Before you retire, ask yourself 'what's next?'
You finally reach the end of a long professional career and you're ready to retire. You have worked really hard; as the years added up, you've noticed your energy is not as high as it used to be. You hate to admit it but Father Time is catching up with you.
Chronological age should seldom be the only reason for concluding a career. Annual physicals and listening to our bodies is important. At some point retirement becomes attractive to most of us. Just think — no more pressure-packed business decisions, long days at the office bookended by ugly commutes, or difficult co-workers. The future seems alluring, full of leisurely breakfasts, long walks, visits to family in distant locations, work on a tennis or golf game and plenty of time in that old La-Z-Boy recliner. You can't wait for that final day at the office to finally arrive. "Free at last!" you think. "I will be retired and life will be beautiful."
Not so fast. You may be ignoring a crucial component of successful retirement. For the last 30 years I have been an advisor to over 250 small and mid-sized privately owned companies. Much of my work related to helping business owners sell their companies and many of those folks retired after the sale was complete. Whether a business owner or someone working in the professional world, most people are just too busy to seriously consider the question of "what's next" as retirement approaches.
The fact is all business owners and professional workers will exit their career activities someday. Each person must ask themselves "What exactly am I going to do with my time after my working career ends?" This is not a trivial question. There is a trove of research indicating that failure to develop a "what's next?" strategy after retirement can lead to depression, poor health and even premature death. It's unrealistic to think you can transition from long, pressure-packed work days to sudden personal freedom without some feelings of unease, loss of identity and questions about what retirement really means.
I'm suggesting that all of you contemplating retirement in the not-too-distant future start planning what your life will look like after day-to-day work is completed. Oh, sure, you should initially take some time off to recharge your batteries, get the delayed "to do" lists completed and do a little traveling if you're so inclined. Part of this preliminary activity should include a thoughtful personal inventory of your strengths, weaknesses and what inspires you. Once you have accomplished this and the other initial targets are complete, begin those activities you consider fulfilling. Examples? Become a volunteer at a local hospital. Be a teacher's aide working with youngsters needing help with reading. Sign up to be a docent at a local art museum. Begin writing the family history you have always wanted to complete. Learn to paint with watercolors. Audit courses at a local university. The list of rewarding activities can be endless.
By the way, your spouse or partner will need a "what's next" plan, too. The profound changes you will be experiencing will spill over to those closest to you and affect them. They should give that some serious thought.
The word "retirement" can play tricks on us. Is the end of productive work a terminal point? Is it time to begin the final approach to our end of life? Or is it like opening a door and stepping from one room into another?
Many of my business clients sold one business and then started another. Our exit from one phase of our life does not mean we exit from life. Properly planned, our retirement should lead us to gratifying, happy activities that enrich the next portion of our earthly journey.
If you do a good job of "what's next?" planning, it will pay big rewards.
Greg Hadley is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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