My research team and I interviewed 100 executives and managers who’d recently retired or were actively considering it, as well as HR professionals from 24 companies to explore the different paths to retirement today. We found four guiding principles to help navigate late-career journeys:
1. Prepare to go off-script
Few managers make a clear, irrevocable shift from full-time work to retirement. Careers end in many ways, from leaving when it feels right to becoming disillusioned with a company.
The lesson here is that you might not have complete control over when and how your career ends, so be ready to improvise and adapt. No matter how well thought out your plan for retirement may be, there is a good chance things won’t turn out exactly as you’d imagined.
2. Find your own retirement metaphor
Find a metaphor to view retirement so that it feels right. Detox from work stress, liberation from the daily grind, downshifting from a demanding career.
If you’re approaching this major life transition, take a moment to reflect on what it means to you. What images pop into your mind? What metaphor matches your dreams and desires? The idea is to better understand yourself, your perspectives on your work as well as life, who you want to be going forward, and all the new activities or identities open to you.
3. Create a new deal
Rather than completely retire, you could consider redesigning schedules or responsibilities, reducing hours while transferring knowledge and responsibility to successors, or arranging contract work. This could help you step back but stay engaged.
It means you could keep contributing to the company, but concentrate more on the likes of family, health, or charity efforts.
4. Make a difference
Make more than financial contributions to society, what philanthropic pursuits can you turn to? Leverage your knowledge, skill, and talent to make a difference in the communities or the world.
Even if you’re tired of the specific work you’ve been doing, your leadership, teamwork, and project management know-how can be applied to a host of other activities.