One of the most important things of all, if you wish to have a happy, healthy post-long-career life, is human connection.  Life quality and length are both badly impacted by a skinny or non-existent social network (not talking Facebook here, but I suppose that counts, too, to a degree), and that conclusion has been reached in study after study.

When I hear about people ending their long career and deciding to move to a city where they know nobody, I always think to myself, “I hope they’re gregarious,” or “I hope they’re joiners.”  Some people, no doubt, will make a fine new set of friends and acquaintances wherever they go, but it’s not so easy for everyone.

While I know a lot of people, I tend to make a few deep connections, and those are the people central to my social network.  Sure, I meet up with other folks sometimes, but I do have a smallish core group.

And I’m not a joiner.  I’ve never joined any group, other than our synagogue — and that was for the benefit of our kids’ (and it turned out our) upbringing.  For those who are drawn to joining groups, well, one call always join service groups (Lions, Rotary, etc.), churches, clubs, or a variety of special interest groups (e.g., the group who gets together Friday nights in Palo Alto to watch a movie in French and practice their French language conversation).  There must be a lot of other types of groups to join, but I’m so group-challenged that I don’t even know what they are!

Yes, one really needs the human connection of close friends and family to nourish one’s wellbeing.  So it was important to me to stay put after my long career — here, I know some fine people and enjoy deep relationships of long standing.  OK, and my wife works here, so it was a foregone conclusion.  🙂   We also like this neck of the woods and will most likely continue to be planted here as and when my wife’s latest career (she’s on her 5th or 6th) is completed (actually, unimaginable to me — she loves it so much!).

Wherever you are, though, you need that social network.  So be thinking about that as you contemplate life after your long career.

Well, I lied.  I actually joined a group a couple years ago, much to my amazement, and am still part of the group, perhaps even more to my amazement.  I wasn’t seeking to join a group.  I merely signed up for a Leadership course with the same outfit where I studied to become a Life Coach.  I wasn’t even interested in Leadership (whatever that word means), but rather really liked the experiential learning and wanted to continue the personal growth spurt I had going.  The course was two 6-day and two 5-day retreats, spread out over 11 months, mostly up in Sonoma. Very fascinating stuff.  And I really grew attached to the other 23 students.

At the end of the course, I was sitting with a couple of my peers and noting that “I’m not a joiner, so you most likely won’t see me again if there are any reunions or such.”  And I was wrong.  Innocently enough, we continued some weekly calls where we supported each other in our quests to get to where we want to be.  And pretty soon, I found that I really wanted to be on those calls — it wasn’t just an objective-related task.  And when a reunion was announced, after little deliberation, I signed up.  Stunning — and totally new to me.

Perhaps you’ll find, or have found, groups to which you have a similarly strong affinity.  Or perhaps you’ll be groupless, as I have been until now.  However it works for you, be sure you assemble friends, family, whatever human connection you can have plenty of, because it’s so important.

That’s the “do.”

The “don’t” is to be the person who ends their long career, had their entire self tied up in it — and finds themself with no-one and nothing.  Those are the ones who drop into a sad downward spiral.

Human connection — so important!


Exotic Fish

Another get-together.  Maybe 6 or 7 couples.  The guys are over there, talking about sports.  The women are over there talking about kids and shoes.  Beam me up, Scotty!

Small talk is not my thing.  And groups larger than around 6 are not my thing.  I like a small group where everybody is engaged in the conversation and the topics are matters of some substance.  I’m not talking about ultimate heavyosity, and lots of levity is great.  But sports and shoes are not my thing.  And guys over here, women over there is not my thing.

While training to become a Life Coach (more on that in a future post), I was bemoaning the small-talk get-togethers I had to endure in life, as part of a coaching exercise.  In particular, I was in the middle of the room, and other students were taking turns coaching me, and not getting very far at it.  Then a fellow named Greg stepped up and he asked me, “If the people at the gatherings were fish, what would they be like?”  This jogged my brain and I answered that they’d be like a school of gray fish, all moving as one, a dull gray.  Then Greg wondered out loud “What if instead you were in an aquarium with exotic fish?  What would they be like?”  My energy level shot up as I vividly conjured up images of exotic fish:  royal blue fish with bright yellow points on their trailing fins, orange lionfish, puffed up, with whiskers and wild dots.  And then Greg encouraged me to think about changing how I go about life in order to savor more time with exotic fish.

