I had a funny realization recently upon reading the announcement of Microsoft’s new CEO and Bill Gates’ step down from his role as Chairman of the company’s board – that even Bill Gates has to continuously ask himself the quintessential question, “What’s next?”!
While many of us may be too humble to compare ourselves to Bill Gates, his idea of active retirement is one worth emulating. For baby boomers, retirement does not mean spending the rest of time babysitting grand-kids, in a rocking chair, or on a shuffleboard court. Granted, life expectancies have expanded while nest eggs have shrunk, necessitating delayed or phased retirements for many. But there’s more to it; boomers as a generation are hard-working, driven, and crave mental and social stimulation. As such, retirement has taken on a new meaning.
As an executive coach, I have found myself over the last couple of years more frequently being engaged by retiring professionals to support them in development of a plan for the next phase of their lives. The common theme is seeking to answer the question “what do I want to pursue now?” Since coaching is Socratic in nature, I pose lots of thought-provoking questions back to my Boomer clients, which tend to be no different than those I’d ask a busy person in the height of his/her career:
- What inspires you?
- If you could do anything without the risk of failure, what would it be?
- Who are your role models?
- What’s something in your life that you wanted to accomplish and haven’t?
- In what circumstances are you at your best?
I like these types of questions because they prompt people to think long and hard about what fulfills them. Anything in life will feel dissatisfying if it’s not in line with your core values and interests, and retirement is no different. The great benefit to retirement is it’s a chance to start with a blank slate, to reinvent yourself if that’s appropriate. Do those things you’ve always dreamed about; travel to those places you’ve always craved to visit; cultivate those interests that never got fully developed; expand relationships with people who really matter; volunteer with an organization that’s meaningful to you; or pursue the field in which you regretted never having had a career.
I’m not suggesting that retirement is some idealistic, no pressure chance to finally live in la-la land. What I am suggesting is that you should consciously and intentionally add some things into your life that fill you up instead of bring you down. And only you know what those things are.
Once you make some decisions, then it’s time to spring into action and take the steps necessary to see those new goals to fruition. What’s the very next thing you can do in pursuit of those goals – is it making a phone call, researching on the internet, updating your resume, or unearthing some musical instrument from the attic?
For some, that blank slate of retirement also surfaces a great fear that holds them back. Here are a few suggestions to overcome that fear:
- Get very clear on what’s at stake if you don’t pursue those goals.
- Pair up with a supportive partner to help keep each other motivated and accountable.
- Personifying your fears and doubts can often take away their power. Give your fears and doubts an identity – a name, description, physical item, or character – and then physically or mentally send them somewhere else. For example, I had one client who equated his self-sabotaging voices of fear and doubt with an image of a devil. So I had him purchase a small stuffed devil and then bury it deep inside a drawer where its irrational cries for attention were well muffled. It’s about finding a symbolic way to give a mental or physical Heisman to whatever identity you come up with so that your voices of strength, courage, wisdom, and adventure can be heard and acted upon.
- Think about a time you successfully overcame a fear or a big challenge. What pieces of yourself did you call upon at that time? Summon those same parts of your identity more often. Like a muscle that doesn’t get flexed, they may have atrophied, but after a few workouts they will reactivate and strengthen.
So back to Bill Gates, who is spending his “retirement” engaged with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spurring various innovation projects, devouring books, traveling with his family, and other activities he finds energizing. Here is how Gates describes these undertakings: “Everything I do has sort of a common theme, which is ‘How do you organize innovation to have impact?‘.”
What is your energizing theme?