Contributed Column

The Manager's Corner

by Emily Morrow

The Retirement Vortex

When I think about retirement, I picture a swirling vortex, with a hollow center and lines moving around its midpoint. The image represents the complex and dynamic issue that retirement is for professionals. Their work is, of course, much more than just a job: It engages an enormous amount of their time, demands the best of their intellects, involves them with many people, defines who they are, and earns money. When thinking about leaving a profession, there are many things to consider.

Here is what some of those swirling lines in the vortex might represent:

  • Financial considerations
  • Succession planning
  • Emotional/psychological issues
  • Self identity
  • Status/stature in one’s community
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Structure in ones life
  • Existential concerns, including old age and mortality
  • How one is perceived by others, including professional colleagues

Because these can be thorny issues, many professionals resist considering, let alone discussing, them. There are no right or wrong ways to make this transition. However, there are bits of wisdom that have occurred to me. Perhaps they will be useful to you now or in the future.

Retirement or reinvention of self?

I have always thought the word “retirement” has a stigma built into it and I try to keep it out of my thinking and lexicon. I often say my philosophy is “Retire early and often, and the person who retires the most number of times before the final retirement at the end of life is the one who wins the prize.” In other words, it’s not an end; it’s an ongoing process — not retirement, but reinventing yourself.

To me, reinventing yourself means identifying what it is that will be meaningful to you in the next iteration of your life and then making it happen. What do you love? What interests you? What innate gifts do you have? How do you want to contribute to your community?

Timing matters

The famous Barnum & Bailey Circus company motto was “Leave ’em wanting more.” Professionals who do this when they leave their work invariably do better afterward than those who don’t. What does ideal timing mean in your case?

Embrace succession and financial planning

Most articles on retirement for professionals focus on succession and financial planning. This is not one of them. Professionals can confuse financial worries with more basic personal anxieties about who they will be, what they will do, and what they and others will think of them if they leave their work. Sorting out these issues is essential.

Jettison the worrying

Do think clearly about how your life might change if you leave your work, but don’t worry unduly about it. Picture what can go right in addition to what might go wrong.

Envisage the next phase

Professionals often say to me, “I can’t consider retirement unless I know exactly what I will be doing, and I haven’t any idea what that might be.” When I encourage them to envisage an appealing future, their ideas begin to flow. Avoid getting bogged down at the outset in all of the practical details and do the “vision thing,” at least for a while.

The first clue that it may be time to leave is experiencing a chronic sense of restlessness. Don’t confuse this with the usual frustrations, anxiety, and general hassles of work. You may experience this even when things are going well. Pay attention. Think about what you might want to do next and how to do it. Consider options. Be of stout heart and good faith.

If you do it right, all of those swirling lines in the vortex will coalesce into a new, cohesive, and compelling image. I know; I’ve done it and I have lived to tell the tale. You can, too, when the time is right. •

Emily Morrow, JD (, of Shelburne and Auckland, New Zealand, provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives and HR personnel.

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