Harnessing Retirement – Part 1

Doing It Well

We think we can’t wait to retire. How sweet it would be to stop the rat race, and enjoy life a bit.

Why is it, then, that so few people seem to be able to retire well? I work with someone who’s reached full retirement age, plus has a sweet, fat pension waiting for her. She’s really not very effective at her job anymore, and you can see in her eyes that technology and business culture has passed her by. Yet, she can’t bring herself to retire. In her case, she perceives herself as important in her work environment, and I suspect she fears the loss of that perception of importance she has of herself.

My dad died within a couple years of retiring, which was a common malady among men of his generation. They’d built their entire life and identity around who they were at work, and became lost when they let go of that identity. In their case, it’s not so much importance as identity I think they lose when they retire.

Either way, it’s bad. Whether you’re losing your perceived self-importance or losing your identity, retirement is something that causes problems.

Of course, there are exceptions. I have a dear friend that I hunt with and cycle with occasionally. He retired as soon as he could, and retired as well as anyone I know. He spends most of his year pursuing his passions of fishing and hunting, and still finds time for bicycle rides with me now and then. He worked hard and did a good job when he was employed, but his employment wasn’t his identity. He spent his life building his identity in his passions outside of work, so when he was able to move past work, he could fall completely into his passions.

I have another friend who was an absolute fiend when he was working. He was a hard-charging, fast-paced workaholic. I figured he’d never be able to give up working. I was wrong. He reached a point in life where he was able to “sell off” in a way that set him up financially for life, and proceeded to build an entirely new identity for himself. He threw himself into his new passions of philanthropy and being the “elder” to folks he knew, and he did it well. He became a changed man, and appeared to be a happy man.

This second man was a boss for many years. One of the most important lessons he taught me was the importance for me to work myself out of a job – to find someone who could do my job better than me so I could move along to the next job. He lived this in his life, and was able to leave his career with a smile on his face.

Some do it well, some suck at it. Next, I’ll explore the lessons of the traps to avoid in a career – the traps that make retirement dangerous…