What do you do?

Yes, I am one of those. The ones who identified themselves by what they did at work.   The ones the experts say will struggle in retirement transition to find out who they are without work.


As I struggled with “To work or Not to work”, What is my Identity?, and finding a life balance of Less work/More play, I decided to pursue a path I had considered twice in my life, but didn’t take either time. Yes, the Robert Frost poem comes to mind… two paths diverged. Had I kept the path for a later day and now was the time?   I’ve always been happy with taking that path less traveled – the female engineer – a technical (STEM) path and very feminist role-model. It fit my practical, rational, critical thinking style.


The other path, the path not taken – Life Coach.


Becoming a Life Coach felt so female! So touchy-feely. Yet, when I looked into Life Coach with a Retirement Focus, the first two folks I talked to were men! I had all this knowledge having researched in-depth retirement transition and even created a process with associated exercises to move through it – to create a next stage life vision and action plan.


How did this all come about?


Contemplating “To work or not to work”, I realized I needed some work.   I needed something to mentally challenge myself, to help provide an identity, and to provide some income for self-worth.   I started with my old mastery area. I still love doing that work. But it was specialized to the MegaCorp I left and I struggled (as have others who have left the MegaCorp with similar specialty) to explain this unique skill and its benefits.   The simplest (yes, this is simplest) way to describe it is: Multi-disciplinary Product Strategist that integrates 1) end user/shopper/buyer understanding/insights, 2) business models, brand identity & business needs, and 3)product/package technologies and design. Clear as mud, hmm? So, even with creating my own LLC, and signing on rosters with 3 different consulting groups, I wasn’t seeing that path creating a flow of mentally stimulating project work.   I’m not giving up on it – I continue to network as part of my action plan activities.


What is My Identity?   I recently described an acquaintance as “she’s an empty-nester mom, an avid athlete who runs and bikes, a great cook and a doctor, too”.   (Yeah, can I hate her just a bit?)   But it made me wonder what is my litany of role descriptors?   Being able to say I am a Life Coach certainly helps with identity statement!


Less work/More play is still my big life mantra. I find that “work” can creep into my week quickly, as I find it mentally stimulating and easy to get lost in a new project. Keeping the focus on a few, small Multi-disciplinary Product Strategist projects a year and then adding a few Retirement Transition clients a year will keep me on the 75/25 split of 75% play. Keep in mind that blogging for me is play!  Going to dinner and the theater, taking a hike with friends, going to Zumba or yoga, and taking cooking classes – all play.


So, I have taken the first few steps down this new (untaken) path.   I am now a Certified Life Coach!   And I am working on the Certification for Retirement Life Coach as well.   To be honest, I am not sure how far down this path I will go.  Is it my passion, my purpose?   Not sure.   But it certainly feels good to be able to answer the question ”what do you do?”


What am I waiting for?

I realized recently I have developed a very strong habit of delaying gratification, of putting things off, of saying ”I will do that someday”.  Guess what – someday is here!


But strongly held habits, ones you’ve had for years, are hard to break.  And I’ve been putting things off for year and years.  Even talking with folks who are facing the reality of a body betrayal and having to give up their dreams has not helped me completely break the “someday habit.”   I really am not sure what I am waiting for!


There are quite a few things on my someday list: learning jewelry making, losing weight, cooking healthy, being active, traveling more, learning to swim.   I’ve been trying a few things to change my “someday habit”, break the delay gratification mindset, and make sure I know that now is the time.


One tool I am using is trying to determine if the things I’ve been putting off are truly things I want to do.     How will I feel in 5 years if I don’t do this?   Am I willing to work – put in the time and effort – towards making this a reality? Will I enjoy the process of learning that new skill, achieving that goal, making that thing happen? Or does the learning process look to be more like frustration? If I’m not willing to work at it, then I just need to acknowledge it is a fantasy and will never be reality. What things (dreams) do I really want to chase?


Is there something else that is holding me back?  Am I afraid of failure? Embarrassment? Am I waiting for the perfect alignment of things?   Yes, yes, and yes.  So to resolve that: How can I set realistic goals for the things I want or reset goals in the learning process? How can I use affirmations to remind myself that:

  • Someday is today!
  • It’s OK to be a beginner!   Let go of the expectation of being an expert. Be joyful in the learning process.
  • Start small!    Plan a small step towards the big future vision.


So what is happening: I will plan a trip to New Orleans – just put it on the calendar for May and do it.   I will be joyfully creative in jewelry making, and not worry how “good” the outputs are.   I will recognize that I am not willing to put in the effort to lose weight, but I will plan activities with friends that are not always passive or food-centric.  And, I will ask myself regularly – what are you waiting for?   Today is the day!


What are you waiting for someday to do?

Applying Innovation Expertise to Personal Innovation

So much of retirement planning focuses on the financial planning – providing guidance on investment balance, cash flow management, and how much should you save.   But very little talks about How-to-define your retirement life – the (many) days after the big day.   How do you create your best retirement life versus just allowing it to (magically) happen? Looking back on this past year, I realized I have not only crafted a new-life, but I also used a clear “how to process” for getting there.


