How to Start Thinking About Retirement Before You Plan to Retire When my husband told me he was planning to retire and was not worried about it, I wondered if I should be.
- Explore — Retirement can be an opportunity to leave old achievements behind and move on to new ones, so explore how others have done it successfully and kept themselves motivated to achieve.
- Think about the future — nurture activities that create the next great moments of our lives with the people we love.
- Be intentional — don't let your leadership run your company into the ground.
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My whole life, I had a plan. I went to college, then graduate school; I was going to be a director, then a vice president, and finally president and CEO. Now, with historic federal funding for broadband about to hit the ground and fiber leading the way, I feel more excited about my company's future than ever.
So, imagine my surprise when we returned from a cruise in July, and my husband gave me the news: "In October, I'm going to retire."
No more early morning alarms or driving to the office. No more everyday grind. What would he do all day? Unconcerned, he told me he intended to pursue all sorts of hobbies, but it was hard to imagine how he could possibly otherwise spend his time.
He said he had a plan, but then I realized — I did not. I had to ask myself, "What would I do when I retired?"
While I still have no intentions to retire, leaders should start planning for retirement at some point in their careers to ensure they and their companies go on to thrive through the rest of their lives. Here are three steps to be more prepared to develop that plan when the time comes:
Step 1: Explore
I turned 60 this year, but I hardly feel old. I love what I do and still have plans for myself and for building my company into a global leader. But I can start exploring the experiences of others now to imagine how I might want to plan my retirement.
Many people have retired and gone on to lead fulfilling lives — I can find where my interests align with those experiences to inform my approach. I will also benefit from the first-hand experiences of my husband as he explores his own plan. I imagine he might embark on new opportunities. Maybe he will build another Lego village or start cooking me dinner. As he develops his retirement identity in search of a fulfilling future, I can learn from his successes and take note of approaches I could see translating well into my own.
Some people may not want retirement to be the end of their career, so they should explore the post-retirement paths of those who turned to new professional ambitions. After selling her successful computer training company, one of my personal role models, Myrna Marofsky, went on to become a mentor for women leaders. After caring for her sick husband in his final years, she wrote a book to help others dealing with aging loved ones. Retirement can be an opportunity to leave old achievements behind and move on to new ones, so explore how others have done it successfully and kept themselves motivated to achieve.
Step 2: Think about the future
Never before in my life had I pictured myself as a 70-year-old woman, but now I have to consider, "Where do I want to be in 10 years?" My children already have children: I just welcomed my third grandchild. At 70 years old, they will nearly be teens. I have to envision what I want to be doing with them at that age and how that will impact my involvement with my company.
Even if we have no intention of retiring soon, we can nurture activities that create the next great moments of our lives with the people we love. If you are like me, that means being with family and grandchildren, but it can also involve mentorship — joining a network of women presidents for mentoring once a month was one of the best decisions of my life. When we establish our own identity outside of our organizations before we retire, we leave with our sense of meaning or purpose intact and well-developed.
Develop hobbies to promote wellness, boost mood and reduce the potential for symptoms of anxiety or depression. Ask friends and colleagues what they do in their free time; talk to people who have moved into advisory or board positions or other post-retirement career ambitions. Join a professional group, study a new topic, or hire a personal trainer — the more we stretch those physical, mental, or emotional muscles, the better we test for signs of greater fulfillment to pursue in-depth once we retire.
Step 3: Be intentional
I once worked for a CEO who had a hard time letting go, including when he stepped down from his position to retire. He intended to shift into a less active role, but unable to let go, he kept inserting himself into too many decisions. He thought he was contributing his valuable experience, but it was an outmoded way of thinking. No one noticed how his influence was keeping his company stuck in the past, and it led to the slow downfall of that organization.
Leaders have to leave a company eventually and need an exit strategy that allows their company to keep running without them. We need to consider the skills and knowledge that might go missing when we step down and take action to fill those gaps:
- Find the right people and skill sets to support organizational growth and development.
- Document tribal knowledge that would otherwise disappear along with a retiring leader.
- Ask: "If I step down, will the entrepreneurial spirit of my people keep our company innovating?" If not, work to create an environment where they feel safe enough to test their limits, risk failing, and grow to their fullest abilities, potentially as the next leaders of the company.
For now, I'm going to enjoy the moment of not having a retirement plan. I can live my professional life to its fullest while being intentional about how I spend that time in preparation for the plans I need to make next. By talking about retirement with people who have gone through it and exploring our options before we really intend to retire, we can embrace it in the most effective way when finally granted that gift of free time.