Embracing retirement and its life lessons

Print This Post
photograph of Mary Jo Monahan
Mary Jo Monahan, MSW, LCSW
ASWB Chief Executive Officer

As most of you know, I announced my intention to retire in 2020 on November 9, 2019, at our Annual Meeting of the Delegate Assembly in Orlando, Florida. It has been a curious journey for me to get to this important life decision and now that I am here, I am persisting in embracing this next phase of my life.

As I mentioned at the annual meeting, I had never put the name Mary Jo Monahan in the same sentence with the word retirement! I have always enjoyed and have been proud of my work life as a social worker. Each position I held was my favorite position at that time, and it has been a true privilege to serve as the CEO of ASWB for the past seven years.

Now that my retirement story is out, friends, colleagues, and even strangers are sharing their retirement stories with me. These stories are poignant, funny, and instructive at the same time, so I have decided to conduct some research into this whole retirement thing. My goal is to craft my retirement to be as meaningful, service oriented, and creative as my work life has been.

A friend characterized his retirement story as one of relief because the only thing he had in common with his coworkers was bitterness and anger at the lack of support from their employer. They each had great responsibilities but not the appropriate authority or resources to do their work proudly. He said it was a relief to leave the negative environment and become a freelance consultant.

Lesson learned: Know when to fold ’em … and move on to the next best thing.

A social work colleague confessed, “I did it all wrong!” when sharing her story. She confided that she had not prepared herself or her work colleagues for her departure, and it seemed like “POOF!” she just disappeared. She said it was too abrupt for them and for her because no one was ready for her absence. She had not realized how important the professional relationships with her work colleagues were to her and how important she was to them.

Lesson learned: Work relationships are sustaining and will be missed.

A regulatory colleague responded to my story with a new term that I had not experienced: preferment. He informed me that he planned to announce his preferment in late 2020, so I asked, “Great, what the heck is preferment?” This was his reply:

It’s not retirement; it’s preferment because this phase of one’s life provides the opportunity to do the things you prefer and those that are most meaningful to you. Only you can determine what those things are. Only you can identify where and when you want to spend your time and with whom. Only you can decide whose lives you want to affect and in what ways. Only you can decide why, as well.

This concept knocked me into a whole new realm of thinking about my pending preferment.

Lesson learned: Turning “retirement” to “preferment” gives me the freedom and inspiration to move on to the next best thing—and on to more lessons to be learned.