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COLUMN: A New Job Brings New Questions

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The following column was submitted by Kathy Nolan Deschenes. To submit your own content, e-mail [email protected]

I’ve been at my new job for about a month now and I’m still not used to it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it. It’s just different. Very different. How different? Work stops at 4 pm. Period. I have no deadlines. I have no one reporting to me. My work is very straightforward. The technology is simple. I am never in meetings or on the phone. No one sends me emails.

(courtesy: Kathy Nolan Deschenes)
(courtesy: Kathy Nolan Deschenes)

When I left high-tech recently I left behind what was my career path. I had moved up the ladder (slowly due to my CFS but “up” nonetheless) to the point where the stress was too much for me.

In order to do my management job well and support both my clients and my direct reports, I felt that I needed to be available pretty much 24×7. I was involved with a crisis du jour for years and didn’t really think there was any other option for me.

When I left it all behind last month, I went to work for my beloved town. I’ve been involved in Westford pretty much since I moved here almost 17 years ago. The first thing I jumped into was the Westford Conservation Trust where I was a director and newletter editor for about three years. I’ve worked the elections for the town for 11 years and really enjoy that process.

For years I have also written for Westford news agencies as either a columnist or a news reporter.

Going to work for my town was appealing to me on many levels. It wasn’t just about downsizing my stress, it was actually more about helping my town.

Several people have said to me, “So you’re basically semi-retired now.” My reaction so far has been to say that I am really just changing careers. And that I’ve worked part-time for many years now so that’s no different.

But am I being honest with myself? And why do I feel so defensive about not being viewed as a serious career person? At 56?

My employee model as a kid was my dad. He went over 30 years without a sick day. He would take a vacation day if he was really sick – and by really sick I mean unable to move. He felt that it was important to set an example for his direct reports that sick days are to be kept to a minimum. Dad worked a lot and clawed his way up the corporate ladder without a college degree. He worked hard to provide for his family.

Retirement did not go well for my dad. He was sort of lost without work. He liked to be a mover and a shaker and took great pride in making things happen that no one else could do.

I always said I would not define myself by any job so that I could retire with ease. So why does my back go up when people say I am even just semi-retired? It’s the old Yankee/Puritan work ethic, I think. I don’t want to appear lazy or unmotivated.

This has been an underlying issue with many in the American work force throughout time. So many of us feel that we need to be exhausted after a “good day’s work.” Working into the night and on weekends has become a badge of honor for a lot of workers in high-tech careers. There’s almost a camaraderie built around how little free time team members have. It takes the “I feel your pain” head shake to a new level.

I expect this time to be an adjustment. 35 years of excelling in technical, competitive, political jobs has shaped how I view myself in society. It has also provided me with a sense of accomplishment. Like my dad, I have always taken pride in making things happen and moving things forward when others could not.

My soul-searching work during this life-changing time is first to notice my long-held beliefs about work and life. Then I have to pull apart the pieces and examine them. Are some okay to keep? Can I integrate them into my new direction or do they just not fit any longer? Why do these beliefs matter to me? And is it okay to ditch them after all these years?

I’m lucky, I know. Not only have I had rewarding career experiences I also have had many opportunities presented to me because of a great network of people I’ve worked with in different capacities.

The questions I have to answer for myself make this time uneasy but also helps me prepare the way for a fulfilling retirement. Change without self-reflection is just change for the sake of change.

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