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In pretty well every episode of “Road Runner”, Wile E. Coyote was chased and ran hard towards the cliff edge, only to fall off the precipitous edge in theatrical style. For high achievers who are working very hard, retirement can be that cliff edge.
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll have more time to keep fit, take up new hobbies, cook healthy meals and do the odd bit of consulting. It’ll be a cinch” said the senior lawyer just before retirement.
Let’s hope that it will be a cinch for you, but the stakes are rather high as this particular cliff edge has no safety net beneath it. We find that a worryingly high proportion of high achievers “hit the valley floor” at about six weeks after retiring.
Recent research from the Centre for Better Ageing & Calouste Gulbenkain Foundation found that about 1 in 3 people approaching retirement worry about potential boredom or losing social connections and about 1 in 4 worry about losing purpose. Although I’ve not seen robust large scale data, the conversations I’d had with high achievers in professional service firms suggest that the cliff edge is even more pronounced for that type of person as they have generally invested so much of them-self in their work.
As an ex PricewaterhouseCoopers management consultant I was lucky to have participated in that firm’s “Partner Survival Course” in the late 1990s. As I entered the second half of my 50s I wondered whether there was an equivalent programme available for senior people as they considered transition into either full, or semi, retirement. There didn’t seem to be, so I started putting a team together.
Small groups of high achievers thinking about their health, psychological wellbeing, exercise and diet would want to have intelligent, structured conversations with the relevant expert, the person who “wrote the book” rather than a trainer who might just have “read the book”.
But why would the leadership of a large firm want to fund a group of their partners to spend a day preparing for a healthier and more fulfilling retirement? Doesn’t all the benefit from that accrue to the individual in future years rather than their firm? It’s true that the individual gains a great deal, but their firm also benefits from not having partners hanging on by their finger tips because they are concerned about what retirement will look like; not having partners hoarding knowledge to insulate their position or ensure a lucrative few years of consultancy back to the firm; and a healthier, re-energised partner is of greater value to her firm for whatever period she remains working there. Of course a healthy and fulfilled set of senior alumni should bring many other benefits.
If your enjoyment in retirement is going to largely be defined by that non-executive directorship in a major business (that isn’t yet in the bag) then it might be worth pausing to think why that is the case and whether there are other routes that might deliver greater enjoyment and self worth. A 21 year old gets a handful of go’s at finding his or her niche in the work environment, unfortunately life isn’t so forgiving to 60 year old retirees so planning and getting it right first time is vital.
The do's and don'ts of retirement:
Tim Latham is the founder of Unretired. An RAF officer in his early career he subsequently worked for Shell and PricewaterhouseCoopers. It was whilst at PwC that he took part in that firm's "Partner Survival Course" and he has modelled Unretired on that same approach of a science and evidence based programme delivered by real experts in their field.