life that is a push motivation towards retirement?  What is it that you are delighted to be ‘giving up’? Where does the pull come from? What is it that you want more of in the next phase that you don’t have now?

I paraphrase the great author and speaker Tony Robbins on playing the long game in life:

“We overestimate what we can achieve in one year, but underestimate what we can achieve in ten”.

It applies equally well to desires and aspirations.  Talk to anyone about what they want to do when they retire and chances are they have great ideas of what they will do in the first year, possibly two.  But what about the ‘rest of your life’?  That’s a lot of time to fill.  As someone who has spent a professional career fascinated by the world of careers, I have discovered that the questions I encourage people to ask at the start of their career, are as equally relevant at the end.

They can be summarised into three key questions:

1.       What are your assets – who are you now and what have you built?

No better time than the Twilight Zone to take stock of who you are and what you can do.  You have essentially built   a robust ‘me plc’ of knowledge, skills, and experience.

Ask yourself – what knowledge have I built over the years AND that still interests me? It might be knowledge of an industry, or a technical skill, or a sector etc.

Ask yourself – what are my best skills?  What am I good at AND like doing?  This might be persuading others, teaching others, writing, organising, building things etc.

2.       What are your aspirations – what do you want?

This is not always an easy question to answer.  Especially if your motivation to retire is a ‘push’ based motivation. (I just want to get out of the day job).  For many the initial and easy answer is – I want to stop. I just want to stop what I am doing now. Think back to the push/pull motivation mentioned earlier.  We need to think beyond this finishing line and what the new phase may look like.  In examining this, a useful tool to use is the stop/start/continue framework:

What do I want to Stop?  – I want to stop commuting, time in front of the pc, working for a difficult boss.

What do I want to Continue? – I still want to connect with like-minded people, I want to continue to learn new things, I want to work as a team to achieve something.

What do I want to Start? – this is where the fun is!  What is do you want to give your time to? Gardening? Golf? Back to college?

3.       What are your opportunities – what might you do?

The Twilight Zone is a great time to experiment with this.  To find your creativity. Creativity is simply an expression of self.   It might be organising community watch projects or becoming an artist.  William Bridges – a well-known author on the subject of change management talks about the ‘crazy zone’ which falls between when we let go of the old way of doing things to embrace the new way of doing thing.  In the crazy zone of transition, we find opportunity for creativity and chaos, because there aren’t really any rules!  This is when we get to try things out because we are not fully committed or obliged to do one thing or the other.

The Twilight Zone is a great time for this experimentation, to ‘try things’ while still enjoying the confidence and competence of the day job, while still getting paid for it.

Reach out to others.

Don’t go it alone.  Learn from people who are already there.  Delve deep.  Don’t just believe that rhetoric – good and bad.  Research it with the same diligence that you would for new job or career role.  Talk to others about how they have managed the transition and learn from them.

Enjoy it. 

Enjoy the view from the bus.  This can be one of the most enjoyable times of our working lives.  You can let go of the expectations of what might be or what should have been and rejoice in the success of what has been your working career to date.  Take delight in what you have achieved and the contribution that you have made.  Enjoy the pace of the journey, chances are that you can choose a slower pace at this stage of your career.  And if you never liked your job in the first place? Hey – the end is in sight!


Until next time, thanks for reading.



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