BOSTON — Dead is the new retirement. OK, that doesn’t sound appealing, but working till you drop is a heck of a lot better than playing bad golf at the country club, eating chicken salad sandwiches for lunch, and complaining about your gall bladder.
At least, it is if you can find a job in retirement that brings meaning and happiness. So says Marshall Goldsmith, whose blog entry “Brett Favre and the Difficult Art of Retiring Successfully” appeared last August on the Harvard Business Review’s Web site.
Retirement in the traditional sense is no longer the ideal, according to Goldsmith, author of “Succession: Are You Ready?” and a consultant to executives.
“You think it sounds good until you do it,” Goldsmith said recently. “It’s a disaster. Spouses and adult children aren’t waiting around for you to grace them with your presence.”
Here are the essentials:
1. Make a contribution: Whatever you do next, it should be meaningful. It should make you happy. It should make you feel as if you’re making a contribution. And whatever you do, don’t let your age be the limiting factor. Consider, for instance, the life of management guru Peter Drucker. “Many of his greatest contributions came after he turned 60,” Goldsmith said. “Imagine if he had retired at that age.”
2. Do more of the same, or not: Doing nothing isn’t an option. It’s a bad plan. Experts don’t disagree about that. They do debate whether you should do what you know in retirement or do something entirely different.
Goldsmith said you should do what you love to do, be it the same-old, same-old or something entirely different. “If you love what you do, it’s a non-issue,” he said. If you aren’t doing what you love in retirement, then you might want to do some soul-searching.
Of course, that’s sometimes easier said than done. Consider the case of Brett Favre.
Favre, the once-great Green Bay Packer and then not-so-great New York Jet, was contemplating — at that time, anyway — coming out of retirement yet again to do the thing that he loves doing. Last year at this time, Goldsmith was encouraging Favre to play football because it was “something to do” as opposed to nothing. One year later, however, there are many who say that Favre will have to decide between doing nothing and doing something other than football. Goldsmith, for his part, doesn’t want to tell Favre what to do next. “Brett has to do what’s right for Brett,” he said.
3. It takes work to find work in retirement: With the exception of Jack Welch and perhaps Favre, the world isn’t holding its collective breath waiting for you to retire so that you can grace this or that entity with your skills, knowledge and experience. No, you will have to work hard at finding the next thing, according to Goldsmith. “It requires work,” he said. “You need to set your ego aside, show some humility and be open-minded.”
In addition, Goldsmith said, you may have to set aside any notions about working only for a nonprofit organization. In some cases, you may enjoy working more for a for-profit company. But whether you work for a nonprofit or a for-profit, remember: “You are there to serve them,” he said. It’s not the other way around.
Also, Goldsmith said, it could take a great deal of soul-searching to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. So don’t wait until the first day of retirement to think about what could be the most important part of your life. That doesn’t mean you should know exactly what it is that you want to do. You could have a “vague idea,” he said, but you should also be open to the possibilities.
4. Wait before you leap: Given the current economy, it’s quite possible there aren’t a lot of jobs out there at the moment for retirees. Indeed, a recent Urban Institute report finds that the recession has increased joblessness among older Americans. (Read the report here: www.urban.org/publications/411904.html)
In other words, you might want to wait before telling your boss to take your job and you-know-what with it. “You don’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face,” Goldsmith said. If you get angry with your employer and you don’t have a place to go, you should take a deep breath and ask yourself this question: “Is what I am about to do in the best interest of myself and my family?” If not, you might want to hold your tongue until you have alternatives in place.
5. Get real offers: It’s one thing to say you want to work in retirement. But it’s another thing to do so. According to Goldsmith, all is fiction and fantasy until real offers cross your desk. With a real offer, you can evaluate whether the next new thing is in your wheelhouse or not. “With a real offer, you can make a real decision,” he said.
6. Promote yourself: In retirement, you will need to learn how to be your own best advocate. “You will have to learn how to sell yourself,” Goldsmith said. “You will have to learn how to promote yourself in a positive way.” In the absence of such self-promotion, someone else is likely to end up with the job you covet.
7. Working out of want or need: Whether you work in retirement because you need the money or want to work, Goldsmith said the end game is the same. “Even for those who have to work, this doesn’t change anything,” he said. “You have to find meaning and happiness in your life.”