Trying to figure out what to do in retirement? This major life decision is not unlike the one you faced when you began your career. When you graduate from college and a world of options stretches out before you, “information interviews” are the way to get the inside scoop on various paths. That’s a great strategy for soon-to-be retirees, too.
College students often have career dreams that began with “What do you want to be when you grow up” conversations at age 5. Often those dreams drive them toward a college major and the expectation that they have found their life work. Similarly, people often trudge through 9 to 5 work fantasizing about carefree retirement days filled with travel or golf.
In both cases what you think you want often turns out to be far from what will make you happy for a span of many years. I know a woman who dreamed of being a ground-breaking medical researcher all through her prestigious school years, landed her most coveted job at a major cancer center, and then found misery instead of fulfillment in her choice of career. The mistake was that she knew only the dream, not the reality—intelligence she could have gathered by talking to actual medical researchers about the pros and cons of the job.
Every week I seem to hear about another recent retiree who is living the nightmare of their long-held retirement dream. For many, endless freedom actually brings on claustrophobia–a feeling of being immobilized by too many choices. I know golfers who quickly tired of chasing that little ball, would-be entrepreneurs who found out they don’t like wearing multiple hats and amateur painters who cannot sustain more than a few hours of the creative life.
So my advice is this: information interview your way to a career choice that will stimulate, challenge and interest you for more than a few months. Just like your first career doesn’t have to be your only career, you can engage in more than one major retirement activity over the course of many years. Just worry about the first one now.
Approach your first retirement plan with your business brain and conduct “due diligence” on many different options. Talk to everyone you know and network to find “retirees” who are:
- Serial travelers
- Grandparents caring for grandchildren
- Non-profit foundation developers
- Part-time workers
- Business consultants
…and more. Find out what their days are like, if their activities actually fill those days, if they feel satisfied, challenged and engaged—and if their retirement choice brings the happiness they expected to find.
In these conversations you’ll hear welcome bells and warning signals about retirement choices you can pursue or discard. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t morph into a different person as retirement nears. Type As don’t magically transform to Type Bs. High energy people who thrive on being busy don’t suddenly enjoy sitting around. Know yourself and use your networking skills to find others who can help you zero in on your most productive and enjoyable long-term retirement fit. —KAS
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