213. [Curveball Series] When You're Forced to Retire From Your Corporate Career with Roberto Seif

Lou Blaser (00:00:02) - A lot of people say that they don't ever want to retire, but if you're employed, the fact of the matter is this isn't entirely under your control. You may be forced or pushed into retirement without warning and often way before you'd like to. the company you work for could decide to reorganize, for example, cut positions or lay off people. It could be acquired by another company, resulting in air changes. It could even go under completely. All of these things are common occurrences in the world that we live in today. When we were younger, it was easy to imagine that we would just dust up our resumes and look for another job. But as we get older, this "simple solution" becomes more and more challenging for us. And we may be pushed into a situation where we're having to make a pivot or a career reinvention to stave off retirement. This was exactly what Roberto Seif experienced a couple of years ago, and in this episode, he shares his experience so that we may find key lessons that we can apply should this ever happen to us.

Lou Blaser (00:01:16) - You're listening to Second Breaks. And I'm Lou Blaser. In addition to hosting this podcast where we explore how we can thrive through midlife transitions, I also publish a weekly newsletter called Midlife Cues. Think of Midlife Cues as a weekly meditation on intentional living and personal growth in midlife. Check it out and subscribe at midlifecues.com. That's midlife C U E S one word.com. Roberto Seif built his corporate career launching products and brands. Innovation was his superpower. It was his main area of specialization. And in 2019, he was part of a global architecture and design firm working with a high-profile team called Strategic Innovation. As it happens, sometimes with high profile, high functioning teams, his boss got poached by one of their largest clients, moved to the West Coast, along with most of their team, leaving Roberto and another team member behind. Shortly thereafter, the firm decided to lay them off. It was the summer of 2019 before Covid changed everything.

Roberto Seif (00:02:50) - It was summer. I said, Well, this is a great moment for me to reset. And I have two little girls. They were back then, you know, two and five. And I said, Well, this is going to give me a great opportunity to just take some time off, spend time with with the family while I figure it all out. So I went on, interviewed with a bunch of companies, started looking in September, then October, and then suddenly, boom, we're in the holidays, holidays, everything stops. Things are starting to drag out. And then it wasn't until like finally, like March, early, early March, where I was about to land a job. And that same week when they were about to give me the offer, Boom, state of emergency. Covid happens. Everything goes in the air.

Lou Blaser (00:03:40) - Fortunately, Roberto's wife had a full-time job at that time with Covid upending everything and nobody knowing what was going to happen next or how long the pandemic would last. Roberto and his wife made the decision that Roberto would stay with the kids while his wife worked her job. He would take care of the household while they wait out and figure out their next steps. Sounds like a plan, right? Well, soon after, Roberto started feeling anxious about his situation.

Roberto Seif (00:04:14) - I never realized until that point how much I've been conditioned my entire life to, you know, think about, well, my career is only going to go up, and then I'm going to be the breadwinner of the family. So it's all those gender-related expectations, right? And, you know, both gender and, you know, overachiever, family-type expectations were so deeply ingrained in my mind. So I was excited to be with the girls, but at the same time, very reluctant about it because I went from, you know, hotshot innovation strategist. You know, everybody was, oh my gosh, your title is so cool. How did you get into this to, you know, spending my days picking up toys and, you know, making sandwiches and, you know, doing several loads of laundry. So it really hit me hard. And at that point, I just started to feel very lost.

Lou Blaser (00:05:08) - To make matters worse, when Roberto finally got back to the marketplace and tried to look for a job, he found everything seemed to have changed overnight. Covid forced the entire world to work differently, and for some industries, the changes were more than simply about working remotely.

Roberto Seif (00:05:29) - So I did, you know, the mistake that every person does, which is straight going to LinkedIn and indeed and all the job boards and start, you know, browsing endlessly for something that, you know, that fit. So my background is a generalist, and all the innovation that I did for the vast majority was with brick-and-mortar types of businesses. And as you know, in the pandemic, everything became digital first. So my entire profession changed drastically from one day to the other. At that point, companies were just looking for, you know, how much digital experience you have, how many, you know, apps and so forth have you launched? My only response was always, I know how to think about it because I know how to do this. I just don't have the vocabulary and the case studies to show.

