Advice on Retirement

We met at a Macaroni Grill on the Jersey Shore – and our planned lunch was little more for me than an hour tucked into a busy corporate calendar. But for my friend, this meeting was the highlight of the day, or so he told me. We chatted about how great it was that he could now spend time with his family, and I told him how jealous I was that he’d escaped the corporate jungle. But within months, my freshly-retired friend of many years, Gideon Lidor, would be dead.

Now, I consider myself an expert on cyber security, and if you are reading this article, then our connection is probably somewhat along these lines. But recently, I’ve become something of an expert on a separate topic – one that I certainly hadn’t ever expected: Retirement. Hardly a day passes when someone doesn’t admire my apparently-smooth passing from the corporate grind to that seeming Nirvana of retirement. “Gosh, you look great, Ed,” I hear each day.

Well, I’m here to tell you that surviving the R-word is harder than it looks – and that when someone says you look great, it’s because they were expecting you wouldn’t. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the increase in the probability of death on retirement – and this study was for men 62 years of age – could be as high as 20%. That is a scary finding, and I suspect the consequences are even worse if you’re fired. So, read on.

The fundamental basis for my retirement advice lies in a simple observation from Dale Carnegie: Your life is your thoughts. Recognize now that your retirement (or other post-work experience) is so much more than some monthly calculation from a financial advisor. If you Google “retirement advice,” then you will see a bunch of money calculations and other math nonsense. Listen to me: Your retirement will be in your head, not in your wallet.

I’m going to recommend three specific mind-steps that you can and must take today to begin to reprogram your inner thoughts. The goal is to help you survive upcoming retirement, and to perhaps even thrive amidst its minefields. These are three steps that you perform in your mind, not on some stupid calculator, and they are offered here to help you prepare for a transition that can kill you (gulp) if you don’t manage it properly. Here are the steps:

Rethink that Countdown Clock. One-hundred percent of people approaching the R word, have a countdown clock in their head, or written down, that ends with some rapidly approaching date. The hope is to reach the big R day, and to then politely tell your sadistic boss go fuck himself (sorry for the expletive, but you know that’s exactly what you’re thinking – and yes, some bad bosses are women). Well, I’m here to tell you to lose the countdown clock – and fast.

A better approach than counting down the R number with each passing day, is to start a new clock, a positive one, right now. If you expect to continue working in some capacity after you leave your job – and you should, then start a forward process today toward developing the skills you will need in that pursuit. Count forward, not backward – and focus on growing something new, rather than killing something old. (I hope you see the metaphor in that.)

Begin to Reshape Your Identity. If you are that person – and I guess I might have been guilty of this one – who answers the familiar cocktail party question about who you are by describing where you work or what you do, then you’d better stop that practice right now. Your life is not your job, and the sooner you recognize this, the better. So today, start to develop a better answer to the question of who you are. (Hint: the answer is not your work.)

If you are a successful corporate executive, then managing this identity issue will be harder. For years, people might have been describing you as the big shot CFO of this company, or as the head of operations at that company – and with retirement, you will find yourself now a total past-tenser. Decide today that a job title is not your life. Rip up your business cards, and try to remember how you described yourself back in college. (I assure you: It was not by job title.)

Establish a New Self-Purpose. This is the true secret to successful retirement, in my opinion. You will need to start now – and I mean today – developing a plan for what your new self-purpose will be. This task should be approached with the same skill and attention to detail that you’ve developed in your career. Create a schedule, make milestones, do the research, speak with experts, and maybe put the whole damn thing into Excel. (Hint: This is your new work.)

The best news is that you can select what this new self-purpose will be. I understand that for some of you, caring for an elderly parent or an ailing relative might be your new life’s calling. But for many, you will have the freedom to program your life in a way that the great Joseph Campbell referred to as “following your passion.” For example, I always wanted to start a company – so that’s what I did. Go find your passion and start building a path today.

By the way, for those of you who have been (or expect to be) involuntarily terminated from a position, recognize that my advice still applies – except for the countdown clock, because yours is now zero (ahem). The remaining mind-tasks are the same: Work on your identity and develop a new self-purpose. And please recognize that you were not terminated – what you did for a living was terminated. You are still here. Reading this. Now.

So, if the R word is in your vocabulary, then go get started today with these three important steps: Lose the countdown clock, reshape your identity, and establish your self-purpose. Oh, and one more point: I can promise that upon retirement, it will be pure unadulterated pleasure to be able to finally go in and tell that miserable boss of yours to go f– . . . well, maybe that would be something better done quietly in your head.