Where did the time go? It’s 2016 and you’re thinking about retiring. To those with plans it comes with great excitement, but to most, it comes with fear, doubt and an awful lot of anxiousness. It’s normal, after all, most of our identities are tied into our work and without anyone needing us, it leaves a gaping hole in our day-to-day activities. The biggest question is, what to do?
In the immortal words of John F. Kennedy, “efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” And yes, to many it takes courage to retire, but purpose and direction? Always! Today we’re living longer and we’re living younger. Studies have shown that due to our healthier lifestyles, we’re living 10 to 15 years younger than our chronological age.
That means most of us will have plenty of energy, an active mind and much, much more to contribute in this lifetime. While it may seem strange to think of retirement when you’re still feeling young inside, it does present a world of possibilities.
Before we talk about possibilities, let’s first start with a list of the things you will do when you retire: go ahead, make that list right now. If your list is full of meaningful activities, then you are more likely to have a purposeful and happy retirement. But very few lists are like this.
What you don’t want to include on your list are any one-time activities like sorting through the boxes of old photographs. Even though it may take weeks to do this, it’s not a meaningful activity in retirement. If you’re having difficulty with your list or are feeling a little anxious, I have a few ‘next step’ options for you to consider.
First, think about starting an encore career. Many people’s careers were started decades earlier when they had financial and family responsibilities and no ability to switch careers if they were unhappy. Now that you’re retiring, you have a rare opportunity to work at what you’ve always wanted to work at, to start a totally new, unrelated career that many find liberating and exciting.
You could start a new business. American statistics (Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity) shows that last year more Americans became entrepreneurs than at any time in the past 15 years. And it’s not just a young person’s game. Entrepreneurship activity was highest in the 35-44 and 55-64 age brackets.
What small business you ask? Many people turn their skills into consulting businesses with the benefit of flexible schedules. You can turn a hobby into a moneymaking opportunity or perhaps you have an idea that will take advantage of the needs in your community.
My favourite is a camp for adults. I guess camp isn’t just for kids anymore because there are adult camps for music, arts, adventure and cooking. There’s even a camp for learning to drive a car on the ice! They include a week away, totally immersed in the subject of your passion. These camps came about because someone saw a gap in the market and decided to use their skills to fill the gap – a new industry, a new business.
In fact, according to the Kauffman report, 0.34 percent of American adults created a business per month in 2010 or 565,000 new businesses per month. Being your own boss is great in so many ways. There’s no need to ask permission to skip out of the office to catch a ballgame, the buck stops with you and you’re doing something you love. It’s a time when you can flex your risk muscle (not financially of course) because after all, what have you got to lose?
That’s what farmer Dave thought. I’ll call him Dave because he doesn’t want his real name revealed. Dave lives in a small town and retired when his son took over the family farm. He kept two acres of land for himself and each year he grows a variety of vegetables and some fruit. It was a project that allowed him partial work and partial free time, a better balance in his life. For the first time, Dave had the time to be creative so he pursued his passion for growing exotic vegetables. Dave grows things other farmers don’t have the time to grow like Belgium endive and white asparagus.
Then on the weekends Dave takes his vegetables to the farmers’ market to sell them. This was a totally new experience for him. He discovered just how much he loved talking to his customers, especially the ones who became regulars and he looked forward to seeing them each week. The money he made from a summer selling vegetables, gave him the resources to escape a Niagara winter down in sunny Florida. David found the perfect balance, an unexpected, rich new life after full time work.
If you’re not sure about an encore career or starting a business, think about taking a year off. After all, it was the Boomers who invented the gap year between high school and university, or university and work. So why not do it after retirement and before your next move? I call it a Freedom Year and it has many advantages like the ability to decompress after a hectic pace and successful career. It allows you to gain perspective about retirement and clarity before your next move. In fact, most opportunities for an encore career or business venture come only after word of your retirement gets out. If I were looking at a Freedom Year, it would be in my family’s hometown in Italy learning Italian. Perhaps yours is to build houses for a relief organization or volunteer for a charitable outfit abroad.
Like Dave, many retirees become snowbirds, but that still begs the question of what to do the rest of the year. Some get complete satisfaction by volunteering and the jobs come in many different shapes and disciplines. You’ve seen volunteers: they’re all around you from assistants in the hospital to ushers in the theatre. Volunteers sit on boards, mentor children, advise small businesses and even join executives abroad associations. Think in terms of what you would like to do and which organizations you would like to help, then contact those outfits and tell them you would like to help. In these days of cutbacks it is the rare nonprofit or government body that couldn’t use an extra set of hands.
I have a friend who has transitioned from a demanding career into a brilliant life. I will call her Sophie. Sophie retired as a school principal over a decade ago and she has volunteered ever since; first to mentor students, then on the Board level and now as Board chair. Her volunteer role allows her to contribute in meaningful ways and to put her extensive knowledge and finely honed skills to good use.
Besides volunteering, Sophie’s business is running her popular bed and breakfast. Sophie has an outgoing personality and absolutely loves meeting people from all over the world. She’s even become an enthusiastic ambassador for the region and volunteers on tourism committees in her neighbourhood. While Sophie could easily run her bed and breakfast full time, she chooses to block out the time she needs to enjoy life – a business on her terms!
Neither David nor Sophie would consider themselves retired and why would they? They’re working with purpose, direction and have the freedom to make their own decisions. They are two of the most interesting people I know. Reminds me of Kathryn Hepburn who said, “we have an obligation to be interesting” – and that includes your retirement years.
Part one of the retirement series ran in the spring issue of Business by Today magazine. It’s now online at revpublishing.com
Written By: Lynn Ogryzlo