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Words Matter. Can Just One Change Your Mindset?

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By Joe Casey

Let’s call him Max — he’s one of my executive coaching clients. His company considers him a high potential leader and they’ve promoted him to a stretch assignment, way outside of his comfort zone, to broaden out his experience. They’ve hired me to help him accelerate his learning process.

Right Or Left?

Max is a financial whiz. He’s analytically gifted. His numbers always tick and tie. He’s the final word on the financial aspects of his company’s business. His company wants him to learn more about the customer side of the business so they’ve rotated him to run Marketing. He enthusiastically dove right into the market research analytics, but he’s struggling mightily with the creative parts. He hates it. At our first meeting, he exclaimed “I’m a 100% left-brainy guy and they’re trying to turn me into something I’m just not – a touchy-feely right-brainy guy.”

What About And?

Over the past few weeks his attitude is starting to change. Because of a single word – And.

Max and I are working on the question What if? He’s becoming more open to his new role by exploring What if he looked at things from both a left and a right brain point of view? He’s seeing that its helping him listen more to his team. To his surprise, he’s finding that he’s becoming curious about how they see something – and why. He finding that it adds a lot to what he knows from his left-brain perspective. He’s seeing value in the word And. He has a strong preference, but he’s beginning to use more of his brain by tapping into others more. A work in progress.

We Crave Certainty

Max is not alone. Many of us crave clarity and certainty. We want the right answer. We want to know who won and who lost. We hate ties. (I have also come to loathe extra innings and overtimes). We apply labels to give us some certainty. Are you a liberal or a conservative? We want to know. But our quest for clarity has a down side. It can limit our thinking – and our growth.

The Two Sides of Retirement

When it comes to retirement, like Max, we often start with the left-brainy stuff. Projections. Forecasts. Timetables. Draw-down scenarios. All are very important. They can help create a sense of greater certainty.

But there’s a right-brainy side to retirement. Sometimes, we can ignore it. Or put it off.

There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty to the right-brain side of retirement. Sometimes it comes as a big surprise. One of the biggest is Identity. We spend many years at a profession and it becomes how we describe ourselves. When that career phase of our life ends, it can be a shock to the system. I see some people get stuck there. They may be thinking in a left-brain fashion “I was X, now I’m no longer X, so therefore I am less than X”. Clear, but limiting.

We’re Multi-dimensional – Remember?

Spending years in a career can lead us to forget that we are multi-dimensional. When I was in high school, we played three sports, with the seasons. By the times my children played, there’s was a strong emphasis on specializing in one sport – early. But the beauty of the right-brain side of retirement is re-invention. The word And can help. “I was X and now I am Y too”. Retirement gives you the opportunity to design a next chapter and experiment with new activities, including work. It gives you a second chance to design this phase of your life around things you enjoy. And that can include things you once were interested in but put aside.

Go beyond either/or thinking. Explore how your story will include “I was X and I now I am Y”. You can be And.

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