Thirty years ago, my wife and I made our first trip to Hilton Head Island to visit Bob, a mentor of mine, who had recently retired. It is a beautiful place to vacation, the beach, biking trails and of course one of my favorites, golf. On a beautiful March afternoon while we were playing golf, I commented to him how beautiful and peaceful it was on the island, then I asked him in midst of all the beauty, what were the biggest problems. He didn’t hesitate in his answer, he immediately said “Alcoholism and Depression.” I asked him to tell me more. He said the island is full of people who retired from very successful corporate and military careers. When they worked, they felt important and relevant. Now, they were just one of the many retired people on the island. They didn’t feel relevant anymore, which pushed them to drink, be depressed or both.
Most of us believe the unknown is our greatest fear, but I don’t think it is. I personally don’t like the unknown, but sometimes the unknown can be exciting. I believe there is a deeper fear that is connected to the unknown that rattles us to the core. It’s the one I learned about that day on Hilton Head Island.
We fear not being relevant anymore. Deep down we all want to be needed, valued, important, etc., it’s what keeps us going.
The dictionary definition for relevant is “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” That defines it, but it doesn’t bring out the emotions we face. You’ll find emotions when you look at the meaning of antonyms (opposites) for relevant, words like pointless, immaterial, or extraneous. Ask yourself how you would feel if you believed any of these words or phrases described you?
- devoid of meaning
- devoid of effectiveness
- not vital
Yikes! It’s those words that scare us, and they are especially prevalent during transitions, regardless of whether it’s professional or personal. Why? Because in a transition, we’ve left the known and are moving toward something new that is unknown. A transition accelerates feelings that we already have within ourselves that were in hiding.
In a transition we question ourselves:
- Will I be effective working with the new computer system?
- Will the new company that purchased ours consider the work I do to be vital?
- Am I important, now that my youngest is off to college and my days aren’t filled with “mom things”?
- Will my new supervisor consider me to be an important member of the team?
- In retirement does my life have meaning and purpose as it did when I worked?
We fear the answer to the question we ask is NO, because if it is, we don’t believe we are relevant. But that’s not true.
Your value is based on a bigger picture, it’s all of you. Yet in transition we narrow our focus to things like specific skills, your job, or tasks you do for your family. That’s a fraction of who you are and the value you bring.
Remember to embrace learning. Transitions are a huge learning opportunity if you allow yourself to learn. Don’t define yourself but what you know today, you are capable of learning many new and different things.
You are God’s child, you are always relevant, no matter what circumstances you are going through.
Look at the ravens—they don’t plant or harvest or have barns to store away their food, and yet they get along all right—for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Luke 12:24