Corporate execs find purpose in retirement

Mention the word “retirement” to a corporate executive in their 60s, and you’ll see one of two reactions: excitement about the future, or complete denial and dread, wrote Anne Sample, in an article for Fast Company.

The feelings of gloom may come from anxiety surrounding conflicting visions of modern retirement.

“For many Baby Boomers at the culmination of a successful career, there’s little eagerness for endless days of golf, grandchildren, and leisure,” Anne wrote.

I see that here in Sun City, Ariz., America’s first planned retirement community. If leisure was all seasoned citizens wanted to do in retirement, you’d think Sun City would be the happiest place on earth for retirees. Yet, there are a lot of grumpy, disenfranchised people here eager for an opportunity to make a real difference in someone else’s life.

Like Anne noted in the article, people over 60 may want to slow the pace of their lives, but they are reluctant to trade in the prestige, identity and self-worth that comes from a full-time executive role. I suspect that applies more to men than women, since guys are often wrapped up in their work status.

Whenever two men meet each other for the first time, one of the most commonly-asked questions is often, “So, what do you do for a living?” If the man responds, “I’m retired,” then the follow-up question is often, “Cool, so what did you do for a living.”

Most people, and men especially, want to feel as though they are contributing in a meaningful way to something greater than themselves. They need a challenge and, absent of a real one, they’ll create an opportunity to compete out of thin air.

I’m reminds of the movie Caddyshack, the iconic 1980s movie centered around the golf course Bushwood Country Club. Al Czervik, the character played by Rodney Dangerfield, is a construction tycoon who is either retired or close to it.

However, the challenge of playing a round of golf a few strokes under par isn’t enough to keep his attention. He’s always betting with others on the most ridiculous things.

“Baby Boomers are skilled, independent, and motivated, with few ready for a complete 180 when it comes to next steps. It all results in the need to reframe ‘retirement’ with new thinking and more possibilities,” Anne wrote. “The ideal mix of retirement activities combines your personal passions with your leadership skills and experience, at a pace that fits your desire for work-life balance.”

She went on to describe seven ways executives can share their leadership experience and add value to their days. They include:

  • Join a board
  • Lead a non-profit organization
  • Become a brand ambassador
  • Mentor young professionals

“It can be tempting to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity; instead, stick to your legacy plan,” Anne wrote. “Prioritizing yourself and protecting your schedule gives you time to explore new avenues and make the most of your new situation.”

Note, she didn’t advise readers to ride carts on a golf course all day every day or sit in a boat with a fishing pole.

You have skills and experiences that make you a unique person and qualifies you to do things nobody else can do. Do those things and you’ll leave a lasting legacy.

Remember the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, who famously said, “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.”

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