I think what can be surprising for people when they think about retirement is that they spent their whole lives trying to build credibility, meaningfulness, and prestige in their careers, and they’re going to walk away from that mentality when they retire. What’s going to take its place?
To the person retiring, they may feel like they’re simply going to be free from responsibility, and that’s true, they might have some freedom from responsibility. But what they’re really being free from is all the people that have joined in in helping them accomplish what they wanted to accomplish, all the pats on the back that they got when they did well on a certain project, and all the thinking about all the hopes and dreams, how to climb the ladder, how am I going to reach the pinnacle of my profession. So, once you feel like you’ve climbed that as far as you can climb it, you’re just going walk away and live like you don’t have that drive anymore? Are you really going to lose the drive for that? That idea is really surprising to people.
I always ask people: what’s going to replace your sense of purpose? The people I deal with are at the US Attorney’s offices: that’s my primary client. Those guys are driven, so they’ve spent their whole lives from the time they got out of high school to say, I’m going to college, I’m going to achieve; I’m going to achieve so well that I’ll get into law school. I’m going to achieve, and I’m going to achieve so well that I’m going to get this degree from a prestigious institution, and I’ll be able to hang it on my wall and people will go, “Wow! How did you do that?” Then, I’m going to get a job with a prestigious employer and I’m going to win cases that are going to be landmark cases, that are going to defend our country. I’m going to help protect our citizenry, I’m going to keep bad people off the streets, I’m going to pursue people until we do get them off the streets, and that gives my life meaning. You go through 30 years of that, or 25 years of that, and you’re going to retire, and suddenly you’re going to be fine thinking, “Oh I’m good with eating a Twinkie, sitting on the couch and watching TV”? I don’t think that’s realistic. So, what is it that’s going to give you a sense of purpose?
"What’s going to give me that same sense of satisfaction, what’s going to give me that same sense of accomplishment...?"
When we’re younger, we wonder, “What am I going to do with my life?” The high achievers figured it out for themselves right off the bat and they stick with it. Then, we get older and we say, “What am I doing with my life?” We might have some regret, and we might have thoughts of “what if I had taken this track” or “what if I had taken that track”, but in the end, most of us who are achievers feel like we’ve done pretty well. Then, we get to retirement and we wonder, “What have I done with my life? And, am I done? Do I not want to make any more contribution to my country? Any more contribution to my society? Any more contribution to my community? Any more contribution to my family? Not any more contribution to my friends? Am I really done making contributions? Or do I just need to figure out what my contribution is going to be? What’s going to give me that same sense of satisfaction, what’s going to give me that same sense of accomplishment, what’s going to give me that same--give me that feeling I’m making that same contribution to the people around me and really to the country at large? I want to make a contribution.”
You know, a lot of people don’t fully retire. There’s a lot of us who get to a certain point, and we say, “I’m done with this profession.” But just because you’re done with that employer, doesn’t mean you’re done with that profession. And even if you are done with that profession, doesn’t mean you’re done making a contribution. Let’s figure out what you really want to do with your life.