Lou Blaser (00:06:23) - So in effect, what was happening to Roberto then was that certain circumstances outside of his control were forcing him into retirement. By this, I mean retirement from his corporate career and corporate identity. When he was initially laid off, he was not planning on walking away from it, but that was where he found himself. Anybody working in the corporate world knows that forced retirement isn't uncommon. It can happen to anybody at all levels of seniority or specialization. Being pushed into retirement before one is ready can be problematic, not only for financial reasons. Our jobs, the roles we play, and the positions we hold often form part of our identity. When we are stripped of those key pieces, it can be very disorienting. We start questioning who we are, where we fit, or what even are we good for anymore?

Roberto Seif (00:07:29) - It also got me in an identity crisis, you know, and I started going down in that spiral of going, oh, my gosh, I don't know where I fit anymore.

Roberto Seif (00:07:42) - I don't know where I'm good at anymore. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.

Lou Blaser (00:07:46) - People who have built successful careers naturally get immense pride from such accomplishments and tend to have a big part of their identities tied to their careers. I know a lot of people out there say that this should not be the case, but I believe this is a natural byproduct of having spent a lot of time and energy nurturing something and enjoying accomplishments in that area and being proud of those accomplishments. I think this is one thing many people retiring from their corporate careers miss in their planning and preparation, and they are shocked, as I was when I left my corporate life behind, to realize how much of their personal sense of self and identity come from their job role or title. I don't know if you went through this, but I when I when I left corporate America, I did it by choice. But even though I did it intentionally, I went through this precise thing myself also. And I was caught by surprise because I was like, why am I feeling this way? I remember the first few months and I would meet someone and I never knew how to introduce myself, and I would always go back to saying I used to be or I was the former such and such because I didn't know how else to describe myself anymore. Did you go through that as well?

Roberto Seif (00:09:07) - Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. So one of the biggest insights that I had was, you know, we often think about a career change as well. I'm going to figure out what I want to do next and I'm just going to go and do it right. But what people don't realize is precisely there is a humongous emotional transition that occurs there. You know, leaving behind your current your past identity is, you know, it takes time. It's like a muscle that you have to develop, right? You're becoming something else. You're you're you're kind of like a caterpillar that just went into a chrysalis, and you're coming out as a butterfly, right? So you're no longer you're never going to be that person again. Um,, and that is a very scary thought, right? Because we are trained, especially in our generation. We learned this concept of, you know, of attachment to job security. Yeah.

Lou Blaser (00:10:12) - And you're proud of your career, especially when you're proud of your career, right? Obviously proud of your career achievements.

Roberto Seif (00:10:19) - Right, right. One thing that I noticed was when I was on my full-time dad duties, when when it came already time when we could, you know, congregate with, you know, other kids in the park and all that. I noticed how defensive I felt, just as you were saying, when, you know, their parents were like, so what do you do? And I was like, well, I'm a you know, I used to be a consultant, but now I'm a you know, I'm a full-time dad, almost as if I had to apologize for it. Right. And and I had I remember I had this conversation when, you know, one of my best friends and I was telling him, wow, how you know, how inadequate I felt. And I came out from an interview I remember with a company where they asked me, So what have you been doing lately? And of course, I had what what every person learned to do through conventional career advice.

Roberto Seif (00:11:14) - Put on that you're an independent consultant and come up with whatever bogus projects and like, you know, so and hide behind that mask. So what happened then? I had this interview and for the first time the interviewer asked me, So what are things that you've been doing so far as an independent consultant that are relevant to the job? Right? So I went, okay, well, let me explain to you. I'm actually be mostly a full-time parent, but these are the skills that I have developed. You know, think about it as that artist that disappears and reevaluate and comes back with a new set of skills and a new perspective. Right. And the recruiter just didn't buy it. No. Um, so and so. And I told my friend this story. Wow. You know, this just happened. And his question really unlocked something. He said, Well, what are you trying to hide and why? And it stopped me for a second. I said, Well, um, I don't know.

