Evolving Issues in Late Career Transition
Traditional perceptions in regard to the meaning attributed to career and its management have dramatically changed in the last three decades or so. Fueled by the onslaught of the economic growth, these changes have led to developments that are as exhilarating as they are traumatic and painful. Exhilarating – because the range of opportunities from economic growth has yielded discoveries of new occupations and possibilities of meaningful contribution beyond the generally accepted age of retirement, and painful – because each step into the new world of opportunities, beyond the familiar, is a journey into the unknown attended by self doubt, encounters with the alien and a pervasive sense of being adrift and anchorless in a forbidding ocean.
Career cycles have shrunk. Stability of tenure rooted in the notion of loyalty is progressively yielding to job mobility triggered by the pervasive search for self expression and actualization. Very often however, mobility is induced by euphoria of change that can send people soaring to heights of accomplishment or drag them into an abyss of failure.
Typical career cycles are characterized by a number of major transitions. Promotion to a higher level is a transition that requires individual to readjust and change. So are transitions involving change of occupation or the organization. Retirement at the end of a long career cycle spanning periods as wide as 30 – 40 years, is by far the most critical of all transitions. It has potentially more detrimental effects. For most, this transition involves break from a structured existence around an occupation that gave them stability, meaning and a sense of identity. For some, retirement induces feelings of job loss that puts the individual on a roller coaster of heightened anxiety and depression.
For many retired people the sense of meaninglessness stems from lack of adaptability to a new universe in which the familiar signposts have been replaced by strange possibilities and potentials fraught with frightening consequences. Combined with inability to rediscover dormant or invent new life and social networks, where one can belong and exercise mutually enhancing benefits of social and emotional connectedness, the individuals risk feelings of marginalization and diminution of self esteem.
Individuals, who have had a constructive career path, substantially free from the guilt of failed aspirations, achieve a level maturity and insight by the time they reach the late career stage. Most are anchored in a conscious and clear perception of a certain occupational mastery derived from accumulated experience and deep understanding of their potential talents, motives and values. However, in the aftermath of retirement, individuals without the comfort of organizational and institutional support, often find themselves unable to leverage their occupational wisdom for reciprocal and beneficial learning. The more opportunities there are for such people to return some part of their learning to the society, the greater are their feelings of psychological upliftment.
However, in a world of constraints, characterized by internal psychological barriers, fragmented social and cultural networks and lack of institutional support, the wisdom that these people carry remains buried in anonymity. Worse still, the inability to exercise and assert one’s deep life interests, thwarts growth and undermines self worth. Its social and psychological costs are manifest in loss of self esteem, sense of isolation and alienation and other attendant negative consequences in mental and physical health. This pernicious phenomenon, very much in our midst, is unfortunately, rarely recognized, understood and addressed
Transitions in the career can be turning points. If managed well, they can lead to continued expansion, fulfillment and realization of the self. On the contrary, if transition is reduced to a painful journey through multiple career stages, the individual loses track of life’s purpose and merely meanders his way through to a listless existence.
The key issue, therefore, is to figure out how people, who disengage from organizations as a result of late career transition, can be helped to choose vocations that would give them a sense of purpose and an opportunity to mentor others in the community/society who may benefit from their wisdom. Vocation here is meant to denote remunerative or non-remunerative pursuit that can give expression to one’s self concept derived from deep insight into one’s talent, needs and values. The choice of vocations can therefore subsume a wide range of pursuits – material, intellectual, social, spiritual, etc. or thoughtful and holistic combination of some or all of these elements.