Retire to Your True Mission in Life

Dr. Janice Presser

Americans, in general, have always been hard-working people. That’s become more true than ever in recent decades, as two-income families became commonplace and businesses drove more and more productivity out of fewer and fewer employees.

For many, work is just work. It’s what you do to pay the bills, reward coming in the form of time with friends and family, travel, sports, crafts, or entertainment. But for some, work seems to be just as much fun as fun and just as important as their commitment to building community or participating in politics.

What’s so different about these lucky people? It’s not just how much they make, where they work, who they work with, or who they work for—although these things can certainly make a difference. 

Think about your current work or the last job you had. Does one or more of these situations sound familiar?

  • You dreamed big dreams, but your job had no room for them or your organization didn’t support them.
  • You were always the assistant, but you were sure you could be a great boss.
  • You were easily bored, even when your to-do list was full.
  • People flocked to you for advice and care, but no one seemed to remember that when it was time for praise or rewards to be handed out.
  • You worked hard and did good work, but never gained a real sense of satisfaction from what you were doing.

These are some of the symptoms of incompatibility between your job responsibilities and your style of contributing to a team. Sometimes an employer or boss creates these mis-fits, and sometimes people do it to themselves. But take heart: retirement no longer means banishment to a rocking chair. You may be on the threshold of developing the most important life skill you can bring to the world: your teamability!

Teamability is your key to greater productivity and pleasure in working with others toward a common goal—whether that’s something you do for love, money, or both. By learning how you team with others, you can find a pathway to joy and fulfillment that might otherwise never be revealed. The starting point is your role.

What’s My Role?

Some have said an organization takes on a life of its own. This is true because every organization, from the one that starts with some tinkering in the garage to the biggest and best-known corporation, has a range of organizational needs that must be met. At the Gabriel Institute (TGI), based in Philadelphia, PA, we have invested 25 years of research in exploring and measuring the relationship between organizational needs and the people who work to meet them—shedding new light on what makes a person find a specific type of work meaningful and enjoyable.

Studies identified 10 areas of organizational need and found that different people are strongly attracted to meet different needs. Each area of need was given a descriptive name that describes the role of the team member who would, ideally, fill it. So, from this point of view, if you are strongly attracted to serve a specific need on a team, that’s your role.

TGI’s research also found that when there is a fit between your way of contributing to your team and the organizational needs (tasks, responsibilities) you fulfill on the job, the outcome feels very satisfying—both to you and your team. The presence of this role-fit is a strong contributor to high quality teamwork, job satisfaction, and productivity.

Role is a word often used in connection with a job title (your role as Sales Manager) or functional area (the role of the customer service team). It is important to recognize that when it comes to measuring teamability, the word role is much closer to what you might think of as a person’s mission in life.

A Story of Roles

To truly understand the ten roles, let’s create a story showing how they all work together in a start-up organization. It could be for profit, non-profit, something you decide to do pretty much by yourself, or something you want to do with other people. Regardless of its reason for being, the organization will not thrive unless its needs are met. You are on the team, and this is your opportunity to discover your role.

As you read the story below, imagine yourself fulfilling the role featured in each separate segment. Perhaps you will feel an attraction to one because it is similar to something you are familiar with or a job you’ve had. Don’t decide right away. You might find you are ready for a new challenge! Just make a note of the role (or roles) that truly feel like something that would be the perfect fit for you.

To make the examples more readable, the team members alternate between male and female, but please know that a role has no age, race, nationality, or gender. A role is an expression of what lies deep inside of you—describing the way you connect with and contribute to the interests and needs of other people.

Let’s get started, with the role of Founder.

Many businesses are created because someone saw an opportunity to accomplish something that will benefit others, while allowing those in the business to achieve their own goals. This leap of faith is typically made by a Founder who actually envisions the possibilities and begins the process of making the vision into a reality.

Our Founder saw a need for a unique solution to a safety and security problem in certain high-technology businesses. She knew from experience companies often treat technology as if it can take care of itself. She had the skill and creativity to come up with a new way to keep a company’s information safe, while reducing the risk that valuable equipment could be damaged. As a bonus, her solution would improve safety for people working in the environment.

Having knowledge and skill is one thing but it’s quite another to base a whole new business on it!  The Founder began to dream of a way to bring her solution to the great number of organizations that could benefit from it. Knowing she could not make her vision a reality by herself, she began to gather a team to help her make things happen. Reaching out to people who might be interested or could refer her to someone who would be, she began to feel more and more like a missionary for security and safety.