These are people who have much going on in their lives and are fascinating to talk with.  And who are also interested in and add to what I’m up to (my Tapas Life, of course).  I made one of my Tapas going to lunch with an exotic fish once or twice a week.  Every one of these lunches is a delicacy (regardless of the food content) and energizes me greatly.  I’m reminded of how many different types of life there are to be lived on this planet, how rich humans are, and how lucky I am to inhabit an exotic fish aquarium.

After I completed my Life Coach training, I continued on with some more courses at the same institute.  That’s when I learned to find the exotic fish in every person.  I found out that every gray fish in the school has a bit of rainbow parrotfish in them.  And I’ve learned more about how to draw that colorful self to the fore.  This has made my aquarium of exotic fish virtually boundless, and the world a much more enjoyable place.

In fact, as time goes by, the fish are just getting more and more interesting.  And I expect this to continue through these post-career decades.  Would’ve been nice to learn this all years ago while still the worker bee in our family.  Better late than never:  now the exotic fish have their place in my Tapas Life.

Whether exotic fish or some other form of enjoying other humans more fully, this is another aspect of life you may wish to consider after (or during) your long career.  It’s the flesh and blood version of stopping to smell the flowers.  They smell pretty good!


Service to the Family

Family’s my most important value.  They always get first dibs at anything and everything.  I sub-optimized my long career in order to be able to be home for dinner every night, to not have to work on the weekends, and to travel very little (at least for a Marketing exec).

Once I completed my long career and became house-dad to our then 13- and 15-year-old kids, family was my primary activity, and nothing vied for that time.  This was delightful for me, and perhaps even for them.  It was really hard when our youngest went off to college and the “raising the kids” years were substantially over.  And it took a while to figure out what Service to the Family would look like going forward.

One thing that didn’t change is that I had become the family’s hunter-gatherer.  Whatever anybody needed, I could get it for them.  Whatever was broken, I could get fixed or replaced.  Clothes to/from the cleaners?  Check.  Set up appointments?  Sure.  Travel agent and vacation mogul?  Yup.  And so on.  This was all in addition to hunting and gathering (shopping for) dinner each night, and then cooking it up;  and taking care of the household.

As time passed, the kids really didn’t need me much anymore (although it’s always gratifying when they ask for some parental/old-guy advice), but Carole was immersed in her work, and I gradually became her life-support system.  This made it easy for her, and was perfectly OK with me:  I’m a bit of a pleaser, and so this fits my persona well.

I also found that I had the time to try to be a better brother.  My niece has done a fine job of getting my siblings and me together once or twice a year, and it’s terrific to have the time to do that.  I also enjoy long phone conversations with my sister, and occasional meet-ups with my brother (usually in Tahoe, as he is a top-notch skier).

Along the same lines, I love visiting out-of-town and in-town family (cousins, aunts, uncle) and it’s been a joy getting to know them all better (and to learn some more about our family history, such as it is).  Participating in the building of family community is something I relish, since I grew up far from family, seeing relatives only rarely.  In this season, Thanksgiving is a real treat, as the family get-together always results in a ton of laughter and fun.

I’ve done what I can to be helpful to nieces, nephew, and cousins, and look forward to my time with them.  My dad died in ’82 and my mom in ’05.  While she was still alive, I made it a point to visit her more often than in the past, and phoned her regularly.

I send birthday emails or make birthday phone calls to much of the family, as a way to let them know that they’re always in my thoughts.

For our atomic family, I’m also the bookkeeper, tax accountant, and financial planner.  Important work.  More on that in a post about Finances.

Blood is thicker than water, they say, and the benefit of that is that all the ways one works to be of service to the family build the family, and we are all better for it.  You might ask yourself, “Now that I’m able to dedicate more time to it, how might I help build my family?”  Who are the family members you haven’t had time for?  What are the relationships that could use some more attention?  What are the messy relationships that you may now have the time, energy, experience, and inclination to clean up?  What have you got to offer that can be useful to other family members?  This is a brilliant opportunity for good — and very lasting good, at that.

Oh, and if you you’ve got grandchildren, what could be better?