Up until a few weeks ago, two words have ignited angry emotions inside of me. This has been going on for the last ten years. It all peaked at a recent funeral for a long-time pastor/friend of mine. At least three times that day, long-time acquaintances asked a variation of those two words, “How’s retirement?” Earlier that week, a local business leader asked the same question at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. It’s been a regular question for years. But, four times in one week? I was internally seething with anger by the week’s end! As I was reflecting, I became aware of all the red flashing lights and the dangerously peaked gauges on my emotional dashboard. Getting ready for church on Sunday morning, I made a decision.
That next week, I scheduled an appointment with a psychologist friend who leads a counseling and consulting team connected to our church. I needed to explore why those two words kept on detonating an emotional bomb inside of me? Two words that were most likely intended by the questioner to show an interest in my life, were causing me deep distress. Why this internal over-reaction to another person’s innocent interest in my well-being? For a few decades, I’ve known that I should always question a disproportionate reaction to an event, activity or words. That’s true when observing the reaction of others and it’s also true of myself.
Unpacking this volatile internal emotional response to a simple inquiry of “How’s retirement?” has led me to five observations about myself and my inner values:
- I dislike assumptions. While I did carefully plan and orchestrate a leadership succession plan, I’ve never retired. I’m still working full time. People assumed that changing my role from Senior Pastor to Founding Pastor and calling a young successor to be the Lead Pastor at Cape Christian ten years ago meant I had retired. Few asked me for clarity on my current role. They assumed. A mentor told me years ago to just divide the word assume into three parts: Ass-U-Me. That’s what happens when you or I assume. It makes both of us look like donkeys.
- I dislike gossip. I’ve spent the last decade responding to the hated two-word question with, “Where did you hear that I retired?” In most cases, the response was “someone told me you did.” No one asked me. No one checked out the facts. They just passed on an untruth. That was a part of my anger.
- I dislike mediocrity. I have always been drawn to visionary out-of-the-box leadership. Long-sighted leadership that plans for a preferred future is one of my strengths. Not thinking ahead and defaulting to “whatever happens” is less than what God has designed us for. Middle-of-the-road average leadership always disappoints me. In my way of thinking, developing a succession plan for the organization that you birthed should just be a normal part of growing toward level five leadership.
- I devalue retirement. I have come to realize my thoughts are counter-cultural. Most every working American looks forward to the day they can sit and do nothing. Not me. Fishing, boating or golfing doesn’t appeal to me. Even my hobby of photography doesn’t look good as a full-time option. I guess I’ve watched too many retirees move to Florida and get super depressed. In fact, as a police chaplain, I know the inside story. Every year, dozens of retirees in our city commit suicide. No purpose. No meaning. No hope. Nothing to get out of bed for in the morning. In contrast, I love what I do. I love seeing the transformation of lives. I love helping the team take new territory. When someone thinks I’ve retired, that isn’t a positive step for me. I’ve watched as people obsess about their retirement date—count it down on their smartphones; talk about it every single day to every person they meet; and they let up on the accelerator, put it in neutral and slowly coast to a stop. Now, I plan to slow down and decrease the amount of time I spend in the office a few years from now. But for someone to think that I retired at age 55 when I implemented the succession plan by moving out of the driver’s seat and taking another seat on the bus, goes completely against my values—because I don’t value retirement as my ultimate goal.
- I discovered that few understand the cost. As I reflected with my counselor, I realized that a significant part of my internal anger at the “How’s retirement?” question had to do with something I hadn’t verbalized publically. I was angry that people potentially thought that I was so well-positioned with my financial resources that I could just choose not to work anymore and be set for the rest of my life. That bothered me more than I was aware. Quite the opposite. By giving up the highest-paid position in the organization, I’ve significantly sacrificed financial security. And there have been plenty of other less measurable costs to my ego by giving up control and taking a much less visible role in the organization I founded. But I’m still convinced it was the right decision. I have absolutely no regrets. And the organization has prospered greatly because of the implementation of a succession plan.
So, I’m doing better these days. People continue to ask about “my retirement.” But now, I don’t feel the rage rising up in the way that it use to. In fact, I smile (I put on a fake smile before) and ask them where they heard that I retired? I joke that “you can’t believe everything you hear.” And I share that I’ve never retired and the truth is I’m still working full-time and I’m loving my role at this season of life. I explain to them that I intentionally developed a succession plan for the well-being of the church that I started and it’s one of the very best leadership decisions that I’ve ever made. And I encourage them to go to my Successful Successions blog and read more about it if they want to know the Why behind the What. And some have.
Here’s my reminders for the holidays: Life is too short to be angry. Pay attention to your inner self. Self-awareness is a treasured leadership skill. Seek the counsel of professionals. Have fun. Humility is necessary for emotional health. Let the Prince of Peace give you His peace. Merry Christmas!
What areas of your emotional health do you need to be in tune with these days? What is your next step in getting healthier? I’d love to hear more!