Monday, March 22, 2010

Okay, but what am I?

According to some of the material that I've read concerning transitions, the first step in a transition is to make an ending with the past. In a tangible sense, I did that last Monday when I resigned my position as President of the business without any interest in or intention to follow it up with anything remotely similar.

It's one thing to no longer have a senior management title, or have the daily trappings of the office -- that seems odd enough to me. I can intellectually accept that I am no longer a senior manager in a public company. I can even accept that I probably will never be a manager in the conventional sense again - been there, done that! But those things are on the exterior. What about inside?

I WAS a general manager for the last fifteen years, and before that a general manager in the making for another fifteen. I've identified myself with my profession and my position for so long, it has become deeply entwined with my feelings about myself and my own self worth. When I shed the profession and position, what is left? Right now it just feels like a big hollow vacuum that desperately wants to be filled with something (my old physics professor in college always said that 'nature abhors a vacuum'). What should go there? It is already very tempting to continue to fill that void with interactions with those people I had past work associations with. That would let me continue to be a "general manager" in a surrogate sort of way, dispensing advice and making observations as if I was still in the game.

It is tempting, but I can feel that it is the wrong direction to go. Doing so will only prevent me from fully shedding the past and moving into the neutral zone (love that term -- thinking of the old Star Trek episodes). On the other hand, severing my ties with some of my old work associates also feels wrong -- these are people that I deeply care about and built what I hope will be lasting friendships. The situation presents a tightrope to walk -- continue to develop the relationships, but discard the work piece of it. I guess if there is something of value there, it will work out, and if not, well....

None of this gets to the root of what I am. I'm not a vacuum. I'm certainly no longer a senior executive or a general manager. A guy asked me on the plane ride to Las Vegas late last week what I did for a living, and in the moment, grasping for a way to package my 'situation' into a convenient sound bite, I said, "I'm retired." Boy did that generate a strange look.

And that isn't right either. I'm not retired in the conventional sense at all. And I'm not 'between jobs' with its negative connotations either. I'm here by choice, but labels seem to fail. Most disconcerting to me is that standing with the trappings of the senior executive role stripped away, I'm not really sure what I see. Maybe getting that straight is the current 'work' that I should be doing....

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