In my last column, I wrote about the five retirement pitfalls, one of which is hanging on too long. There are many reasons that some approaching retirement cling to their clients, internal responsibilities, and mentor relationships, but the most common seems to be a lack of clarity about what the future after work will hold. This column seeks to dispel four fears that retirees have and share a six-step strategy for creating a life after work so filled with excitement that you’ll willingly let go of your “old work identity” and embrace new possibilities.
First, let’s be honest about four fears that most retirees face as they consider their transition. The scary ideas that run through many retirees’ heads include:
- If I don’t work, I’ll have no choice but to become a “mall walker” (or something else that sounds old or boring to you). Really? You get to choose what you do after you leave your firm (and as you cut back from work before your final departure date). You don’t have to walk the mall, join a retirement community, baby-sit your grandchildren, or do any other thing you fear you might not like (recognizing that these activities would make some quite happy). Your life after work is up to you to shape and make happen!
- If I don’t work here anymore, I don’t know how I’ll introduce myself to others (I will lose my identity). It’s true that you can’t hold yourself out as a current member of the team after you complete your time with the firm; however, you can, and will, always be able to say that you are a former partner of your firm.
- If I don’t work, my brain will go to mush. It’s possible that if you don’t use it, your sharpness may decline. However, there are so many great ways to keep your mind engaged outside of employment, including volunteering in situations where your business savvy and financial acumen can make a real difference for others. Many great organizations match retirees to organizations in need. Encore.org connects experienced professionals with “social purpose organizations,” with the goal of empowering people to make a difference in the second act of their life.
- If I don’t work, I’ll be poor. To get an idea of what you’ll need in retirement, use the AICPA retirement calculator. Depending on how many years you have until retirement, this can give you an idea of what you should contribute to your nest egg and what your expenses will need to be to live comfortably. One possibility might be selling back services to your firm or delivering value in another way to a noncompetitive organization so you can maintain a steady revenue stream, though it will likely be smaller than the one you earned when you were at your firm.
How do you counter this thinking? One option is to prepare a list of the possibilities for your retirement. The following six retirement preparation steps will help you develop your possibilities list. This is how it works:
- Open a Microsoft Word document or pull out a plain sheet of paper. Consider this your first moment of touching and refining your possibilities list. You will update it many times, over several years perhaps, so you want it to be accessible and not easily lost or misplaced.
- Begin a list of all of the things you might do after retirement. You do not have to be absolutely certain you will tackle an item before you place it on your list. Consider this a brainstorming exercise, so if the idea appeals to you, write it down. It may be traveling to a specific location, taking a class, teaching a class, mentoring a child, giving back in some other way, cooking or grilling more, hiking, training for a race, attending opening season baseball … you get the idea. When you run out of steam, save your possibilities list to revisit later.
- When you think of something that might be interesting to do or would be good to tackle if you had time, add it to your possibilities. Update the list over time. As it gets longer and more filled in, consider reorganizing it and structuring your possibilities by the nature of the activity: business-related, education-related, community service-related, family-related, outdoor activity, sports and fitness, travel-related, etc. If you spend enough time generating ideas, you’ll end up with a very well-organized, possibilities-packed list.
- Share your possibilities with others. If you have a spouse or significant other, children, or grandchildren, consider sharing aspects of your possibilities list with them. This will provide you a sounding board for your possibilities and also enable you to enroll others in supporting your ideas. Sharing your possibilities aloud with others also makes the possibilities feel more real and may cause you to gain more energy to pursue certain ones.
- Try some out. You don’t have to be fully retired to begin living out ideas from your possibilities list. Take time off and pursue something on your list. Engage more in activities away from work. Begin to taper your work time to pursue more external possibilities.
- Keep the list “full.” If you complete something on the list, add something new to it. Keep your potential activities list so big and interesting that it begins to call you away from work.
- Don’t leave it behind! As life’s many possibilities draw you away from work, be sure you bring your possibilities list with you!
All the way along, you have shaped your professional destiny. Why should you approach your retirement destiny any differently? Just consider the possibilities!