Life After the C Suite
Life After the C-Suite
We’ve been lucky. Each of us has experienced considerable professional success. Jane founded and grew a highly profitable, cutting edge company, and Rebecca served for over a decade as dean of a top tier law school.
Of course, the turtle on the fence post didn’t get there by itself, and neither did we. We had husbands, mentors, and colleagues who believed in us and who encouraged us each step of the way, enabling us to become leaders in our fields. In turn, we worked tirelessly to achieve our career success, and we take considerable pride in what we accomplished.
But we each decided to step away. Our reasons for doing so were varied. Essentially, though, each of us felt we had achieved what we set out to do in our fields, and the punishing workload no longer seemed worth the costs. Been there, done that is trite, but it pretty well sums it up.
Now we’re experiencing life outside the fast paced executive suite, and the transition has been affirming but not without its challenges. We suspect many of you are experiencing, or are contemplating, similar transitions of your own. We thought talking about what we’ve learned may be of some use to some of you, and we, in turn, look forward to learning from you.
One of the things we’ve done since leaving our former jobs is to start Hanner Clarke, and we’re happy, through future blog posts, to take you along on our entrepreneurial journey.
Here are some of the questions we’ve been asked since leaving our former careers behind.
How did you know it was time to step away?
In my life as a lawyer, I saw companies that failed because the entrepreneur stayed on too long; I never wanted to be that person. This is difficult because with a company you give everything you have to it, you share of yourself and surround yourself with talented people you enjoy spending time with, and you hope to do good. We were fortunate that Counsel on Call grew and moved from an entrepreneurial company to a “grown up” company—a company that needed processes, protocols, systems and other things that provide consistency and predictability. I am an entrepreneur—I loved creating and solving problems by coming up with customized solutions. Yet, our company needed to move past this. Since I liken starting and growing a company to raising a child—it was ready to be a grown up. At the same time, our four children were growing older, and I felt it was time for me to travel less and spend more time with them. Thus, looking at the best interests of the company and our family, the time was right to bring in someone with experience and gifts that better suited the company.
I was honored to serve as our law school’s dean and had happily embraced the challenges, and the punishing schedule, along with the satisfaction of being able to have an impact on an institution I loved. But I knew it was time for me to step away when I started longing for more freedom and control over my life. I wanted less stress and more time with my husband (who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness); I knew our time together was slipping away, and I wanted more time for us. After his death (shortly after I stepped down as dean), being present for my children and having the freedom to go to and spend time with them became my highest priority. I learned the hard way not to take time for granted. Life is short.
What have you most enjoyed about life after “retirement”?
Honestly, mornings are the best. Although I still am an early riser, it is a true luxury to be able to move quietly into the day. And being able to travel has been a godsend. My daughter lives several states away, and being able to spend more time with extended family and to relax, whenI want, by the ocean. I’m a new grandmother, too, so being able to spend time with my granddaughter and my son and daughter-in-law has been a joy.
Travel! While we would always make time for family vacations and I traveled almost every week while working full time, I was always stressed to get home. If a flight cancelled I was scrambling to find another airline. If we were on a family trip, I liked to get home by Friday/Saturday so I could spend a day getting laundry/grocery taken care of and then focused on reviewing emails and getting ready for the workweek. There was always a bit of stress with travel! Now not at all. If a flight gets cancelled, there will be another one. If we are on family trips we come back Sunday evening. Now I do have to remind myself that I can relax as I get things done more leisurely. Some habits are hard to break but I realize they are worth breaking!
What has been your biggest surprise?
I always thought that when I had more time I would be a machine—I would work out every day, I would eat better, I would clean out pantries, closets, cabinets...our house would be perfect. Well....not so much! While I enjoy an organized pantry, closet, healthy meals and a lean body, I have found it difficult to make these things happen. Maybe it wasn’t the lack of time but rather not how I am wired! I have made steps in all these areas, but it is a work in progress.
That I haven’t missed the job! I truly loved my job as a law professor and as a dean, and even though I knew leaving was the right decision for me, I thought I would miss it, at least little bit, particularly teaching. But I haven’t. I’ve relished the freedom to travel and to do what I want when I want. I still keep my hand in, though, remaining active in research and with work on behalf of the profession. I’m surprised I’m not exercising more; I thought that more free time would mean more time for physical fitness. Now I just have no excuse!
What do you do with your newly found free time?
Apart from time spent on Hanner Clarke, I travel, research and write, read, spend time with family and friends. I’ve even joined a book club!
First, there is not as much free time as I thought there would be, another surprise! Second, I am still working on this one—as I have a 15 year old I do enjoy taking and picking her up from school (knowing next year that too will pass); attending my children’s events and activities, and trying to find things to engage with.
What advice would you give someone contemplating a career transition in middle age?
First, take the time to get used to not having a work routine/schedule. As I have worked since I was 15 years old—including full time through out college—this took and is taking some time. Second, do things you think you will enjoy—whether playing tennis, golf, gardening, book clubs—anything you always thought you would enjoy—see if you do—you may be surprised! Third, be ready for the question, “So what are you doing?” I had to allow myself not to feel guilty by saying “taking time for myself and my family” rather than talking about the different boards I am on or the business that I work with. Fourth, don’t rush to get on boards or join nonprofits simply to have an answer to number 3. Fifth, after some time, list what you really want to spend time doing and think about what offers you the ability to do this and then proceed. If you want to do something else professionally, you will probably have to put yourself out there—people will not come rushing to you. Finally, someone told me “Don’t tell people you are retired unless you are really ready to move to a retirement community.” I believe this is true.
Make sure you understand the extent to which your professional identity is important to you and be prepared to accept that leaving your career behind may affect your sense of self. You’ll be developing, in many ways, a new identity, one that is not based on what you used to do.
Don’t worry about finding things to fill your time; your time will fill up faster than you think. So be purposeful about how you want to spend it. Meaningful and important work can be done as a volunteer, and you can do it on your own terms. If you want to do something completely out of the box (like start a handbag company!), do it! Now is the time. But if what you really want to do is to spend your time simply being more present in the lives of those you love, do that full bore, without guilt or apology. You’ve earned it.