Early in the formation of an enterprise, certain roles are well suited to setting things in motion. So our wise Founder gathered, for her team, the roles of Vision Mover, Vision Former, and Action Mover. She sat down and wrote a vision paper to describe the big picture of what she wanted the team to accomplish. Her words and passion convinced them that it was worth their time, efforts, and mutual trust. All agreed there was a problem to solve, a real need for a solution, and a reason to improve people’s safety and security.

Following the lead of the Founder and with the help of the others, the Vision Mover generated lots of creative ideas. He added tremendous energy to the project by advancing the Founder’s vision from the realm of imagination into the realm of possibility and planning—telling the others that without an engine to power it the organization would not last long. He made a list of potential customers, spoke of venture capital, burn rate, and market segment, everyone recognizing these things as essential parts of the engine. He knew this was how they had to begin, and also understood what the next steps were. It was his job to create a business plan as a road map to their future.

The Founder had decided where they were to go, but the Vision Mover decided the best way to get there. With a vision paper and business plan were in place, another member of the team came to the fore.

It was time for the Vision Former to assert herself. She led the team in shaping and forming this vast energy to give it focus, primarily by looking at the potential customer list and evaluating how difficult getting the opportunity to present the product line to these customers and actually get them to examine its merits would be. She considered many factors in formatting the final business plan, knowing it would fall to her to close the deal. She also encouraged the Vision Mover to continue to feed ideas to her and the others, knowing it would take a continual flow of energy and determination to get the fledgling company off the ground.

All through this process, the Founder and the Vision-pair were creating an organizational need for things that require doing, not visioning or planning. With a list of prospects fully formed, and with materials and strategies for approaching each one, the fourth member of the team stepped into the spotlight. 

The Action Mover was 100% focused on getting things done! He contacted the first three potential customers on the list and returned to the team with two opportunities to present their product concept. He also reported that he had run into some old business colleagues and gained their commitment to review the business plan as a potential investment—providing the funds they would need to bring the products to market. The Action Mover also got his colleagues to promise they would speak with their friends in the industry, creating the buzz that would generate a flow of interested prospective buyers.

At this point, the team was acquiring the practical resources that would enable it to begin making and selling the product.  A venture capital firm agreed to fund the start-up and the team members believed they were ready. However, the funding came with some specific requirements, one of which involved a change in the location of the business. Without missing a beat, the Action Mover found the location they needed at a price they could afford.

With the organization rapidly taking shape it became essential to hire someone to run the day-to-day operations of the company— the small staff needing someone who would guide them in developing then executing the functions and processes of the operation.  An Action Former was chosen and presented with  1,001 details to organize and prioritize. Putting a sales force on the street required responsive management and ongoing support. All of these responsibilities were ably handled by the Action Former.

At some point in the growth of every emerging business, managing the flow of resources becomes a full-time job. Such a moment had arrived, and the team had the good fortune of selecting just the right person.

The Watchdog seemed to have a knack for making sure that the organization’s resources—supplies, materials, and money—were properly handled and wisely channeled to places where they would do the most good. Though never an easy job when demand exceeds supply, he had genuine concern for people and did his best to meet their needs. Whenever something was lacking, he always seemed to find a way to make do with whatever was available.

Remember, this team was inspired by the Founder’s vision and central reason for the company’s existence—not only to sell product but to raise the bar on safety and security. Once the sales team was hired and sales materials were created, they were ready to launch.  The Action Mover made sure the business journals knew about it well in advance and the Vision Former had designed the sales material in a way that made the virtues and value of safety and security crystal clear.

Now ready to turn its attention to the future, the team hired an Explorer. Like the scout on a military expedition, she was always on the lookout for opportunities, resources, and dangers that might affect her team. By keeping tabs on industry events, she learned that a large group of information technology professionals sought speakers for a conference. After making arrangements for the Founder to give a presentation, she worked with The Watchdog to offer a free trial. Both made a big impression on the professional community, leading to the Founder gaining notoriety as a keynote speaker.

As the organization grew and grew so did the workload, but the tight budget made it impossible to add more people. That is, until the Explorer noticed an article identifying internships as the next best thing to getting hired for students and recent graduates. The Watchdog agreed that it would be great for the company to bring in some eager workers at virtually no cost and beneficial to the interns because the company would have plenty of real work for them to accomplish—no time wasted on making coffee or emptying waste bins!

