Retirement coach and author, Doug Passanisi, discusses being forced to leave a position he had worked at for nearly 20 years. He suddenly realized he was 60, retired, and vulnerable along with being single without a partner to share his thoughts and emotions. Learn some of the challenges he faced and how he worked through them. Doug also shares some of the keys he used to make a successful transition to a new chapter in his life.  You can reach Doug via email at d.passanisi@gmail.com.

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RS: The topic for today’s episode is Single, Retired and Vulnerable. My guest is fellow retirement coach and author Doug Passanisi. He resides in New York City.

RS: Doug and I both wrote a chapter in the book, The Retirement Challenge: A Non-Financial Guide From Top Retirement Experts. And Doug’s chapter was titled Single, Retired and Vulnerable. So, I’m very happy to have Doug here to talk about his chapter and share his experience. Welcome Doug. Thanks for being here and sharing your chapter with us.

DP: Great to be here and thanks for having me Reid.

RS: Absolutely. So, let’s just jump in. I think the best way to set the stage for your chapter, Doug, is to just give us a little bit of your background and maybe your work experience, and what led up to, from a career history standpoint; what led up to the point of you ending up being retired and vulnerable and single all at the same time.

DP: Yeah, I had a career in international civil service and hadn’t really much paid attention to (creating) a plan for retirement. All I wanted to do was get (to) my retirement. So, I concentrated sort of wholeheartedly on my job, which I loved for years and years. It entailed a lot of travel, lots of responsibility, a lot of staffing, finance, et cetera. So being entirely involved, and I wouldn’t say workaholic but close to workaholic-ish. When one of the organizations restructuring exercises happened, I was actually helping them do that for my unit. (RS laughs only because he has seen this happen all too often and all too close to home).

So, I did that actually without losing one person, restructuring, retraining the whole thing. And two weeks later I was notified that my position- there was a whole line of management positions were being eliminated. Uh, and I was out in a year and a half and we have forced retirement at 62.

DP: So, basically my HR department said, you know what, get out. So, I didn’t have much of a choice there. I could have tried to hang around for a year and a half and puzzle things together. But I didn’t really feel like doing that. So I ended up, I was single- I have grown kids, but they’re moved out. Uh, but then without a partner, without my work, and without a plan because this all happened really literally within weeks. I found myself sitting at home watching Judge Judy sort of scratching my head going, what, how did I end up here?

RS: Yeah, (unfortunately) I think that’s becoming more of a common story too. I have two people that I know, from different social circles, but that happened to them too, were very close to retirement, reorganizations happened, and they were just cut out of the picture just very, very quickly.

DP: Well, unfortunately, you know, we are, while we have the most experience, we’re also the most expensive.

RS: Yep.

DP: And, you know, they would rather hire two 22-year olds then, then one 60 year old and in many cases, not all cases. But uh, that’s pretty hard to take when you, when that’s a big part of your life.

RS: Absolutely, absolutely.

DP: So that’s how I ended up, and frankly with that title, was really how I felt when I was sitting at home with no office to go to- was here I am, don’t have a partner, don’t have a job. And gee, you know, I’m pretty vulnerable to the entire world here. So, what do I do?

RS: Nobody to share the experience with really at that point.

RS: So that kind of leads me into my first question. What were some of your initial thoughts, feelings, and emotions that you encountered during this transition? What kind of initially hit you?

DP: You know, I would have to say that, well, initially losing my job I was angry, mostly because there’s sort of that spousal failing with your job, if in fact you like your job and you’ve been at your job for a while and dedicated to it. Where you know you’re angry that your other half is leaving, so all of the investment and you’re sitting on your own.

So, I would say the first would be anger. And frankly, it took me a long time to get this, but I think a second was grief. I mean, I really was grieving the loss of being at my job and I didn’t really know sort of where that came from until I had to sort of sit there and separate my feelings. But it really was a sense of loss.

DP: Uh, then I’d say from there, then I got excited. It was sort of, well, you know, okay, I’ll get up, pull myself up by my socks and go get a new job and this will be exciting. And there was a sort of a little bit of excitement period. And that finally sort of led to disillusionment whereby you find out that not that many people want to hire a 60-year-old with a particular kind of experience that may or may not be specifically applicable. Especially in the millennial world where we’re living with technology and so on, that you may not be quite up to speed on. So, I found myself overpriced and over-experience, and that excitement faded rather quickly.

RS: And I think what’s interesting about what you just said, Doug, was there is a period where there’s a kind of an ebb and a flow, right? It, it goes from kind of being a low point to then having this excitement about the possibilities. You kind of get up a little bit higher and then you realize, well, being that age, I’m not going to find exactly what I had before. Then you kind of dropped down into another low. And it seems like you’re (a person) kind of waffling between these highs and lows, which makes it hard

DP: And you find out that, you know, we don’t really know at your age of retirement at 60 what it’s like (and) what it actually means to apply for a job now because it’s not what it was when we applied for jobs (earlier in our careers).

