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Feelings of failure upon approaching semi-retirement
Old 03-28-2014, 09:27 PM   #1
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Feelings of failure upon approaching semi-retirement

It's a commonplace observation that men attach their self-esteem to their work. I guess I fooled myself into thinking that didn't apply to me. I told myself, "My identity isn't wrapped up in my work. I'm a spiritual person. I have never valued achievement along conventional lines." Et cetera.

Over the past few days, though, I've been experiencing a low mood that I've finally identified as shame -- that feeling you get when you think there is something bad wrong with you, you are defective. "You are a loser" is how I usually experience it.

And this feeling of failure or shame is related to pulling away from my career, as I approach semi-retirement. There's a sense that, "That's it. That's the most you'll ever achieve in your career" (which, by the way, has been all right but nothing exceptional, nothing that I can feel all that proud of).

I'm about 5 months from downshifting to part-time, so I'm pulling away from some responsibilities, and they are looking for a replacement. It's close enough to feel real, I guess.

I will leave there eventually, though not right away. I'll continue to work part-time for a while. Part of the "self-esteem" issue, if you want to call it that, is that the alternative part-time jobs available would be a significant drop in status. It makes me feel silly to say that -- I've always told myself that status is a thing other people chase after and I don't care about. But it turns out, it does matter to me. I know that because I can feel a tinge of shame when I think about the drop in status. It is only partly "how it would look," it is more just an ingrained, internalized sense of knowing that I'd be taking a big drop in professional status or image or whatever.

That is adding to my sense that it's over ("it" being my career), I've done all I'm ever going to do, it's all downhill from here, that's all you'll achieve. I know a lot of people who've done a lot more than I did with their careers. So I'm feeling this sense of being a loser or failure, as I pull away from work. I'm discovering that I have a sense of shame about it. That is completely not what I expected.

It's all ego, I know. It's all stupid, I know. It's all something I ought to be more advanced about, I know. It took me a couple of days to even figure out what I was feeling, because I didn't expect it, it seemed so alien from how I think about myself and work, usually.

I'm just wondering if anyone else has had an experience like that. I'm not really looking for pat advice about how our identity shouldn't be wrapped up in our work, etc. -- I know all that; that's part of why I am surprised to be feeling this way. I'm not really sure what I'm looking for exactly, but I just wanted to express how I was feeling and see if anyone else could relate.
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Old 03-28-2014, 09:42 PM   #2
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I guess I never really had to deal with what you are dealing with because about 10 years before I retired I turned down an important promotion. The promotion would have required a much greater effort, more involvement, more travel, much more stress and a possible move at some point, and I was quite happy with my role at the time and to be honest, I didn't really think I would stay much longer than a couple more years and it ended up being 10 years.

So since I voluntarily "plateaued" my career long before I retired, I didn't go through what you are going through. That said, I'm quite happy with my accomplishments and contributions to my profession - better than many but at the same time it could have been better.
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Old 03-28-2014, 09:52 PM   #3
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Yea I don't see that in my career either. I stopped my career path short about 5 years ago as I saw what was required both physically and emotionally to get to the next level in my career. So I opted to not follow that career path. I did end up opening my own office and do that now, but it is on my own terms and much (MUCH!!) smaller scale projects. I will continue that after my retirement but even on a much smaller scale.

But for my personality and what I want out of life it seems to work. I did find your OP very interesting though and I think about 10 years ago I might have felt the same. But since I am retiring here in about 6 months I am not feeling it anymore.
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Old 03-28-2014, 09:55 PM   #4
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+1

What pb4uski said.
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Old 03-28-2014, 09:56 PM   #5
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I think I have some of the same feelings you do. In fact I thought about writing a post about it too this week.

For me, I just never made a lot of money, $20K-$25K max/year. Most years less than that. So put a big capital L on my forehead.

I did end up having a NW over $1M. Got lucky with investments, necessity being its mother.

