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Retirement University

Going back to school to learn how to retire

Your retirement plan is starting to come together financially and you are ready make the transition, but how many of us even consider that there is an emotional component?

An article by David Brooks in The Atlantic identifies several academic institutions that offer formal programs to aid professionals seeking to wind down their careers and transition to retirement.  Among these institutions of higher learning are Stanford (Distinguished Careers Institute), University of Chicago (Leadership and Society Initiative) and Notre Dame (Inspired Leadership Initiative), which promote one-year programs to adults in advanced stages of their careers who are “trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives”.  These programs embrace small group learning sessions, for which the tuition exceeds $60,000, to help these 'students' (aka fellows) learn how to reinvent themselves in their golden years.


In his article, Brooks recounts how fellows are told “to throw away their resumes, (because) that’s no longer who you are”, which led one participant to reflect that “nothing I’ve done matters (and) everything I do going forward has to be different.”


Reading Brooks’ article had me wondering which individual is the outlier in this scenario – is it me or the high-powered professionals featured in the piece?  My hospitality career spanned 35 years, and involved decades of international travel, millions of miles on several airlines and multiple corporate level executive roles.  So, how was I able to transition to retirement without getting an advanced degree grooming me for the opportunity?


The answer is both simple and complicated.  It is simple in that one must recognize that the journey to retirement is more than becoming financially self-sufficient to be able to do so.  It is complicated in that one must also recognize that your persona in retirement will be different from that in the professional life.  The key to a successful transition is in identifying what that new persona will be and being comfortable with it.  I have met countless individuals who have not understood this latter dynamic and have failed to separate themselves from the persona they have identified with over decades of a professional career.


The dynamic of retirement readiness is what I call the ‘relaunch’, or preparing for a realistic exit strategy from an extended professional career.  I did not invent the term “relaunch” as a metaphor for the next phase of life following a productive career, but the terminology is a good fit for the Rockettman Blog. That next phase can mean a lot of different things for different people, but for me it meant an opportunity to reset and rejuvenate my life at the age of 57. It also meant an opportunity to do more of the things I like to do outside of work, like cook, travel, exercise and fish.


The transition to this new chapter of my life was made easier by having developed a diversity of interests that were unrelated to my work. But the featured personalities in the Brooks’ article in The Atlantic did not seem to grasp that there was more than a financial component to retirement.  The financial component of retirement is important, but it is not the only consideration. There is an emotional component as well that may be even more important than being financially secure.


If you think you are ready for retirement, you should ask yourself if you are capable of embracing the concept of doing nothing.  This has implications for retirement readiness (or lack thereof), especially if we identify with and define ourselves in large part by our profession.  If there is no alter ego that characterizes you outside of the professional persona, then it could be a daunting proposition spending your days seeking relevance in retirement.

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