RS: Right.

DP: And all through my career anyway, I went from job to job, even in the same organization, really with ease. So, you know, you network, you find something else. I mean, it’s just life that happens around you. But suddenly I found that that wasn’t quite, there wasn’t as much movement, let me say as there had been in the past. And I was actually shocked at that because the career people I went to said, ‘Oh, you’ve got this excellent CV your resume is fantastic, you’re going to have absolutely no problem finding a job.’ Well, I mean they were completely wrong. So, it was a bit of a wakeup call.

RS: One of the other things that you talk about in your chapter was it was difficult for others to understand- others, being your friends, your family, your former colleagues- it was difficult for them to understand and sympathize with your situation. Tell us why it was difficult for them to understand it (your situation) first of all, but also to sympathize. And then, how did you work through that?

DP: You know, that was pretty interesting because uh, all the different types of things you experience, uh, typically you go to friends or it doesn’t matter what the issue is, they understand it because they’ve been through it. Relationship problem, family issues, work concerns, all of us, we’ve all been through those things.

DP: But retirement is a specific animal, and because most of my colleagues at work were younger than I was, I actually had very few friends who had retired. In fact, I had just a handful. So there was a very small pool to draw from. And when talking about this with the younger folks who were my colleagues at work, they were like, ‘well what’s the problem? Great. Go get another job.’ Yeah, there’s great things over here and here and here, but of course they were all 40, so that didn’t help me much.

And the folks who I knew who had retired, um, those few, we’re very happy to retire. They planned it, they worked on it for a long time and, and when they left their job, they were happy to leave their job. And when I left my job, I didn’t want to leave my job. So, there was a big disconnect there, because their impression was we work not to work, so now you don’t have to work, what are you complaining about? They didn’t understand that that whole sense of grieving and loss and I was feeling, and the younger folks had no idea what I was talking about. So, there was a bit of a gap of where to turn.

RS: Yeah, I think that’s interesting. What you talked about is the people that planned for their retirement and knew what that point of their life was going to look like, were the ones, from your experience, that were successful (in their retirement). But, if it happens to you unexpectedly, a lot of people are unprepared for that.

I think that’s another reason for people to, even if they aren’t necessarily looking to make a change, is to do a little bit of planning because then at least if something like that does happen unexpectedly, at least you’re a little prepared for it.

DP: That’s right. And that plan has a lot of pieces and for the folks who had thought about it, I just wasn’t one of those people who, you know, I didn’t realize, and I know this sounds silly, but I didn’t realize I was 60. And I didn’t realize that I was going to retire, and I didn’t realize that I had to decide what that meant because that was something that my parents did. I just did not, I was totally unaware that I was in that category, that I would have to start thinking and planning for that.

And as silly as that sounds, I think part of that comes from being single because when you’re single, you’re still sort of out and about and you’re not maybe quite as structured as a couple with a family might be where you’ve had to plan for paying for universities and doing things. Uh, when you end up single and on your own, you keep going without that structure a bit. So it may come more of a surprise.

RS: In another part of your chapter, Doug, you talk about finding a peer group of similarly experienced and retired individuals to help you during your transition. How did you go about finding or identifying a group of other individuals in a similar situation. And how did they help you?

DP: I actually had to reach out to find, first colleagues who I knew retired, or colleagues who knew of other colleagues who had retired, so I could chat with them about what they did and what plans they had. And what they were doing now and was their life fulfilling and you know, all those basic questions. But I really needed a peer group. I ended up actually having a coach, and it meant so much to me having that support, the need for that support and asking for that support in order to find sort of where exactly I wanted to be. And, that is why I’m a retirement coach because that support was so absolutely essential for me to move on that I wanted to be that for others as well.

DP: And so I went and got certified as a (retirement) coach, in fact, because of that.

RS: So when you reached out, you probably didn’t even know at that time there was something, somebody that was called a retirement coach. Or were you introduced to that person or did you…

DP: I knew a person who was a life coach, but who had dealt with people who are retiring and I got through that. I kept, I investigated retirement and start reading about retirement and actually discovered that there is a field of retirement coaching. And I jumped right in.

RS: Okay, good. So what are some of the things that you learned as a result of going through this transition? Maybe (some) things that you can share with others. Kind of more broad based things (that others could apply to their situation).