Roberto Seif (00:12:16) - It's all of this identity that that I have. I feel like, you know, I'm feeling inadequate about it. That's it. Right? And. And he answered, Why? What's wrong with being a full-time dad? Why don't you actually own it?

Lou Blaser (00:12:37) - Let me cut to the chase here and say that Roberto did end up owning it, as his friend suggested quite publicly. As a matter of fact, he shared his reality and experiences on LinkedIn and got such positive feedback from people. He also heard from many who were in similar situations and he realized that he has much to share to help others. He went on to get a coaching certification and today he is a career coach for mid-career professionals who are looking to make a career pivot. My conversation with Roberto highlighted a few things for me that I believe are applicable not only to people who are looking to make a career change but also to mid lifers who find themselves forced to leave their corporate career. I think these are also applicable to recent retirees were thinking of returning to the workforce.

Lou Blaser (00:13:34) - So here you go. Number one. Sometimes, like Roberto, you may find that getting back to a field or role similar to what you previously had is unlikely for whatever reason. Maybe the industry has changed or the profession has reinvented itself with all the new whiz-bang technologies that are available now, rather than despair or continue knocking on similar doors with increasing amounts of frustration. You may think of this as an opportunity to make a pivot or a career change, and the best way to do this is to play to your strengths.

Roberto Seif (00:14:13) - Really, a career reinvention is not an act of demolition, as it is more an act of remodeling. You know, it's very similar to those I designed on a dime shows that you see where they just take down a couple of walls and, you know, they refresh the cabinets and reconfigure the furniture. But the bones are the same. There is this dream thing going like, well, you know, I was a high-powered attorney. Now I'm going to go open up a yoga studio in Costa Rica.

Roberto Seif (00:14:41) - Right. Well, that happens every now and then. But in the majority of cases, it's you know, there is a reason that you pursued this one career you have. What happened is that, you know, similar to like a marriage. Right. It's like over time, you know, routine kicks in and so forth. And so you have to find a way to fall, to fall back in love again. Right. And that takes an effort to reconfigure some things. Right? You have to see your career in a different lens. So to give you an example, you know, it as it might sound from the surface that I went from innovation strategies to, you know, mid-career reinvention coach, I'm actually still doing innovation strategy, the same thing that I've been doing for brands. Now I'm doing it for people, see. So it was just a change in perspective, but the same strings, the same knacks, the same superpowers, the same all of these things continue as they were. It just simply refocused.

Lou Blaser (00:15:49) - Of course, playing to our strengths requires that we know our strengths. One thing I've noticed from working with my clients is that many find it hard to see their strengths in a different light outside of the construct of their current world. So I'll speak to someone who's worked in the banking industry for decades, for example, and hear that they feel they have no marketable skills outside of the banking industry or similar to Stephanie Dethlefs, my guest in episode 198, who was a teacher and had to retire from that profession for personal reasons, initially thought she had nothing to bring to the table outside of a classroom. Now, when we hear these things, when we hear people say these things, we cannot believe our ears. Of course, they have tons of skills that can be applied in other scenarios. It's easy for us to see it, but it's so much harder for them to see their skills outside of their original habitat. If this resonates with you, make it easy on yourself by asking a friend to think with you.

Lou Blaser (00:16:56) - Get a thinking buddy. Or if you have the resources, hire a coach to help you see your skills in a different light. Trust me, if you have been working for decades in a particular field or industry, you've got skills. You just need to see them with a different lens. Number two, it may take a while for you to figure out what you want to do next. Sometimes it's because you're too focused on the old path that you cannot see a new one that's right in front of you.