I have high regards with those on this board who've done well or knew the value of savings at a young age. I'm just glad to know about this board, Bogleheads and I'm also a big MMM fan.
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Old 03-28-2014, 10:19 PM   #6
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I had some of the same feelings about 6 months from quitting. It passes. What helped me was to spend some time thinking about the importance of work relative to everything else. I also remain open to New opportunities if they are worth my time.
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Old 03-28-2014, 10:34 PM   #7
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I think that being FI and taking early retirement if one so chooses are enormous accomplishments far and above what most people are able to do. As to one's assessment of career success, my own background from megacorp tells me that pretty much everyone is soon forgotten unless thrown in jail for some heinous crime or some such. And some of us do become legends in our own mind...
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Old 03-28-2014, 10:36 PM   #8
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For me, I just never made a lot of money, $20K-$25K max/year. Most years less than that. So put a big capital L on my forehead.

I did end up having a NW over $1MM
You are selling yourself short. That is a very rare and impressive accomplishment.
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Old 03-28-2014, 10:39 PM   #9
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I've definitely had those feelings over the past year of semi retirement. But I've recently found some very rewarding volunteer advocate work that has sparked the feelings of self esteem and recognition that may allow me to leave a legacy that I would never have found or achieved in my "career". It ain't over til it's over
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Old 03-28-2014, 10:43 PM   #10
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I believe that if you have your health, your family and enough money to put a roof over your head and food on the table you're the luckiest person in the world......now.....almost every one of us knows some one more successful and most of us know someone that hasn't done as well as we have. Somedays I've felt a lack of success compared to others that have made more money or been promoted over me. Other days I've been told others envy me, since I've achieved more than they have. I've gone to funerals of others more successful and younger than me.....that's why health is so important. My kids are all healthy.....I'm so lucky to have family. I get depressed becasue I'm older.....not so many years left.....but....I have my health, family and enough money not to worry. You have to look at every part of your life.....spend a couple of bucks on theraphy if you need it and the probabilities are you're ok.....and experiencing what most of us experience some time in our lives. Finally, winning is easy, losing.....not getting to top management......is part of life and we can't ever win if we don't accept losing......sorry if you think I'm preaching to you.....but I preach to myself almost every day.....just for a few minutes ......and then I remember that I have my health, family and am one of the luckiest people in the world.
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Old 03-28-2014, 10:48 PM   #11
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I guess I'm surprised how important my career is to my self-image and self-worth. I never thought it was all that big a deal. It took semi-retirement to really show me how hooked into it I am. It's almost like an addiction I didn't know had developed, and then when I tried to pull away, I got the withdrawal symptoms.

I know I'm thinking in distorted ways. I know career doesn't define me. I know status is an illusion. I know "where I rank" is a stupid way to view things. I know I've achieved enough to be proud of. And I know this won't be the end of my career -- in fact, I might be able to contribute or achieve in better ways, once I'm free of the burden of full-time work at a job I was unhappy with for ages.

Looking back, though, it's really not so surprising that I'd be feeling this way. Over the last couple decades, I spent an enormous amount of time thinking about my job and stressing over it. Of course it became a big part of my self-image. Of course my self-esteem got tied up with it. I guess I was naive to think it wouldn't.

It surprised me though. I really expected the journey to semi-retirement to be full of feelings of freedom and ease, happiness and relief, excitement and anticipation... The feelings of shame and failure caught me by surprise.
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Old 03-28-2014, 10:50 PM   #12
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Feeling ashamed of ........ whatever....... is a normal human response! Irrespective of how much we have achieved. There is a researcher in Houston called Brene Brown, whose life's work is all about this phenomenon. You might find it helpful to watch her TED talks or read some of her books.

About - Brené Brown
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Old 03-28-2014, 10:59 PM   #13
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You are selling yourself short. That is a very rare and impressive accomplishment.
+1 I was thinking the same thing myself.
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Old 03-28-2014, 11:17 PM   #14
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Drive past the corporate office and count the numbers of 6' high bronze statues of retired (or current) employees that are prominently displayed on the front lawn.
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Old 03-28-2014, 11:19 PM   #15
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+1 I was thinking the same thing myself.
Me too. To achieve a NW of $1M on an income of $20K - $25K is quite something.
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Old 03-28-2014, 11:31 PM   #16
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You are selling yourself short. That is a very rare and impressive accomplishment.
Was thinking same here.......
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Old 03-28-2014, 11:31 PM   #17
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ER Eddie - you may find that all you need is an adjustment period. How you deal with this change will, of course, depend a lot on your personality.

