I bet you are wondering what self-driving cars have to do with retirement. There is an analogy here that came to me while driving my Tesla. Let me explain.
As you may know, self-driving technology and lane departure warning features use cameras in the car to monitor the painted lines on the sides of the road and center line markings to keep the vehicle within the boundaries of the lane. As long as the driver or the self-driving software keeps the car between the lines you are going to go wherever the road takes you. With respect to your working life, it too has been governed by the equivalent of lanes that have prescribed metrics, goals, and destinations for success in your career. Generally, a range of well understood lanes have been determined for how to advance in your career. You start in junior positions, learn, prove your capabilities, get promoted, find your strengths, take on more responsibility, distinguish yourself, manage others, change jobs to advance, lead lines of business, gain authority and leadership roles, and more. Advance along defined lanes in your career and you move forward.
The analogy of lane markings and retirement came to me as I was using the self-driving feature on my Tesla. The technology is pretty good in most circumstances because most roads have clear painted lane markings. But when I approached a toll booth plaza and went successfully through, the car was confronted on the other side with a very wide-open space with no lane markings at all. An alarm went off with the message that I needed to take control of the car immediately. The system clearly did not know what to do, where to go, and was programmed to reach out for help. The engineers understood this was a dangerous situation.
This is precisely the experience you may confront as you approach the transition from full-time work to whatever comes next. While much of your life has been guided by lane markings, the last phase of your life is a blank page with the freedom to – and the disorientation from – doing anything you want. In your “first age” of life you are in-lane as you work hard in school, strive to go to college, find your way around relationships, and begin your working life. In your “second age”, you are in-lane as you pursue a career, raise a family, save financially, and find interests and passions. This is not to say that everything is prescribed for you, but destinations are clear, and routes are there for your choosing.
A milestone for entering your “third age” is the transition from full-time work into retirement. You will no longer have lanes to guide you. Anxious feelings can arise when the familiar lanes and goals of a career are no longer present. If you are not thoughtful about this transition, alarms will go off in the form of disorientation, boredom and even depression from the loss of identity, meaning, and sense of accomplishment. This is often described as the dark side of retirement. What does it mean to be thoughtful about this transition? It calls for self-reflection, setting new goals, exploring personal interests and passions, finding purpose, and establishing a new routine. Self-reflection helps you understand what lanes made you feel fulfilled in the past, what gave you self-esteem, what made you happy during your life to date. Using those insights you can plot routes and destinations for the last phase of life.
What did I do when my Tesla signaled that I needed to take over? I said to myself: oops, I need to pay attention, I need to steer and take control of my speed, I need to decide where I am going. The transition to retirement calls for you to pay attention, take control, and be purposeful in how you navigate from here on out.