An Old Warhorse's Musing on Leaving Full Time Work

|   Personal Success

Brian C Williamson

Industrial Relations & Employment Law Specialist

On 30th June I "retired" as managing partner of (and as a shareholder in) WilliamsonBarwick an incorporated boutique workplace relations law firm that I started in August 2010.

On 5 July I will cease work altogether, for the time being. I have been planning this process for the past five years and four years ago Adrian Barwick and I commenced a buy-out process.

What can I offer to my fellow practitioners, leaders of businesses who are nearing the end of their formal careers?

  1. Recognising that I wanted to choose the time of my departure from full time work and not be forced into having to give up work through ill health, was critical. Too many leaders / owners / partners hold on too long and then may be forced to make tough decisions in a constricted time period and when they and their families are not ready. One of my former employers, still had a sole practice when he died suddenly, aged 74 and left his wife, me and fellow solicitors in his town of origin with a financial and legal mess to clean up. It took months. His widow is still recovering from the stress.

    The message: Plan and think it through. Start that planning and your financial planning at least five years out and longer if you want to develop hobbies and non-work-related interests.
  2. We are often the last to recognise that we are aging. I’m 65 shortly but still feel 25 years old in many ways. Last January, my wife and I had the latest of our rehearsals for retirement by having six weeks in Europe. In the Dubai souk, the touts kept calling me “Professor”. I eventually asked “Why do you call me Professor?” and they said “You look old and have a white goatee” and “You look like an Old Professor!!” Oh well, they knew I wasn’t 25. At least I didn’t look like the mad professor. 

    The message: Time waits for no one.
  3. Too many of us identify our being as our work. In my chosen profession, we are “solicitor”. Sadly, lose the work and the whole personality can collapse. I saw that at first hand when I acted for a Bank Manager in the 1990s who was retrenched in his mid-50s. He never coped with no longer being a bank manager and shot himself. What he did was what he was. While I’ve worked in law as an articled clerk since 1973, then a solicitor and university lecturer, I’ve always been more - a human being, a husband, a friend and a father. I don’t need work the title “solicitor” to prop up my self-esteem.

    The message: Think about yourself as a whole human being and what you have to offer and experience. You are more than a CEO.
  4. Decide upon how to fill the time that any change in life circumstances creates. This includes not just loss or ending of a career but death of a spouse, loss of a marriage, becoming empty nesters.  How do we fill the emptiness when a void occurs? Some folk fill it with rubbish. We have a friend whose husband died at 45 years old. She was 42. She’s rushed into several huge jobs, travelling all over the world in her role but never fully grieved his death and 12 years later, it’s like it occurred yesterday to her. An uncle of mine married seven months after the death of his wife and then had another 25 years of an unhappy marriage. The same can apply post retirement.

    The message: Think about how you will fill the void created by formal work coming to an end. 
  5. Don’t talk about “retirement” per se. Me, I’m not “retiring”. I’m taking a period of time “to transition from structured to unstructured work”. In the transition period, my wife and I are spending a month walking in the Spanish Pyrenees and then spending 12 months grey-nomading in order to experience Australia. After that we’ll look at whether we keep travelling or what we can continue to do to contribute to society.

    The message: Think about how you will market yourself post “retirement”. It will impact how others see you and your options for post - “retirement” work.

Finally, thank you to all the staff at The CEO Institute and to the many Chairpersons and CEOs that I’ve met through being an accredited speaker and occasional Locum Chair for the Institute. It’s been great fun and I may see you in my next iteration.