Getting Your Ph.D. in Retirement

Lessons from planning for retirement

Posted Sep 24, 2014

I have trained several hundred people in the past few years in the work of retirement planning.

Many have been very ready to move ahead and enjoy or endure their last months of work. They were ready to plunge into this less-career-identified space we still most often call retirement. Others were somewhat ready and knew they had work to do unless they wanted to be totally surprised by leaving their career. And still others were woefully unprepared, and did not even know they were.

First my own story of retirement. I am 65. I built a business with my wife Patti for 30 plus years now, and it still operates as a coaching and leadership development business. We moved it some years ago to Columbus so we could be around more family. I have two sons here in Ohio and four grandkids. We are fortunate. We love our work as executive and life transition coaches still, and it is portable, as we can travel and get clients in Columbus too, and do much of our work by phone or video now. But we don’t work as hard as we used to by design. We had employees and an office for 25 years and let all that go, to work out of our homes.

So how did I handle turning 60? I kept (we kept) the business, the parts we wanted to keep. I went back to school for a certificate in psychology and got a masters degree instead because it was so interesting. (My other Masters is from Xavier in Cincinnati 44 years ago—sheesh!) And we moved 700 hundred miles from our home of 30 years, Kansas City, down-sizing in the process. It has been a lot of letting go and a lot of taking on new things. Even though I teach how to make transitions, I would say I was moderately prepared for the changes. Some were bigger/tougher than I thought they would be.

So do I have any advice after taking this trip of life-change/quasi-retirement of the last several years?

Sure I do.

Here are a few things I have learned and that I see in others as we plan for and make this transition:

  1. Experiment: try a lot of things to see if they fit your new stage in life. I imagine you can experiment too much but I see the other problem more. We are too narrow in their ideas of what might work and report that they did not think broadly enough. Small experiments have less risk. Rent the apartment in Tuscany or Memphis before you buy. In my case I started with a certificate, but ended up getting a degree.
  2. Expect Inner Gains: The good news of aging is that we gain more access to our inner life if we pay attention to it. We get more spiritual by design, it seems, as our body and its power starts to wane and change. This may mean church but it may not. It may mean nature, or service, or simply drinking in daily joys on a walk, in a conversation, or a favorite TV experience (WOSU of course).
  3. Expect Losses and Do Some Good Grieving: Not having staff, or seeing your buddies at work every day can be a real loss. You may lose a good friend. The kids may leave town. Your energy won’t be what it was. And status may be a loss too. Give yourself time to get used to what goes away. They most likely are not coming back and other things, slowly fill in the empty spaces again, in unexpected often richer ways.
  4. Take your Time and Hurry Up Too: this is a big paradox of course. Time is a wasting and you know you have less time on the planet by a lot than what you have already lived. So move on with some boldness. That said, there is no hurry either. Each day is a new day to enjoy and breathe into without as many deadlines.
  5. Work as Hard as You Want: you may want to work a little or a lot, or go in spurts, which is common. It may be time to try new ideas for work, and this may pull you into more work than you imagined. When you see your financial realities, work may still be needed, so good luck on the financial front (and see an advisor of course), and be realistic.
  6. Play and Savor: many of us know how to play well already, but some need to learn new ways to play at this stage. The sore back may inhibit the golf game, or your euchre partners may have moved to California. And you may have been all about the work. This age can be a great time for creativity and play. Play can be serving on boards, at the block party, or even in the new part-time job. Savor it all: the work, the play, the day, as much as you can. Goals are good, savoring the moment, with or without them, just as much so.

Get your Ph.D. in retirement and semi-retirement, one of the things aging people do. Learn what you want and like, factor in the responsibilities and duties that still are there, often big ones. Make it happen and let it happen too. You have some control, but not total. Keep on learning, or as the Grateful Dead might have put it, keep on truckin’.

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