There is life after full-time employment

Stepping away from decades of work is an invaluable chance to start afresh, says Shakil Butt

It’s been just a year since I left my former employer, swapping the world of work for pastures new in the consultancy space. At times, the past 12 months has dragged on, while in other ways it has passed in the blink of an eye. Most of all, it has been surreal – which is understandable, as I’d been an employee for 30 years and had known nothing but work since I was 18.

It is often said work gives you purpose there is without doubt some truth in that. Every morning of every working day I knew I had somewhere to go, a role to play, some value to add. I would have people looking to me to lead, to develop solutions and to bring people together around a shared organisational issue. 

I had my own air conditioned office with a leather chair and after many years had accumulated artefacts, gifts, mugs, certificates, awards, and other assorted junk which has mostly ended up in storage. 

I had teams of people, banter, drama and so much. more The projects, the scope, the scale and people all changed during these 30 years but the one constant was a sense that I mattered in the workplace and had a contribution to make. 

My social circle was my work colleagues, and vice versa. Spending eight hours or more a day together, we would celebrate birthdays and support one another during times of loss. We knew each other’s spouses and children, and we met socially inside and outside of work – the emergence of WhatsApp made this blurring of work and personal life complete, with interactions and exchanges going beyond working hours.

Similarly, my direct reports became close friends. Friendship brought its own challenges, particularly when having ‘honest’ conversations about work, but also opportunities through trust and mutual respect. 

As I became more senior, my workload grew and increasingly I became a person with a title rather than a person. Work became a distraction from life itself. Taking away that title forces you to ask the question – who does that leave? 

I am so much more than my title, my qualification, my experience and competence which typically in the employment market is primarily what is being measured and assessed. 

Taking away the workload means suddenly I could breathe again and while I may have lost my role, I had now begun to find myself, asking myself those tough questions about my purpose in life, my personal vision, my mission and my values. 

I spent most of my working adult life at my last employer. So naturally my last day was a real emotional rollercoaster. The sense of loss and pain knowing my life was about to change forevermore, mixed with the sense of relief I was finally free. Spending that last day with friends and colleagues, taking selfies, sharing stories and listening to the accounts of the lives I had touched, was emotional and memorable. The friends that matter are still in my life while others have drifted into the ether, forcing me to make new friends outside work. 

Since then, like any loss or bereavement, there are times I have longed to turn back the clock – but the adventure of what lies ahead also calls to me. Although I must confess that during this heatwave I really do miss my air-conditioned office.

Shakil Butt is HR hero at HR Hero for Hire. He tweets at @ShakilButt