The road that a great executive must travel between the preservation and the loss of his or her identity and integrity is extraordinarily narrow and, very, very few really make the trip successfully. It is an enormous challenge.

-M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled

I’m sure you have heard this story before. A successful executive begins to prepare his company for his eventual departure. He finds his successor. He sits down with his financial planner and maps out his financial strategy for the next 25 years. He finally reaches his retirement date and his friends and family give him a send off to be remembered. At first, he is enjoying sleeping in a little later and playing golf and tennis in the afternoon. He notices that his wife seems to be out a lot but doesn’t think about it too much. After a couple of months, he starts to get a little stir crazy. He and his wife are snapping at each other constantly. His business friends he used to call and have lunch are in touch less and less frequently. His kids seem to be avoiding his calls. Six months into his retirement, he is sitting at home in his pajamas all day watching TV. His wife thinks he is depressed but doesn’t know how to approach the subject with him.

This story is not exceptional. Being a successful executive does not guarantee a smooth transition to retirement. In fact, successful executives struggle the most with the change in their lifestyle. One of the biggest mistakes that business leaders make is assuming that navigating retirement is exactly like managing their careers.

For most successful business people their self-identity is inextricably linked to their work, and the structures and relationships it affords them. They are accustomed to being surrounded by a group of people who respect them, attend to their needs and wants and hang on every word they speak. They have assistants who handle every detail, staff who respond quickly to every idea, and business associates who tell them how wise, savvy, and interesting they are.

The keys to a satisfying retirement are very different than the key skills to be a business executive. Ascending the corporate ladder actually requires that you edit yourself to fit in to the corporate culture. We typically have a business persona that is significantly different than our unguarded personality. Part of that process causes us to become identify internally with that corporate culture.

There is nothing wrong with corporate success but being successful in the corporate environment is not the same thing as being self-actualized. The corporate lifestyle lends itself to a focus on external motivators. The person who is a successful corporate animal typically is motivated by the respect, praise and rewards given by others. After a while, the individual begins to associate psychic pleasure with the external signs that they have done a good job.

Retirement requires a significant shift in focus from extrinsic to intrinsic reward. While it sounds simple, this is actually a difficult transition for those who have been primarily motivated by the way other people perceive them. Competitiveness and survival of the fittest are the principle by which most corporate environments live or die. The coercive force of the group on the individual. Oftentimes these individuals have been so focused on external markers of success that they do not actually have a real sense of what they personally find meaningful. In fact, they have made many decisions along the way to sacrifice their personal lives in pursuit of success in their professional lives. The corporate identity serve an economic purpose and allows commerce to progress but it does not provide higher level needs like personal fulfillment and meaning. Planning for the transition to spending more time at home is just as important as the exit strategy for the business.

People who are happy retirees are able to strike more of a balance in their lives. They find that serving others can be just as satisfying as commercial pursuits. They recognize that change while not easy is a critical part of the process of re-tire-ing their lives for the new terrain they will be navigating.

To Your Best Life

Treen, Doug, Psychology of Executive Retirement from Fear to Passion Escape the Rat Race and Save Your Life.
Pink, Daniel, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Peck, M. Scott, The Road Less Traveled.

If you’re wondering where to start RIGHT NOW to plan your retirement, then take advantage of my complimentary 30-minute conversation. This is free session that will show you how to plan a retirement strategy that is financially secure, personally fulfilling, rewarding, and more. We only have a limited number of spots, so schedule your consultation here now or visit our website [].

© 2013 Kairos Advisers LLC

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“Executive advisor Pam Thomas is a change catalyst, drawing others into seeing broader, more effective possibilities and solutions to the opportunities and challenges in business and in life. Her authentic, direct approach has made her an invaluable partner to business leaders facing major professional and personal transitions.”


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