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Successful Aging: Going from president to retirement presents some challenges

Q. I recently retired as president of my manufacturing company. After developing a five-year transition plan, my son took my place and suggested it was no longer necessary for me to go to the office. I am now the CEO with little or no portfolio. I used to watch with envy a man leisurely walking his dog. I do the same now but not sure where to and feel guilty not working. Additionally, I am the personal financial guarantor for the business with fiscal responsibility and no authority. Any enlightening thoughts? B.J.

Dear B.J.

Let’s begin with the financial issues. If you feel your son is doing a good job and the business is doing well, consider the L.I.G strategy: Let It Go. If you see signs of financial troubles, it would be time to re-insert yourself into the business. It may be the time to show confidence and trust in your son as the new leader.

Retirement is a time of change. One is your brand authority. Typically you no longer can use your brand or title to get things done. Both carry significance and often evaporate when you retire.

Another change is the “what have you done lately syndrome” when the past has diminishing value. Forbes contributor Robert Laura suggests saying you were the former X of company X “has about all the significance of winning the science fair, being homecoming king or earning all-state honors as a swimmer in high school.”

Then there is the feeling of guilt. Being productive is almost a social norm for our society. Expectations begin at an early age. As children, it could be our grades; in later life it might be meeting deadlines, solving problems or managing people. These expectations are gone in retirement. Laura writes, “You don’t have to do anything except keep breathing to get paid.”

Leisure can assume a different meaning. Take golf, for example. Many play golf because they are passionate about the game. For others, golf may have added value because it means you are not working. In retirement, leisure activities no longer are the balance to work. Retirement as a week full of Saturdays may work for some, but not for all.

We cannot forget the importance of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Several programs are geared to those wanting to have a different or greater sense of purpose in retirement.

Encore Fellowship: Sponsored by, these fellowships have high impact, meaning the work makes a difference. The positions are flexible, time-limited and paid while working with nonprofit and public agencies. The fellowships offer opportunities to establish new personal and professional networks. Fellows use their skills, experience and knowledge acquired during a primary career and apply them to their new positions. For more information, contact

Stanford University Distinguished Career Institute: Stanford looks for highly accomplished leaders with 20 to 30 years of work experience, seeking to reinvent their futures. It selects about 25 high achievers and places them for one year in the Stanford environment to transform themselves for roles of social impact at local national and global levels. Participants focus on personal reflection and intellectual exploration. A substantial fee is required.

Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative: This initiative offers a pathway for accomplished leaders at the end of their primary income-earning career the opportunity to transition into their next years of service. It is designed for socially conscious leaders to take on new challenges in the social sector where they potentially can make an even greater societal impact than they did in their careers. A hefty fee is required.

These programs are an indication of a growing national trend to redefine the retirement experience, although not everyone is in a position to participate in such programs.

Here are few basic tips which apply to many:

· Give yourself some time to explore and think about what brings you meaning and satisfaction.

· Have a conversation with friends and colleagues about what they are doing during this new phase of life.

· Think about what you loved about your work and how you might find a replacement that may take a different form.

· Consider your preferred environments: the outdoors, an office, museum or school.

· Explore issues important to you: youth, hunger, discrimination, homelessness, the environment, to name a few.

· Consider how much time you want to spend in this new endeavor and then experiment.

· Check out volunteer opportunities. Do you want to be in charge? Are you OK being a follower?

Check out the Executive Service Corps Southern California where executive-level volunteers help nonprofits achieve their mission. See

Thank you for your good question, B.J. We are creating a new life stage without a straight pathway. Enjoy the journey.

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