All I can say on this is that I had a career which, although I enjoyed it, contributed little of substance or value to the world. It did keep me happy while I was saving up for FI, which is something to be glad for. At the time, I was quite proud of what I did for a living (in retrospect, I'm not quite sure why) but found it relatively easy to make the transition to not working. The fact that I am an introvert who doesn't need much validation or interaction with the community probably helped. Your journey may well be different. You may find there are other ways you can use your skills to contribute to the world, without working. I was pleasantly surprised to find how many skilled and talented people there are doing voluntary work, for example.

When I was working, I enjoyed the recognition I got for being who I was. A lot of people knew me, or knew about me (which was good for the ego). Fast forward 5 years to today when the highlight of my day was the 10 minute walk to the market which was delayed by 30 minutes while I spent time with the neighborhood cat and my camera, trying to get a decent picture of him. He is a fantastic cat with a great personality and a very loud meow. The half-hour I spent lying on the sidewalk trying to get a good angle for the photo, with him rubbing up against me and walking all over my back was such a lovely way to spend time. Nowadays, nobody in my old industry knows who I am but that's perfectly fine because Mingus, the neighborhood cat, is always happy to see me.

Give it time, and let us know how things go.
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Old 03-28-2014, 11:47 PM   #18
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For me, I just never made a lot of money, $20K-$25K max/year. Most years less than that. So put a big capital L on my forehead.

I did end up having a NW over $1M. Got lucky with investments, necessity being its mother.
That's wonderfully amazing. You should pad yourself on the back, and remove L from your forehead.

To OP, for what it is worth, I would feel the same way in your situation. I am an officer at a megacorp. But if I were asked to work at lesser position, I'd rather quit. Having overachieved all my life, any set back in my career or life would devastate me. Good luck and best wishes to your current situation.
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Old 03-29-2014, 12:00 AM   #19
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I definitely did not feel like a loser prior to FIRE, I actually felt like a winner because I was moving on to the rest of my life while everyone else was still stuck in their high stress, WebEx'd, BlackBerry'd , freakin' SMART goal'd, agonizing, annually review'd, j*bs.

I was, however, caught off guard by a case of the blues that hit during week three of my ER. I didn't miss my job, but I suddenly understood that it had defined me for so long, it was going to take some effort to figure out how I was without it. A book I found at the library that helped me through the emotional transition into ER, and that you might find helpful, was 'The Joy of Retirement' by David Borchard.
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Old 03-29-2014, 12:40 AM   #20
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I don't place a lot of importance on status. I'm an INFJ personality, so I'm kind of an idealist by nature. And yet, yes, I've experienced similar feelings about myself related to my career twice.

The first time, about 15 years ago, when I chose to downshift out of management. I have a strong personality, and often end up in leadership positions. I never really seek being in charge, though. I decided to go back to developing solutions, where I had the most fun. Not climbing that ladder was the best choice for my happiness, and yet I felt shame in not rising through the ranks and the step down in status. It took me a while to get over that. While dealing with these feelings, I joined a discussion group on simple living, which provided enormous support (and also set me on the path to RE in earnest). I think this forum can provide similar support, so continue to post, ER Eddie.

The second time was last year when I was laid off from MegaCorp. DH and I had been planning for retirement, and given the frequent layoffs at our company, had hoped we could score a severance (since we don't have any type of pension). I talked about it with friends from time to time. Still, when we were both part of the same staff reduction last year, I experienced feelings of inadequacy. I got another job, but I gave notice earlier this month, and will be leaving after Monday. Maybe this other job helped to restore my faith in myself, or maybe I would have worked through these feelings anyway. But, I'm at a point where I need to focus on other aspects of my life, and no longer feel like I need the job to feel good about myself. This past year has been a hell of a roller coaster ride, and I've gained a lot of weight stress eating, so I'm interested to see if the weight drops off naturally as I let go of these things and get more at peace with myself and where I'm at.

Both positive and negative feelings come with major life changes, even when they're good changes. Our careers are such a big part of our life, that changes there are bound to have a deep impact. Dealing with getting older, and everything that marks that, can be a head trip, too. Go ahead and find some ways to ego stroke for those things about yourself that you value. Clearly, with a dog like that, you gotta be cool!
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