DP: I do a lot of training and I do a lot of facilitation of groups and teams and leaders and I use a lot of Ted talks and other inspirational sorts of materials in the work that I do with those teams. Application of those is meant for teams or for those professionals in a work situation. I happen to use a lot of Simon Simek, which I don’t know if you’re familiar, with a lot of folks use Yelp, but when I was that what he applies to leaders and organizations, there was a big void in me as an individual and his, uh, way of looking at, for example, an organization, if you’re working on a team, if you don’t have a common purpose, a common and why, why are you doing what you do? You’re never going to work as a team towards a common end because you’re doing it for different purposes.

DP: So that whole why, why am I here? What do I want? What is my purpose? What do I value? And then what am I going to do given that value? And then how do I want to do that? That whole why, what, and how model that he uses, I found was actually very applicable to me. That I needed to ask those same three questions.

And two very interesting (things), that in the example, he gives, is about the importance of having a brilliant and having a something of purpose and a value is when he says, uh, you know, Martin Luther King didn’t get hundreds, thousands of people in Washington by saying, I have a plan. You know, it was his dream that that caught on and his dream that intrigued in his freedom that went. And it is definitely true.

And with the organizations and the groups I work with, they find that so useful to bond together by that, by that purpose and value. And when I retired I found that I personally didn’t have that. And so it was very useful to sit down with myself. She used that, so.

RS: Yep. Perfect. So were there any things that you discovered about yourself personally as you went through this process? Maybe things that you weren’t aware of yourself that you found that you’re, that you had more strength than you thought you had or you had more resilience, or is there anything that you kind of found out about yourself?

DP: Well…maybe some things around resilience worked in there, but I will tell you very specific things that I’ve found out. And one is I didn’t know what leisure time meant. And I know that sounds really silly, but I had hobbies and I did things and all that, but I never actually thought about what does leisure mean and leisure time and having a leisurely life. What is that and how do I do it? So that was one thing that was quite surprising.

DP: The other thing was I didn’t really know how to manage time outside of work very well. And that is that in work I was very self directed. That’s, I mean that’s what I did. That was what my job was (to be self-directed and direct the work of others). Outside of work I was very lackadaisical. I do that at work, I don’t want to do that now. So if we’re going to dinner, don’t ask me if I want Chinese or Italian, just decide because I’ve been making decisions all day at work.

You end up being less directive than you were at work and yet your self is where all that energy should be put. I found, that in fact, I had taken that or it was robbed, or I gave it away. But it sat (stayed) of work, it didn’t sit within myself and I had to regain that.

RS: Yeah. I think that’s an important point, Doug, is that a lot of people, when they retire, all of a sudden now have an entire day to do whatever you want. And the leisure activities will make up whatever portion you decide they’ll make up of your day.

But a lot of people aren’t used to planning for those or incorporating those (time for activities) into their day. So I think that’s, that’s really important for people to think about is, is what, not only what leisure activities you’re going to do, but how much time they take each day.

DP: Right.

RS: And work that (activities) into your schedule.

DP: Well, you know, it’s interesting because people… I had a client and I asked her how she visits her retirement. She goes, well, I want to cook. And I said, oh, okay. Do you mean you want to open a restaurant or you’re going to sell cakes? Or what does that mean? Oh No, I just, you know, I just want to cook more. And I said, well, you realize you may have another 30 years, so are you going to cook for those 30 years? I mean, what does that mean cook and what part of that is your leisure time that you want to spend, which is a great thing. And then how about the other 23 hours a day? It is an important aspect to look at.

RS: In your book chapter, you have a section that’s titled ‘Embracing Vulnerability and Seeking Support.’ What advice would you offer others from your experience embracing vulnerability and seeking support? And we talked a little bit, I think earlier about the support that you seeked, but maybe tell us a little bit more about kind of those two areas.

DP:  You know, I actually learned a lot from a close friend of mine who was in recovery and we had so many conversations about what he was going through, leaving his substance behind. And when I was going through, leaving my work behind. And they ran in parallel, it was really quite amazing. We both faced similar vulnerabilities, similar in that he got a sponsor and I got a coach. Uh, he went to AA, I had a peer group of retirees. He took steps to make a plan. I made steps to take a plan.

I mean, it was really looking at all the vulnerabilities that happened to you that you’re, that you’re afraid of, but actually you just have to say, you know what, this is going to happen and, and, and I may fall down, but I’m going to have to get back up and here’s my support around me. Be it family or friends or coach or therapist or whatever it is in order to help me get along and get what I want to get out of retirement.

DP: And he kind of got the same thing out of recovery. So, I would just say that it was not being afraid of that (vulnerability) and not stepping away from it. I’m a big believer in Brene’ Brown’s whole philosophy about vulnerability. And I would say that embracing that and knowing that that’s okay is probably one of the greatest things to realize and to appreciate about yourself.

RS: Yeah. I think that’s good advice Doug. There’s so many things that happen in that (during that) retirement transition and you kind of just have to roll with it, right? You make the best out of it. You do what you can. And I think by embracing that vulnerability that makes the transition much more doable.

