Updates from new blog at www.nextchapternewlife.com/blog/

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I can’t retire since: I have no friends outside of work. What will I do when I retire?

Working does bring with it a multitude of benefits aside from a paycheck and health insurance. Our work environment brings with it what I call "automatic friends". These are people that you see almost every day and with whom you have numerous things in common. The biggest is the business you work for. These friends supply numerous things in that setting such as: observations, and someone who looks forward to your arrival. Work friends can become so important to some of us that the environment can become "like a family". It's little wonder that retiring could totally mess up such a good thing.

When you are considering retirement, there are a number of life aspects like friendships, you need to think and plan on. The concern about losing this nurturing support system is a very real issue. It's an even bigger issue if you haven't put very much effort into making friendships outside of the work environment. Even if you have, it is still an aspect that will significantly change once you have given yourself the pink slip.

Many times people considering retirement or leaving a work situation mistakenly think that the friendship will just continue. The mistake is not the intent; it's not understanding the complexities that will ensure the relationship is maintained. Let's examine the various elements that must be considered.

  1. We often underestimate or don't even acknowledge the increase in time and effort required. When you work together, you don't have to make time in anyone's schedule – you're both already at work. You may not even "socialize" that much but simply the time spent interacting is conducive to building and expanding your regard for another person.
  2. We may miss the commonality that work created. There is an adage: We have friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Most friends fall into one of those categories. If the reason we formed our friendship was our work environment, what happens to the relationship when the one thing you had in common – isn't? Many times, people will put in an effort to maintain the friendship but over time it withers because the foundation that drew you together is now gone.
  3. When we work together, the work situation may cause you to not fully "see" the other person's character or personality. In other words, if you are in a funky work situation and you both help reinforce each other negatively, you certainly feel supported. What if the basic content of this person is negative anyway? Once the work situation is subtracted from your interactions, you may discover a fundamental aspect that is not so appealing.
  4. The other person may simply not be interested in pursuing a friendship outside of work.

These considerations are not insurmountable but do require some advanced thought and planning. If you are within a horizon for leaving your work place, now is the time to start changing the context of your work relationships. You can initiate activities outside of the work environment to either replace what you have in common, or minimally, to test how well you relate to each other without work as a backdrop. If you spend time complaining about the boss, make a pact to go an extended period of time not complaining. This will not only make you feel better (because you aren't reinforcing something negative) but it will open up the relationship to better observe each other's real personalities. You could discover you have nothing to talk about. This is much better to understand now than after you leave.

While you are in the midst of reorienting your work friendships, it's advisable to simultaneously work on cultivating friendships outside of work. Again, this will require some thought, time and effort. Friendships are formed because you share interests, hobbies or philosophies. The best way to discover those potential buddies is to become involved in groups that align with your interests. As a working person you may not think that you can afford the time for this kind of diversion. If you are going to supplant your automatic work friends with new ones you will be better off starting the process before you leave.

There are numerous other actions you can think of to leverage the work friends you've made as well as making new friendships outside of the work environment. You may have a very real concern about the impact on your work friendships. The point to this is that you will be far better off thinking through this issue and working on it than just letting it happen or avoiding taking the next step.