When I was a kid, my parents were friends with another couple, Maynard and Lou. (Lou's female.) Maynard and Lou had lived together for years, had two daughters together, owned a series of homes together, and even launched a successful business together. The only thing they didn't do was marry. Maynard kept proposing every single Valentine's day, but Lou thought formal marriage was just a piece of paper and she didn't see the point.
Years later, I ran into them at the reception for my own father's second wedding. Turns out, they had at long last wed after Maynard proposed in such an outrageously public fashion that it was covered in the Boston Globe. I asked, 'Is being married any different than before?" "Yes it is," Lou answered emphatically. Although she couldn't quite verbalize what the difference was precisely, it did exist, and exist profoundly.
So, what does this story have to do with retiring - or, as I now call it for myself, taking a sabbatical?
Over the past 18 months, I've shifted from working overtime at the office, to working full-time offsite, to working part-time offsite, to quitting my job but staying in the game via professional groups, and then at last to quitting everything to do with my old job entirely. The difference in my emotions, anxiety, mindset, dreams at night, even my sense of everyday hope and joy, was by far the most radical with the last two changes.
The change between working fulltime versus part-time, even very limited part-time, wasn't such a big deal. I thought it would be. I thought I would be flooded with returned energy and freedom. I wasn't. Actually, I felt more anxious and stressed than I had before, stuck in an awful in-between place not really a dedicated worker but certainly not a free person either. If you are in your work shackles, even a little bit, you're still enslaved to your work.
I've learned you have to quit all the way, 100%, or you won't get the true benefits of quitting. New doors won't open until the old ones have been firmly shut. This New Year's Eve I shut the final one - handing in my resignation to a private club of business owners that I'd belonged to for nearly a decade. It was hard, these people included many of my smartest buddies and mentors. Their emailed advice and comments filled my inbox 20-40 times a day, and we all looked forward to the times we could meet in-person backstage at industry events. I bit my lip and said goodbye.
Now, a few days later, I feel tremendous relief. I hadn't expected that. I hadn't expected this sense of stability in my new freedom. This calm in the face of a nearly-empty email in-box.
My lesson - you can't get the true benefits of not working in your old profession if you keep working in it even a little bit. The tremendous value of taking some time off from career can only realized if you leave career completely behind. And maybe it's the same with cementing a personal committment with formal marriage. That little piece of paper made all the difference in the world.