What to do when you retire
Published: May 22,2012
You’ve adopted the concept of “perpetuity” so that the firm now thinks and plans for the long term.
You’ve groomed a solid core of good leaders who are trusted, share common values, are committed to the firm’s long-term success and are at least two generations deep.
You’ve gradually expanded ownership of the firm to people who care about it and its future.
You’ve creatively set up the firm’s finances so that new owners can afford to buy in, while retiring owners are assured of a secure and reasonable payback.
It’s been a lot of work, but it has gone well and you can feel confident that the firm you created will continue on for years to come. But what do you do now? The firm has been your life.
All too often, work consumes us. It becomes our defining identity. It becomes our measure of success.
Work creates a structure for our lives and rewards us for our efforts. To suddenly lose that without something to take its place can be frightening and even dangerous. We have all heard the stories of people who retire and suddenly find themselves adrift, deteriorating physically and emotionally.
You’ve never really thought much about retirement. On some level you thought you would probably just work forever. But on another level, you knew that someday you would stop working. You have a wonderful spouse and a great family, but if you just stop work one day and start hanging out at home, you suspect the tranquility of your family life might be significantly stressed.
You’ve seen friends who play golf five days a week or who are suddenly traveling everywhere. Neither option seems appealing. An RV might be fun. You’ve always wanted to see every state, but it’s been made very clear you’d be doing that alone. Someone suggested you should create a “bucket list” of all the things you want to do before you die, but that seems kind of morbid.
You’ve never really had a hobby and the idea of woodworking seems a little trite. Some sort of volunteer work might be interesting, but how do you even explore the possibilities? The Peace Corps and Habitat for Humanity are always possibilities, but that work seems a little more than your aging body is ready for.
The real answer is to nurture a life outside of work from the very beginning – to find a good balance for work and life. It’s a great concept but probably falls into the category of “do as I say, not as I do.” So, as early as possible before the fateful day, consider the following.
Talk with your spouse about how each of you thinks about your lives without work. Do you share a similar vision? What are the areas where you see separate interests? Do you each share financial goals that will support your lives and your interests?
Think about things that will change in your daily lives and begin to anticipate how those changes could feel. Working is structured; not working is self-directed and open-ended.
Think about things you are passionate about besides work. Think about things you have always wanted to do or learn, and what it would take to start down that path.
With regard to work itself, consider what a gradual transition might look like. Is it a change of role? Is it working half time? What are the barriers to doing this, and how can they be removed?
Is it possible to “test” retirement in some way? I took Fridays off for two years to help my son rebuild his home. When it was finished, I decided to find some way to use that day for myself rather than return to work. That’s when I do my sculpture now, something I had always wanted to do but never carved out time for.
Retirement is really about how you choose to spend your time and focus your physical, intellectual and emotional energy. These are not easy choices and require a long-term, thoughtful process. But you have to begin now, long before your name is taken off the door.
Gordon Davis, a partner in the Succession Consulting Group, has provided strategic counsel to firms on ownership, leadership, management and transition for 40 years. Contact him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.