For many years, I worked in R&D doing consumer product & brand innovation.  I was an expert in the innovation process, often leading teams through the process to define action plans to reach future business goals. So when I retired, I used these skills on myself, looking at me as the “product”.   I certainly needed to be re-invented….. from a workaholic to a what?


Why did I look to reapplying an innovation process for myself?   When working on a product category or a brand, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to grow the business.   The innovation process focuses first on defining the future state: “what is the vision – what will the product or brand BE in 5 or 10 years?”   This fits so well with retirement transition – Who do I want to BE in 5 or 10 years?   Innovation visioning is understanding what does the Company need this product/brand to do/be (the value of the product; fit in Company portfolio), what are the key strengths the current product/brand has to leverage, and what is the future world/environment going to be like. This is similar to the values work, strengths understanding, and life-domain exploration in a personal innovation process.


After the vision is clear, the innovation process is about ideating all the possible things we can do on the product/brand to reach that vision.   And then time is spent on converging to the best ideas by assessing the possibilities versus the vision and resources.   This is similar on a personal basis…creating a life possibilities list (one person I know calls it his never-be-bored list!) and then assessing the best ideas (those that match values, skills and interest) to put into action.


Once the lead ideas are chosen, it’s activate the journey – from try-on some ideas (similar to R&D research & prototyping) while others can move direct to action (the easy and obvious ideas were often moved immediately to execution).


Things to understand about innovation (whether for a brand/product or a person):

  • Innovation takes time. You need time to reflect and to ideate.   Time to contemplate and assess. Defining the future state you want is just as important as identifying what is needed to get there. And sometimes you need to live with the vision awhile to see if it “feels right”.
  • Innovation takes creativity. All the clichés about creativity – thinking out of the box, playing like a kid, think big, think different – do them.  And yes, everybody is creative.
  • Innovation takes effort. This takes mind-work – contemplating, envisioning, researching, and maybe even some prototyping and reiterating. When on brands/products, I found it took teams 3-9 months to work through the steps of innovation. For my personal innovation, I found it took even longer, as I needed to manage through the “loss of work”, as well as having no idea what future state I wanted. But 16 months in, I have a vision and a plan activated.


It’s been exciting to apply my innovation expertise to this new “brand that is me”.  I hope the innovation here is as successful as it was when I did it on my previous brands/products.

Stages of Retirement

I recently re-looked at the Robert Atchley (2000) 7 Stages of Retirement. He details the stages from pre-retirement through termination of retirement. I re-read his entry into retirement stage with renewed interest, as I have just passed through this stage (16 months since that day), as well as spoken to many about their own path entering this stage. And I have come to realize my own experience does not match his model!


He identifies 3 key entry paths into the actual retirement stage, and I do know of individuals on each of these paths.

  • The Honeymoon Path. This is the path of “one long, lovely vacation.”   While I wished we could have immediately entered the travel mode (I have many places on the bucket list), we had family limitations that made an immediate honeymoon path impossible. I envy a bit the folks that are taking off for 10 days in Paris, a trip cross-country, or a month in Rio….and then their next Facebook post comes with still another destination.
  • The Rest & Relaxation Path. This is the path of “everyday is a Sunday”. My hubby is on this path. He has his books to read, his movies to watch, the dog to play with, and some grass to mow (as needed). Between a nap or two, and maybe dinner out if I insist.
  • The Immediate Routine Path. This path is for the pre-planners who have the giving-back board membership lined up, the second career already part-time established, the time with grandkids pre-scheduled, and the exercise program fully in place. They slide seamlessly into retirement and just don’t understand why I am experiencing any angst!


Atchley refers to the stage after the retirement entry stage as Disappointment. Often those who began a Honeymoon Path or Rest & Relaxation Path find those paths to become a bit boring or unfulfilling. When I explored this stage a bit more, I found it intriguing that it’s also a stage of uncertainty and missing aspects of the work environment like feelings of accomplishment and connection to people. Atchley’s work indicated that Reorientation follows Disappointment, hopefully quickly. Reorientation is designing the retirement life you want to live.  This is the stage I have been in for the past year and I would hypothesize that it could be another entry to retirement path.


I do love that Atchley states “mastering a comfortable and rewarding retirement routine is the ultimate goal of retirement.” The Retirement Routine stage is the long-term stage of retirement, and one that my retirement transition planning has been targeted to create.


So my experience in retirement entry has been one of re-orientation from the start!   While I am only an N=1 versus his more in-depth sociological paper, I expect some others might also be on a similar entry to retirement path.  Learning the tools to create the retirement life you want is what I am blogging about, so feel free to steal and reapply, even if you are entering your Reorientation stage at a different point of your retirement journey.


What I find exciting is I know I now have tools in hand to re-create my vision and action plans again and again, if/when some of my retirement routine plans don’t work out as anticipated or as life happens. And perhaps I will take a Honeymoon, when my hubby gets bored with Rest & Relaxation and/or our family limitations are alleviated.