Over the past few years, our career coaching practice has been attracting a growing percentage of clients who want to talk about retirement planning – not just career planning. I have wondered why this is. Is it because people are becoming more aware, educated and savvy about the subject of retirement in general? Is it because my colleagues and I are getting older; so we are naturally drawing an older client demographic? Is it because some people simply have more options to consider, with the stock market (and some investment portfolios) recently reaching record highs? Or is it because I have been pondering the next phases of my own life; and “we attract what we think about?”
I honestly don’t know the answer, but intuitively, I suspect that it’s a combination of these and other factors. One thing I do know is that the whole conversation about retirement has shifted noticeably during the past five to 10 years. Sure, we career coaches always had occasional conversations with our clients about retirement – but it was treated almost as an “afterthought.” Now, it seems that some clients enter the career coaching relationship with retirement planning as a central concern! As a result, we have had many compelling discussions that focus on the transition from “work and career” to “what comes afterward” For our senior-level clients, the separation between these two subjects has nearly dissolved; essentially blending into one very important dialogue. They have discovered that retirement is simply the next stage of personal and professional development – it is the natural evolution of career planning. For this reason, we have expanded our career coaching programs to integrate the “retirement conversation” when appropriate.
Traditionally, the concept of retirement meant you would leave your long-term job with a pat on the back and a gold watch, liberated to devote the rest of your years to nothing more than rest and relaxation. The assumption, of course, was that you had saved enough money to support yourself for the rest of your life – even if you did choose to travel the world or finally buy that condo on the beach. The very definition of retirement, therefore, was “having enough money to stop working.”
Now that I have engaged in so many retirement conversations with my clients, my view on the subject has broadened considerably. My definition of retirement is no longer restricted to the gold watch and the bank account. Indeed, I have come to see retirement as a wonderful opportunity to experience renewal and transformation! Many people who are downshifting toward retirement are seeking greater meaning and purpose, not just “peace and quiet.” Instead of “falling off a cliff” into some sort of retirement abyss, we are helping clients to enthusiastically craft exciting, rewarding plans for the future!
In my coaching sessions with clients who are thinking about retirement, the discussion doesn’t focus so much on money as it does on “life.” Of course, we do review their financial situation – and when necessary, we refer them to qualified financial advisors. Rather than only asking, “Do I have enough money to retire,” clients are asking a far more powerful question: “What kind of life do I want to live in this next phase of my existence?” You can imagine the rich and dynamic conversations that spring from such a question! The plans that clients make for their post-career lives are often quite inspiring, and are as varied as the clients themselves.
To be of greater value to my clients – and frankly, to explore my own interest in the subject – I have recently read many books and articles on retirement. I have also taken retirement assessments and attended retirement webinars. Along the way, I have distilled one key message that all the “experts” advocate: Don’t retire from your old life; retire to a new life. Never fully retire. Don’t disengage; re-engage. Pursue your real interests and true passions. Work part-time, volunteer or turn a hobby into a small business. Get involved in the activities you always wanted to do but never had the time to do. Don’t abandon your relationships; deepen them. Indeed, as one book title exclaims, “Refire, Don’t Retire!” (Ken Blanchard and Morton Shavitz).
The most successful retirement transitions occur when an individual has thought a lot about this and has developed a solid, specific plans and a clear vision of what his or her life will look like moving forward. The worst outcomes seem to happen when there has been no planning or forethought, and the individual simply stops working with no vision for the future.
Of course, some individuals will never have the opportunity to retire, due to financial or personal challenges. Others who do have the practical ability to retire will choose not to do so, opting instead to “work ‘till they drop.” For example, no one in my extended family has ever retired. So on a personal level, this is a new concept for me too!
It is no longer appropriate to view retirement as a one-time event; it is better seen as an evolutionary process. With today’s longer life expectancy, many of us will thrive in retirement for 20, 30 years or more – so it is certainly worth the time and energy to think about this “long and hard” and then plan accordingly.
Whether you are just thinking about wrapping-up your full-time career or your retirement is imminent, I encourage you to approach the subject with a broad-based perspective and not just focus on “the money.” Plan your own retirement with all the creativity, energy and optimism that you can. Ideally, your retirement won’t be an “ending.” It can truly be a new beginning, and an exciting chance to achieve your life’s full potential.