Early Retirement

For many top business executives, their transition into “early retirement” is happening decidedly sooner—and meaner.  Their jobs are being usurped by company “stars” who possess new world experiences and skill sets and who threaten to bolt if they don’t get their “shot” sooner rather than later.  Further, this is happening without employers’ historical grace and sensitivity to the perplexing realities of this life event for outgoing executives.   While the financial inducements for early retirement can be fat, the psychological attunement to these executives is thin—executives whose identities have hinged completely on their professional roles and accomplishments.

In their early 50s few of these executives are ready to go and they resent the suggestion that they should be, but they can’t do much to suppress this wave once it’s started.   Further, they’re ill-equipped to manage it mentally because they’ve been denying the inevitability of retirement, of losing the perks of power, and of suddenly being more “lame duck” than ultimate decision-maker. Some believe they are too unique, too gifted, too essential to be replaced anytime before they choose to be.  Others believe their retirement will simply fall into place when the right time comes.  And still others, who may have tended to the financial details of retirement, are paralyzed by the bleak social landscape before them given all that they’ve sacrificed in their marital, family and other personal relationships. 

In consulting to these executives, I’ve used a five factor framework for focused and proactive planning.  Actually, I’ve been thinking it’s never too soon for any of us to start this thinking about the “next chapter.”  So with that thought, here’s a quick overview of the five inter-related factors and a starter list of questions related to each factor:

Purpose – activity that engages one’s mind, skills and experiences in ways that are psychologically stimulating and rewarding.  This might be many different pursuits including a paid job, consulting, volunteerism, and/or the pursuit of certain avocational interests. 

What can I do that will bring a renewed sense of meaning to my life?

How can I channel what I know and what I’ve done in ways that could make a difference for me and/or for others in my community?

Place – deciding where one prefers to live/work in this life stage – and making that happen.

Where do I really want to live now – do I prefer urban?  Suburban?  By a body of water?  In the mountains?  Desert?  In another country?

Do I want to live in a few  different places – depending on the weather?

Do I want to own or rent?

Do I want a house?  Condo? 

People – deciding on the people whom one wants to work with and/or be logistically closest to for social reasons.

Who are the most important people in my life now and how can I set up my life so I get to see them as frequently as possible?

If I’m going to be working for some years longer, what kind of people do I want to be working with – what type of people will I get along best with and accomplish the most?

Whom do I have the most fun with and how can I plan this next chapter so we get to do the things we most love to do together?

Physical – taking care of one’s physical well-being.

What changes can I make now so that I’m taking better care of myself?  What goals do I need to set and achieve relative to things like exercise, walking, diet and sleep?

What resources (e.g. physical trainer, golf pro, yoga instructor, masseuse) do I need to identify and set a regular calendar of appointments?

Do I have the medical resources I need for good health maintenance?

Could  I use some individual or marital psychotherapy as I make this transition?

Am I satisfied with my dentist?



Prosperity – tending to all relevant financial factors.

Have I completed the necessary financial planning?  If not, what do I need to do now to ensure a sound fiscal future?

Have I taken care of family-related matters such as a will, estate planning, and a living will?

Have I designated both an executor and a medical executor?

Given current workplace pressures, we can’t be certain of how soon or far away our retirement transition may be so this framework is offered as mental preparation for the inevitable.  If retirement is near, it can accelerate immediate action(s).  If it is some years away, it can inform longer term planning.  If you are a long way from this life transition, it can prompt your dreaming about a vivid time … when that time comes.

About the Author

Karol Wasylyshyn, Psy.D.

Dr. Karol Wasylyshyn is a licensed psychologist, executive consultant and author of Behind The Executive Door: Unexpected Lessons for Managing Your Boss and Career.

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