DP: And it’s only from the fall that you stand up. I mean, you know, that’s where the good things come. It may not be in the moment because of the moment, you learn something new, you meet someone, whatever, but you stand up. I mean, you know, that’s where the good things come, or it may not be in the moment because of the moment you learn something new, you meet someone or whatever.

DP: And that’s where that change happens. And that’s the transition. That’s the retirement transition is meeting those things (challenges) and going, wow, maybe we can do this or that or the other. And it’s pretty exciting, but it’s difficult at first to take that on.

RS:  You had a great line in the chapter, Doug, and I wanted you to talk a little bit about that. What you say is ‘the journey through life is iterative.’ So, tell us what you mean by that and why it’s important for people to keep that in mind as they transition into retirement.

DP: You know, I actually want to give you an example of that and that’s that. I was talking with a friend of mine (who was) just going through some difficulties, job and marriage and just normal sort of thing, but it seemed to be piling up a bit.

DP: And I asked him, I said, well…they had just moved to a new place, didn’t know people in our neighborhood, sort of a combination of things. And I said, so tell me what you feel? How are you feeling about your life? And he said, you know, I feel like my Playdough is gray. And for those of us who were raised with Playdough, you know, you have these canisters that are really fun and creative.

But the more you play with them and you’re not paying attention, the more they get mushed together. And at the end of the day, you end up with this clump of gray goo in front of you that is absolutely horrible to look at and you don’t want to play with anymore and you throw it away. And I just thought that this was such a great metaphor because in fact, he actually said, what I need to do is buy new canisters of Playdough and intentionally, intentionally look at each color and name it and create something in that color and decide how it fits together. How those different canisters and colors fit together rather than just clumping them together in the big ugly gray ball.

And I think that’s really that sense of being iterative is, you know, things happen and you learn and you move and you make the wrong move and you go, you know what we put it together, we take it apart, we, we take it apart separately or, and it may end up together again. But the whole thing is, to keep learning as you go through that, and appreciate the fact that you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to buy some more canisters and start again.

RS: Right, and I think the other thing to add to that too is to keep a positive attitude. Like we talked about before, know that some of these things, these challenges are going to be in front of us, but keep a positive attitude. Keep, like you said, learning and growing and make it as enjoyable as you can.

DP: Yeah.

RS: So lastly, before we wrap up here, Doug, is there anything else that you’d like to share about the chapter? I know we didn’t have time to cover your entire chapter. There’s a lot of great points that you make a lot of great advice in the chapter, and I encourage people to go purchase the book. I will include a link to the book in the transcript for this episode again, so people can go read Doug’s entire chapter. But before we close, Doug, is there anything you want to add?

DP: Oh, actually there’s one thing I think I’d add, and that is linked to what we just spoke about, and that is the iterative nature of life and therefore retirement. And that is that, maintaining sustainable curiosity throughout retirement is so important because once you become complacent with that, you start sitting down and watching ‘I Love Lucy.’

I mean if you really have that sustainable curiosity, and it doesn’t matter about what, because the older we get things happen and all the different dimensions that we coach in, for example, health and relationships and time management, building legacies, all these things…they’re all very curious. And you can actually get so involved in looking at health issues and what they mean and finding out about them, and not only for yourself, but for your family members or your friends or you end up being a health proxy for the neighbor next door.

DP: Or you do all these things. They’re really great IF you maintain a level of sustainable curiosity so you’re always learning. And if you do that, you will be vibrant and young as you continue through your aging. Even though your arthritis might kick in, but your mind is still going and curious and that’s the great thing that we have.

You know, Reid as we’ve talked about before, the thing now about retirement that may not have been the same in our parents’ time, or certainly in our grandparents’ time, and that is, I (we) may spend more time retired from my profession than I actually had in my professional. If you take that I may have another 30 years to live, which is longer than I spent in that (Doug’s) particular career that I mentioned, that’s a long time. And, if I don’t have the curiosity to find out about what’s around me, what I want to do in the world, my place in it, and what I value in it, it’s really a big loss.

RS: That’s a great point and a great place to end on. I think that’s perfect advice. Stay curious. One thing I hadn’t thought of, Doug, is what you pointed out is stay curious and all these different areas and aspects of retirement, whether it’s our health, whether it’s our friends, all of the different aspects. If you stay curious, that will keep, I think, all of us moving forward and moving forward successfully in retirement.

DP: Yep. Keeping engaged, you know, like the matter what aspect.

RS: That’s right. Yup. Yup. That’s great. Doug. Again, I appreciate you sharing your chapter with us today and hopefully we’ll talk again soon. Thanks Doug.

DP: Very good. Great to be with you. Thanks Reid.