Retirement Redesigned

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Monday, July 15, 2024

Retirement Redesigned

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Finding your purpose in retirement

Reformat your talents and resources to create the sweet final stage of a working life.

We all start off in early adulthood with the same kind of purpose. Get an education, start a career, find a mate, get married buy a house build a family and try to live happily ever after.

Most of us fortunate ones manage to put something like this together and always there is the underlying understanding that life has a purpose and you just get on with it.

Then comes real life. With all its ups and downs we somehow manage to find our place in the world and to make progress. Some do it well and make it look easy. Others have to fight battles. Marriages that end, careers that come unstuck, children that have problems and finances that just don’t work out as planned.

The thirties and forties fly by and the fifties and sixties for the fortunate ones are a time of consolidation and the signing off to all that drove us and made us get life done. Then came retirement. For some a good time of leaving work behind. A moment to look back and survey what it has all been about.

It sounds good and for some even idyllic. But for many others, when the farewell parties are over and the settling in to a new lifestyle starts happening, retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be. These days there are many wise commentators that give advice on every kind of financial challenge and how we did not save enough for retirement. We know now that retirement is not what it was intended to be, and that most of us will live longer than our fathers and grandfathers, sometimes with the scary prospect of not being able to afford living so long and not having anything like a clear goal to shepherd us into late-stage life.

Surveys of the concerns on the minds of retirees show that health and finances are at the top of the list. But right there following is the lack of purpose and the worry that life in retirement will be a boring road to nowhere. People do talk about their plans for travel and more time with the grandchildren, but somehow there is a lack of real passion and no specific energy about it.

There is a solution. Retirement is not some black hole we all end up falling into, and it need not be a time of painful scaling down trying to look happy and busy. It is a part of life, in fact an extension of the life one has led up to now, but with many more opportunities and prospects. How? Well the main mistake many people make is to give up their skills and talents believing that a working life is over and that the skills which have been acquired over a lifetime are no longer going to have much value. Instead we propose a reformatting of those very talents and resources remembering that after retiring somewhere in the middle sixties there are probably another twenty or more years to develop a final stage of working life. A good way of hitting this is contained in a four-point program:

  • Start by acknowledging that you want to have a productive retirement with a specific purpose. Admitting it and developing a serious mind-set about it. Think of the stages of life like the stages of a great meal. There are several courses beginning with a starter such as soup or an avocado salad which as a metaphor can be compared to the education and the preparation for your career. Then comes the main course. It may be a great roast beef with Yorkshire pudding or a delicious leg of lamb with mint sauce. These could be your working career, when you build up your experience and make progress. Then comes the dessert, the pudding. A separate course usually something sweet, like a tiramisu, or a chocolate mousse. Or ice cream and chocolate sauce. Now think of retirement, at the conclusion of the working life, like the pudding. Separate, sweet and maybe even a delicious end phase of the whole meal of a working life.
  • The first process for this pudding phase of life is to take note of your talents and your experience. Look at your qualifications and what it is that enabled you to earn your living until now. Then re-employ those skills and experience in a different way. An example may be an auditor, a partner in a major audit practice who retires and then uses the chartered accountant qualification and experience in a different way. Say serving on the board of a company as the chairman of the audit committee. Or maybe a general practice doctor who retires to take on the medical advisor role in a pharmaceutical company. Or the HR manager of a company who then becomes a coach and mentor. All these examples use past experience in a re-formatted way
  • There is a natural instinct for retiring people to pass on their skills to the next generation. A part-time appointment at a business school or at a technical college could be very satisfying
  • Getting back to the dessert metaphor, it usually, in a great dinner may include a delicious pudding as well as coffee and even a special glass of cognac. Maybe even some cheese. Like this final stage of the meal, retirement could have a number of elements. These could be like a portfolio life where several working activities bundled together make for a full and satisfying final stage of a working life.

And now looking once again at finding your purpose, retirement should be a sweet stage of life where you can curate together your best skills and experience to design a portfolio of working streams based on your past useful experience.

For a full description of these thoughts check out Retire the idea of Retirement and Working on a Resolution toward a Portfolio Life.

Johann is the founding partner of Reset Retirement where we focus on assisting people with planning for the non-financial aspects of their lives after full-time work. He had a long career in executive search and leadership as the founding partner and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in South Africa where he was the head of the company’s board practice.


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