Organization Development Network of Western New York

Rethinking Retirement: Finding Middle Ground

Posted in Coaching, ODN of WNY Members, Succession Planning by Michael Cardus on April 22, 2009


Rethinking ‘Retirement’
Finding a Middle ground

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I call ‘Transition’ – a word I use because I don’t like the word (or even the concept of) ‘retirement.’

I realized that I had become locked into a binary mindset. Either a person retired in the traditional sense, leaving work completely, or continued working well past the traditional retirement age.

I’ve come to the realization that there is a middle ground between total retirement and working fulltime. (I can hear some people saying, “What took you so long?”) In the middle ground, a person continues to work but in a changed role. That’s one part of transition.

Business owners often keep working. They love their work. Work gives meaning to life. It’s a place to go, something to do. It’s the challenge of solving problems, the pleasure of interacting with others, having credibility in the community. And, as owners, they have the flexibility to make choices about their future involvement.

The new economy is forcing many people to reconsider ‘retirement’ and continue working to generate income to make up for the big drop in their 401k and other retirement funds.

For many, it’s the way they have wanted it all along. “I don’t want to quit altogether. I want to keep working but in a different role, at a different pace.”

I worked with many business owners and managers who have faced the same issue. It’s probably the most challenging question professionals will ever have to face. I came to the conclusion that, for many, especially professionals, it may not a binary choice: “Should I stay or should I go?” That’s not the right question.

I say this from my personal experience. When I was trying to decide whether it was time to move on from WENDEL I agonized over my decision for three years. I wrote about some of the issues I addressed in a newsletter article (in the article archives of this newsletter) “Don’t Retire – Transition.”

Instead, ask a different question: ‘How can I keep the company progressing – leaving my legacy – but change my role to enable me to do what I love to do and be free of those other responsibilities that I don’t want to do?” Maybe its: “How can I live a meaningful life while maintaining a reduced role in the business?” Another article (also in the archive) “Approaching Retirement” might help you with your deliberations.

Based on my own personal experience and my work with business owners over the past 20 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that they need to deal with their personal ‘transition’ issues – their ‘new’ role – before they can begin to explore succession planning. If they can’t/won’t clarify their new personal role they are unable to consider succession.

Are you pondering your personal transition? I suggest you start do the following:
A) Define your life goals,
B) Choose your new future,
C) Identify your ‘next steps’ to best achieve that future.

Then, you can address ‘succession issues’ that are so important to your legacy.

It’s tough to ponder the whole transition challenge and look at it objectively – to step back from the day to day work and ‘just think about this.’ It’s key to set aside blocks of time, away from the work/business issues, to help give you focus. Maybe a ‘coach,’ someone experienced in addressing this challenge, can help you focus on your strategic life issues and add discipline to the process.

The future will not be the past all over again. It’s going to be different. Now is the time to get prepared!

Working with business leaders who are exploring their ‘transition’ options has become a focus of my work. If you’d like to explore your situation give me a call.

Peter Wendel


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