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May 2015

Are You Ready To Hang It Up?

May 13, 2015 8:06 AM
Bruce Hunter

“About Schmidt”, a movie released in 2002 starring Jack Nicholson follows the title character as he moves into retirement.  He is met first with an unsatisfactory retirement party and ultimately a life after work.  He moves from one disappointment to another that bears an eerie resemblance to a number of people I’ve met that haven’t given any real thought to life after work.   If you are a baby boomer, your Schmidt moment is coming soon.  The time to start thinking and planning your next step is now!

There are three major transitions you will face in life.

  1. From home to school.
  2. From school to work.
  3. From work to home.

The Third Age.

The largest demographic cohort, the Baby Boomers, is in the process of making this last transition (The Third Age) and is doing so in uncharted territory. They are the largest group in history to enter this stage with record financial means and the prospect of increased longevity.  As a group, they are also unfortunately ill-prepared…being surprisingly unwilling to engage and actively plan for the future.  It is that neglect that has become a subject of interest for me in my role as an executive coach and mentor.  Both those in corporate and private enterprise suffer from the same syndrome.  Most studiously avoid the subject.

The benefits of taking the time to both plan an exit and life after have been well documented.  For those owning businesses the reward is markedly higher exit value as well as the benefits of a smoother sale or transition.  A planned transition reaps further benefit in landing softly on the other side from a social standpoint.  With the benefits of planning your next stage so patently obvious, why is it that most avoid the subject like the plague?  Some of those answers I found in a work by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries entitled “The Retirement Syndrome.  The Psychology of Letting Go” written in 2003.

Business leadership and ownership follows an “S-curve” pattern first described by George Ainsworth Land.  The initial Entry stage is characterized by high growth and fresh challenge.  The role is exciting and new.  Phase Two, consolidation is accompanied by a feeling of mastery and competence.  The role is still challenging and legacies are being established.  Phase three is characterized by a plateau or even decline.  There is a lost sense of excitement and personal growth.  Leadership becomes a chore, sometimes feeling like putting in time. 

Have you checked out?  Answering the following questions with an honest “Yes” or “No” will help to determine whether you’re ready for a change.

  1. Do you still enjoy your job?
  2. Does your job still have a sense of strong meaning and purpose for you?
  3. Have you important goals yet unfulfilled in your current position?
  4. Do you feel your biggest achievements in your current position are still ahead of you?
  5. Are you still having as much fun as you used to?
  6. Do you feel valued and supported by the organization?

If you’ve answered the foregoing honestly, you’ll know very quickly whether you’re ready for your next chapter…job or retirement.

Feeling Ready Doesn’t Mean you’re Ready!

Moving from work to some form of retirement, if not planned, is a psychological wasteland for most.  Even if a fair degree of work in planning has been done, the effect of moving from a life filled to the brim with activity to that less structured is debilitating.   Most describe the first few months post retirement as the honeymoon phase.  It is much like going on an extended vacation.  Unfortunately, there is also a subsequent feeling of vacancy.  Too much time.  Too little to do.  Too few friends.  A loss of purpose, direction and support for the ego.  And it is exactly the fear of this stage that prevents most from the consideration and planning for life after work.  It is the fear of going from somebody to nobody.

Are you prepared for your next step beyond regular work?

Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of literature available on your financial readiness for your next step.  Assuming you have been somewhat prudent through your work life, most with some tweaking should be just fine.  The real questions come on the softer side.  Here are some to get you started on building a personal plan.

Answer the question, “What’s going to get you up in the morning?”

  • Have you established any goals for yourself?
  • What will you say when people ask, “What do you do?”
  • Do you have a special interest or passion?If not, have you considered some options or plans to research?
  • Have you built a list of the set of activities you’ll pursue over the next three years?

Who are you going to be spending time with?

  • If you have a partner, have you discussed both of your goals?Are they compatible?
  • Will you be moving into this stage together or not?Implications?
  • Have you built a network of friends and associates outside of work?
  • Have you researched the people associated with the activities you want to undertake?
  • Have you developed a support group or set of individuals that can act as a sounding board for you and your endeavours?

You will be well served by asking and answering this representative set of questions in advance of your next step following your formal work career.  The most important thing?  Feeling engaged and appreciated. 

“No one grows old by living.  People grow old by losing interest in living.”


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