After a lifetime on center stage the founder of a successful family business hands over the reins to the next-generation and retires. What’s next?
Today’s idea of retirement has its origins during the 19th century. But now, as life expectancy in America extends into the early 80’s, perhaps it is time to redefine retirement. Stereotyped fantasies and myths of slowing down, checking out and drifting into an illusory world of sunlight and leisure often clash with reality and in practice are found to be unsatisfactory.
Irrespective of personal circumstances, people want to live–and work–with meaning. AARP surveys have found that over 70 percent of older workers want to continue working in some way. For the sake of our emotional, physical and financial health we must look at retirement as a newly productive phase in our lives and to structure it in a way that provides genuine purpose and meaning.
Once free from the routine of work, the new retiree may experience a honeymoon period of rest, traveling, recreation, catching up with family and friends. After this however, the challenge awaits of constructing a new life. So what to do?
Keeping busy is a great idea after retirement. But mere busyness–spending time and energy on meaningless tasks–is simply an attempt at avoiding facing the fears and doubts retirement provokes. It is essential for long-term health and well being to slow down and focus on designing a mature identity and a new sense of purpose. Those who do the right kind of retirement planning have a smoother trip and more fun.
One size does not fit all when it comes to creating new purpose in retirement. Fortunately, for a former family-business owner there are options in retirement, which when planned, can be quite fulfilling. The retiree may choose to remain associated with his/her own business by becoming its “face” as did Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Or the former owner may contribute in the capacity of a “transition czar” or mentor, using the know-how gained over a lifetime to train and educate new leadership.
Years of experience as the head of a successful enterprise can also open opportunities to play important and challenging roles elsewhere. For example becoming an angel investor in new businesses that show promise and productive vision; a volunteer at a charitable organization; a member of another family business’ board.
Or the former business owner may decide upon a creative path, perhaps becoming an inventor or taking up an R&D role in a technology-related business. Meaningful choices also lie along paths leading away from the business world. For example, I know a founder of a family business whose retirement choice was to move upstate to work on his sculpture. How can you go about discovering the right path for a successful and fulfilling retirement? To help find the purpose that will direct your activities and structure your time during this final one-third of life, ask yourself these questions:
- What tasks did you enjoy most while working as head of your business?
- Is there an area about which you are especially knowledgeable?
- Do you have a particular skill that you would like to develop, such as playing a musical instrument or cabinet making?
- What activities give you pleasure, so that you would like to spend more time devoted to them.
- In what ways have former colleagues who have retired stayed active? How do any of their new pursuits spark your own interest? Is there a possibility of your working together again? Renewing your previous relationship can be vitalizing.
Choose a purpose that takes into consideration your current strengths, talents, capacities, and resources. Hiring a coach can provide significant support in this exploration, and help you work through all of the challenges inherent in the retirement/career-transition process.
Keep in mind that you need not set one central goal. It is equally viable to set a range of simultaneous goals, creating a balanced mix of some work, ongoing learning, recreation, travel and avocations, reconnecting with family and friends, and giving back. What matters is that these goals are sustainable and meaningful to you.
With regard to meaning, here are some important observations to work with:
- In the course of our lives, meaning, identity and purpose are not fixed–they naturally shift and change with time and personal growth. The suffering, which comes from lack of meaning, is caused by clinging to an old, outdated purpose and identity. This can be resolved by redefining ourselves in our current existence.
- Within any particular culture certain purposes are viewed as more meaningful than others. Ultimately however, what we find meaningful is very personal–influenced by our temperament, belief system, and values. Only we know what is really important and meaningful to us.
Retirement when approached with a clear plan for moving forward holds the potential for realizing possibilities that had to remain unexplored during your working years. Many people have actually found their “calling” in their retirement career choices. With courage and tenacity you can reach for new dreams, achieve new purpose and reinvigorate your life.