The first student intern was willing to work almost full-time during his college vacation as a receptionist. Being a natural Communicator, he was happy spend most of his time in an interesting place helping people make connections and explaining the company’s mission, while learning about their particular areas of interest.

One day the Communicator found out a new customer was working on a Master’s Degree and had an assignment to interview a technology industry executive. He recalled a comment the Vision Former had made about the company’s need for more publicity, lacking the funds that a professional public relations consulting firm would require. The intern explained the situation to the Vision Former, who recognized the opportunity and invited the customer to visit the company for a special tour and to meet the Founder.

During the visit, the Communicator took pictures, wrote up the story, and contacted the business editor of the city newspaper. The team effort led to a feature article in the business section. When the President of the university saw the article, he promptly invited the Founder to present the company’s solution to the university’s information technology department.

Meanwhile, investors became concerned about the company’s need to demonstrate positive results and compelling business value, while the team was having trouble identifying and capturing the right information. Needing a detail-oriented problem-solver, they called upon a Conductor.

Many times, the Conductor had proven her expertise in fixing problems that kept the “business engine” from operating at peak efficiency. In fact, while she wasn’t all that easy to get along with, she really enjoyed the opportunity to make things right and went right to work on the current problem. Where others had failed to identify and connect the parts and pieces that would clearly show the value of the company’s solution, she succeeded.

The Watchdog went to work. With help from the team, he completed the report. But then someone had to review and edit it to make sure it was accurate, up to the standards of the organization, and presented in the proper light. The Communicator discovered the Conductor also had a flair for editing. He brought this information to the attention of the Founder, making an important connection between the Conductor and the Founder, that would have been unlikely without the Communicator’s involvement.

The business proof that appeared in the finished report delighted the investors, but in the end the exercise revealed something even more important: it showed how well the organization functioned as a coherent team. The Vision Mover realized that this kind of quality deserved repetition, so he recommended that they prepare more materials featuring the strengths of the company’s product, the quality of the company’s vision, and its value as a good corporate citizen and great place to work.

As the company was growing, one person had been quietly keeping track of the rapidly growing body of information about products, solutions, customers, business operations, and publicity. The Curator kept samples and copies of all early business efforts, starting a database archive. His informal work was revealed when people realized that whenever there was a question about anything that happened in the early days (or even recently), the Curator always seemed to know the answer. This delighted the Founder because preserving knowledge and information demonstrated faith in the worthiness of the original Vision. Later, as the company continued to expand, the Curator’s knowledge made it easy to give new people a sense of the organization’s traditions and culture, maintaining a clear and accurate record of the Founder’s Vision.

It should be no surprise that the company was successful. With each team member contributing to the organization in his or her own best way—working within his or her own natural role—the company added many more well-paid jobs, consistently delivered great products and services, and received top-10 best places to work recognition year after year. Should all of the praise for these achievements go to the Founder or Vision-pair who got the ball rolling?  Not really, even though the quality of their work set a positive tone for the rest of the group.  When an organization truly becomes a shining example of good business behavior and values, its real source of strength comes from the positive, constructive contributions of the different roles on the team, and the quality of their teamwork.

Retirement, Role, and You!

As you read the various parts of the story, you may have been thinking “I could do this” and “I could do that” or even “I could do all of these Roles!” You are probably right, and maybe you actually have done them all, at one time or another. Most good workers will do their best to do a good job at whatever their team needs from them.

But that’s not really what our research was about. What we learned is that most people, as they grow up, develop a strong attraction to a specific role. This very personal sense of how they fit on a team is a primary factor in job satisfaction and in having a sense that your contributions are appreciated and respected by others. To put it simply: People like best what they do best, and they do best what they like best.

So now, with this information at hand, what are some potential life strategies for you to consider?

Think of it: there are ten separate and distinct, yet closely interlocking, ways of contributing to an organization. Just because you may always have done one or two of the roles, there’s no reason why you can’t use your retirement to focus on the role that best fulfills your true personal mission!

If being a Founder seems most natural to you, whether or not you’ve actually done the job before, consider starting a small business of your own. You’ll need other people, but you don’t necessarily have to employ them. The key is you’ll have to do your own business development, so if networking isn’t your thing, read on.

