As the first wave of boomers begins to spill into their 60s, I predict that you’re going to see fewer and fewer mentions of the word “retirement.” People won’t quit working just because they’ve blown out some arbitrary number of candles on a cake. Being a member of that generation myself, I hate the implication that I’ll ever stop being useful and active, especially in terms of mental acuity and professional competence.
Aside from the financial complexity of this trend, which I know you’re hearing a lot about, you may be faced with equally untraditional emotions among clients who are struggling to find fulfillment in their “third age.” Using the following examples, I’ve suggested some ways to help them navigate this passage with optimism and fortitude.
Q: Why is it that retired people are assumed to have lost their judgment? I’ve always enjoyed lively and inspiring discussions with a client who successfully ran a large company for many years. He actually has more time to study and comment on important issues now that he’s retired, but journalists no longer seem interested in his opinions. How can I help him adjust to this disappointing reality?
A: Today, the word “retired” has become so negatively loaded that I think we need a new one to describe our older colleagues. If as current wisdom indicates,”60 is the new 40,” why do we keep using a term implying that someone is past his sell-by date?
In the meantime, it’s saddening and infuriating that an experienced professional like your client has to deal with such disrespect. To get around this age bias, he might consider describing himself as a consultant in his former field, and omit any reference to retirement, which implies a lack of activity.
Advise your client not to lose heart. If reframing his role doesn’t succeed in putting him back in reporters’ Rolodexes, he may need to seek meaning, excitement, and satisfaction elsewhere. He could mentor younger professionals in his field, volunteer in an area in which he feels a strong connection, or consider teaching in an adult education program in his community.
He may also want to get together with other ex-CEOs who have had similar experiences and discuss ways to become more visible and useful. Their combined influence could effect some changes in how their views are received. I warrant they’d have plenty to say that’s worth listening to.
Q: My client, now 59 years old, intends to sell her business next year and initiate a new career as head of a nonprofit organization. Her life partner, a school superintendent, will retire at the same time and wants her to retire with him. Their inability to agree on this makes working with the two of them very difficult. Is there a solution?
A: We can expect to come across more dilemmas like this as boomer-generation clients move closer to the traditional retirement age of 62 or 65. In my coaching practice, I see a growing number of couples who need to individuate more than before, with one slowing down before the other is ready. Often, it is the wife who is ready to gear up to a new work challenge, while her husband looks forward to stepping down from work responsibilities, relaxing, and enjoying himself.
I think your couple ought to view the disparity of their plans as an opportunity, not a calamity. When two people are too closely merged (“enmeshed,” in psychological terms), there sometimes isn’t enough distance between them for a spark to travel. So I’d urge the husband to give his wife the freedom to pursue her work. Encourage him to envision new sources of fun, relaxation, and pleasure in his life, including some that might include making new friends.
If they approach this next phase of their lives with love and respect, this couple may find that the space in their relationship actually inspires more passion between them.
Q: A new client consulted me recently in a state of despair, because she was convinced she could never reach the “magic number” that would allow her to retire comfortably. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered anxiety of this kind. Even after I help clients see that the situation isn’t so dire, they sometimes find it hard to abandon their pessimism. Why is this, and is there something I can do about it?
A: Most people forget how many variables are involved in generating that “magic number”: the inflation rate, their rate of return, and their life expectancy, to name just a few. Furthermore, this number is almost infinitely adaptable, depending on each person’s choices and desires.
I would suggest that your client start all over by discussing with you what she wants her future to look like. What does she envision herself doing? Some people have a vague idea of staying home and taking it easy, but when they’re urged to imagine a typical day of being retired, they realize that part-time work may be preferable to no work at all.
Once you have a well-defined picture of what your client wants to do, you and she can estimate how much it will cost. If she’s unlikely to have enough money, is she willing to make tradeoffs by scaling back her spending, moving to an area with a lower cost of living, or downsizing to a smaller house or apartment?
In any case, try to get her to relax about striving for a do-or-die number. It may help her to reflect on her family, community, and spiritual connections. When people get together to work, play, or pray, sometimes they come up with surprisingly affordable and satisfying group solutions.