Roberto Seif (00:17:30) - As I was trying to figure this whole thing out, you know, and I got so distracted down in this downward spiral that I was not seeing the real signals that were right in front of my nose. Once I heard this phrase that said, you know, if you want to know what you want to do next, pay attention to what you pay attention to.

Lou Blaser (00:17:56) - I am such a fan of that phrase. Pay attention to what you pay attention to in the context of personal growth. And I've actually written about this on midlife cues, which I'll put a link to in the show notes, but I like Roberto's take on it too.

Lou Blaser (00:18:10) - What pulls our attention today may be the clue to what we should be exploring as our next step. In Roberto's case, it was everything career and career change. He couldn't stop reading about and talking to people about it. He'd get on phone calls with people looking for advice or insight, or just to exchange ideas about mid-career change. And as soon as he realized this, it led him to his next step.

Roberto Seif (00:18:38) - So while all of this was happening, I've had several of my friends reaching out saying, Hey, Roberto, while you're trying to figure your next steps out, you know, can we have a Zoom call? I'm going through these issues in my career. Then the other one was like saying, Well, you know, I'm trying to launch a new business, but I'm all confused. And so I said, Yeah, sure, let's let's have a one-hour conversation and see as we're having these conversations, I started noticing how quickly and how easily I was able to help these folks reframe their thinking.

Roberto Seif (00:19:14) - And and it became surprisingly, very apparent. Seeing them go from a state of being completely comatose to leaving a 60 minute conversation saying, oh my gosh, this was the most helpful thing I've ever had. Thank you. Can we talk again next week? So little did I know I was prototyping my next move.

Lou Blaser (00:19:36) - But like I said, this could take some time. I've talked about my own experiences in previous episodes, about how it took me a while to really figure out what I wanted to do next. I wasn't sitting doing nothing. I was doing everything at that time. I was mightily frustrated with myself. Now I look back and see that what I was doing was experimenting, trying on different hats to see what fits best. This process can take some time for some people, particularly those who spent their entire careers in one field or in one industry. That's why I often recommend people to start thinking about this even before they retire. Some people say to me that they don't have time to research or experiment while they're still at their primary jobs.

Lou Blaser (00:20:24) - I say that at the very least, ask yourself the question or questions and let those questions marinate in the back of your mind. But don't postpone thinking about this until you're already retired, especially if you're not aiming for 100% retirement in the traditional sense. So here's the thing. Even the most stable corporate job will come to an end. If we're lucky, that ending would be of our own design, and we would have had the time to plan for it. But for so many, this is not the case. Many are forced to retire from their corporate careers before they are ready or have had the time to prepare. If this happens to you know that there are several options, different paths that you can take forward, it may not be obvious in day one and it may take some time to suss it all out. The important thing is to avoid getting so frustrated and depressed about it. To give yourself some space, to think and time to experiment and to get some help. If figuring out your next steps has really gotten you in a bind.

Lou Blaser (00:21:39) - I want to thank Roberto Seif for sharing his personal story and insights with us. You can find out more about Roberto and connect with him on LinkedIn. I'll put a link on the show notes to his LinkedIn account and his website. If this episode resonated with you or if you've had a similar experience or an entirely different one, let me know. I'd love to hear from you. You can find me on LinkedIn where I hang out the most these days. Retirement, whether planned or forced is a milestone that we will at some point reach. And retirement these days doesn't mean one thing. It has many different versions and permutations. If you're a recent retiree or within 2 to 5 years of retirement and have questions about pre-retirement strategy, a list of post-retirement concerns, or need help and require information to guide your future, then you may be interested to learn about retirement inside Intensive. I'll put a link in the show notes so you can find out more about it and see if this could be the right answer to your questions.

Lou Blaser (00:22:43) - Okie dokie. That's all I have for you today. I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Until then, keep on making your dent, my friend. Cool beans.

213. [Curveball Series] When You're Forced to Retire From Your Corporate Career with Roberto Seif
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