If the Vision Mover sounds most aligned with the way you want to contribute, you’re probably drawn to help a team think strategically, to negotiate, and direct the planned activities to ensure success. If you’re looking for paid work, consulting might be right for you. If not, or in addition, consider volunteering your expertise to a non-profit. Whether as a board member or in another capacity, you’ll impact the organization’s vision in a positive, constructive way.

Whether as a professional or normally interacting with others, those drawn to the description of the Vision Former are often engaged in counseling or similar work. They want to enlighten people, so if this is you, think of all the ways that goal can be achieved, at any age, in any circumstance. Teaching, coaching, ministering, all can be done in so many ways, formally and informally. Vision Formers often say they will never retire!

Action Movers believe there is always something to do and are there when people need them to take the lead. If you’ve never had a job selling anything, maybe now’s the time to try it. Whether it’s offering a hand to a start-up company, selling on a commission basis, or supporting the local school, scouts, or sports team by supporting the fundraising effort, there’s always something to do. Just keep in mind that there are only 24 hours in a day and there will be unplanned occurrences!

Do you love to organize and make sure the plans get followed through? Action Formers may not do it as a job, but they’re sure to rise to the occasion when there’s a wedding, or a community event to be planned, or any another occasion with myriad details to be tracked. If this is you, have you thought about turning your amazing skills into a professional services business? Busy people can easily become loyal customers for an Action Former.

If the Explorer piqued your interest, you probably love searching for treasures. Do you like eBay? A whole new industry that even didn’t exist a few years ago has grown up around finding things, or finding customers for things. People who are drawn to this role know just where to look to get the right component, whether that’s a critical part for a complex repair job, or the right person to fill out a project team. The best thing is, not only can Explorers find things for other people, they can usually find exactly the right opportunity that will fulfill their personal mission.

Watchdog work involves being good with the kind of details that are key to finance, compliance, and human resources transactions, as you may have worked in those fields. You care about the people who need the details, so you are as careful with the numbers as you are with the people. You’re also well disciplined, so if you end up in HR, don’t be surprised if people ask you to help them with problem employees. Have you thought about doing this for small businesses on an hourly basis or simply offering help for those who just can’t balance their own checkbook?

A Communicator tends to garner positive reactions from others and make friends easily. Two areas you may never have considered are politics and sponsor development. Development consists of getting people to donate to an organization and politics consists of convincing people that the donations they make, in the form of taxes, will support important causes. Consider how your gift of gab can best be put to use for the general good, including satisfying your own mission.

Conductors have what it takes to become a successful private investigator. You might not want to be a Dirty Harry or join the local police force, but if this feels right to you, your investigative skills can be used even while sitting at a computer—and without the use of deadly force. Conductors are also great at fixing things, so if you have adaptable experience, then copyediting, coding, and similar professional services, as well as trades and repair work will be satisfying. Any of these pursuits can be done on a full time, part time, or volunteer basis.

Finally, if preserving and sharing knowledge is especially important to you, think about what Curators do. Just like the guides in a museum, they are experts in storing and retrieving detailed information of all kinds from a multitude of sources. Tools they use may be as simple as the librarian’s old-fashioned card catalog or as complex as the most highly sophisticated data storage software. Either way, you contribute to the Vision of any organization by making sure that its communal wisdom is not lost.

Whatever you do, remember two things:

  1. You don’t have to be an expert in everything
  2. You’ll probably be much happier, and more effective, if you focus on just the role that feels most like your true mission.

Either join, or recruit, a team that consists of people who do like to do what you don’t like to do. A team that contains people with diverse roles is happier, more productive, and will give you the best opportunity to apply your personal mission in life to the betterment of all!

//About the Author

Dr. Janice Presser is the Chief Executive Officer of the Gabriel Institute, and (with Dr. Jack Gerber) co-creator of the underlying technology that powers TGI Teamability™. She is a recognized thought leader in qualitative assessment and Coherent Human Infrastructure management concepts. Dr. Presser has served on the Human Capital Assessment/Metrics Special Expertise Panel of the Society for Human Resource Management, its Taskforce on Workforce Planning, and currently serves on its Taskforce on Metrics and Measurements. She is contributing editor for the Employment Labor Law Audit, has authored five books and dozens of articles, tweets as @DrJanice, networks on LinkedIn, and blogs at She leads TGI’s technology strategy and deployment, as well as her more traditional CEO and spokesperson duties. For more information on teamability, visit


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