The last year I worked in my career job, I went through a gradual forced readiness, a metamorphosis of sorts. I went from a driven, workaholic, to invisible, discounted mediocrity.
I went from knowing I was a valued employee to wondering if I had any skills to offer at all. It was a painful process, starting with a reorganization that had me reporting to an inexperienced younger woman. It smacked of betrayal and oozed of disrespect, all of which felt like actual blows delivered in words and actions.
It ended with an offer of a retirement package that was nearly impossible to refuse.
I understand that my value to the company had changed, that it was taking a turn in a different direction. Albeit unspoken and hard to prove, ageism sure had something to do with it. (A topic for other posts, for sure!)
So I left, thankful to be gone from an environment that just made me feel sad, laden with memories of what used to be, of what was lost. I still grieved the loss.
But I learned several valuable life lessons in the transition.
Invisibility is a Feeling, Not a Reality
Years ago, I heard dramatist Nicole Johnson do a wonderful 5-minute talk on her invisibility to her family. Although unrelated to retirement and aging, she did make a point that I think transcends all of these situations.
My feeling of invisibility is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is an antidote to my own pride.
I have not erased myself from others’ visibility. I learned to be ok with changes in my status, in my bottom-line value to a company’s success, and mostly, in others’ opinions of me as a result of these changes.
If I define my wholeness based on others’ notice of me, then I will be constantly at the mercy of the people’s mood I seek attention from!
Wanting our opinions to be heard and respected, to be a value-add to an employer or leader, are certainly not unreasonable expectations. We are not puritans living a stoical, feelingless life. I get that. I know. I was one who sought after all of that, too!
So what to do when it happens, when it dries up, when the feeling of invisibility gets close to overwhelming your very being?
Steps towards Visibility
Beyond that (and it’s a big step to get here), there’s a few steps I took to get through this painful time (and it’s real pain, no disputing that!) that might help you out.
- Decide who you want to be visible to. Who is it that you want to be noticed by? Reassess who matters; who really matters. Trust me on this. Of all these other tips, it is the thing that pulled me out of the emotional mess the fastest. I immersed myself in others – not in the job, or in the people who can advance me at the job, not even in the success of the company – but in people who I have a forever-valued stake in their game, and they in mine.
For me, as a Christian, I absorbed more fully my belief that God is the only one who can fill this void. Laden with a dose of common sense pragmatism, I know He will never leave. He will never give me a lucrative package to get rid of me. He promised to be with me wherever I go and I believe it.
God always says “I see you.”
- Reframe your worldview. What does visibility represent to you? Do you need to be noticed by other people to feel good about yourself? Is your worth wrapped so tightly in your job that you feel completely lost without it? Who are you if you didn’t work here/there?
I know these are questions we should all be looking at as we move towards retirement. But these are also questions I have returned to over these 4 years post-retirement whenever my ego feels bruised and unnoticed.
- Choose how you feel. When we are physically sick, we don’t get that clear of a choice. But invisibility is a choice of feeling, not a reality. Find your OK-state-of-mind that isn’t defined and refined by others’ notice of you.
Visibility emerges when you stop seeing others’ eyes on you, and start seeing what your eyes see.
- Be a lifelong learner, no matter what. The job doesn’t define the limits of your interest or the barriers to your learning. I found that when I started to explore other interests, my need to be noticed started to dwindle, replaced by my need to be informed about the unrelated.
The most interesting people I ever worked with were those who had incredibly unrelated-to-the-job hobbies or interests. I worked with a House Band singer, a Revolutionary War re-enacter, a Fisherman, a Bible Study leader, a Parttime Librarian, a Sailboat enthusiast, an Amateur BirdWatcher…I just had to ask about their off-the-job interest, and they would light up with enthusiasm rarely demonstrated on the job!
There’s no disputing that invisibility hurts, just like any other pain-filled feeling. But how we react to it is still our choice, and still a feeling that we can choose to keep or discard.
The choice is always ours to make.