When Your Career Is Over, But Your Life Isn’t

Are you expecting to find little joy in retirement? Reboot and go back to "work," says John Mariotti.
President & CEO, The Enterprise Group
December 09, 2011

I confess; I borrowed this title from the subtitle of a great new book, written by a friend of mine, Phil Burgess. The whole title is Reboot! What to Do When Your Career is Over but Your Life Isn’t.

I decided to write about Phil’s message since it is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. The last time I saw Phil he reminded me that “today” in America, 10,000 Baby Boomers turned age 65—and that will continue for the next 18 years—every single day! What are they going to do with themselves? How will their lives change? Will it be for the better or worse?

Life expectancy is increasing, so many of these Boomers will live well into their 80s and more than ever into their 90s. If you are one of the millions of people set to “retire” any time in the next 15+ years, this book is for you. If you are not, you probably know someone who is—a parent or family member, a friend or colleague. So much for the reason for writing this, but what does Phil’s book tell us, and why is it so good?

For those of you who say you’ve been waiting for retirement for a long, long time, both Phil and I are here to tell you that “retirement,” as it has been known for a long time, is not very satisfying. As Phil aptly points out, the dictionary usually defines “retire” with the words, “withdraw, go away, retreat, give up, or seek seclusion.” Not a very exciting set of prospects is it?

I’ll tell you the book’s conclusion right up front: When your career is over and your life isn’t, go back to work! When Phil says, “Go back to work,” he doesn’t mean “work” in the sense you may have known it for years—unless it was something highly satisfying that you were doing. “Work” comes in many forms. We work for an employer, for pay, for years. Parts of that are good; parts of it are not. There is an obligation that comes with that kind of work, which many of use would prefer not to have any longer. But work can also mean doing things you want to do, when you want to do them, and getting a lot of satisfaction out of it.

I personally like to sleep in, so the “work” I choose to do (instead of “retirement”) involves doing things that let me “sleep in” most mornings. Both Phil and I had the experience of being successful a bit early in life and coming to “retirement” earlier than most. We found very little joy in retirement, which meant having nowhere to go, nothing in particular to do, no colleagues to interact with and few or no satisfying accomplishments. That’s the time to “Reboot!”

So what should you do? Do something you enjoy, that you love, that you are good at, and that is fulfilling. What? I don't know, but you do—or at least you can know. Think about what you like to do. Consider what you are good at. Those two are usually not far apart. Then ask yourself: what can you do that combines these two?

Some people would say, “play golf,” but that’s not my cup of tea. The important word is “play.” Golf is a diversion, a recreation and a great afternoon in a pretty place with people I enjoy. The way I play it, sometimes it is satisfying and at other times it is frustrating. So be it. I know that and accept it. But it is not a suitable “work” for me and for many people.

Don’t retire to retirement. Retire to a post retirement life of “work” that might be anything from a “for pay” position using your years of knowledge to a “pro-bono” position helping a cause about which you feel strongly. Many charities are desperately in need of the expertise that comes from years of learning in the world of business.

I could go on, but Phil’s written an entire book on this important topic, and my mission today was to raise the issue and let you know that “you are not alone” in wondering what you will do with the rest of your life. If you are not one of those facing retirement any time soon, I guarantee you that have parents, relatives and friends who are. Tell them about this book, or better yet, give it for a Christmas gift.

Like anything in life, they need to start with a plan, but the plan must be based on reflection about what they’d like to do, what they know how to do (or would like to learn) and whether they need to derive more earnings to be set for the rest of their life. About half of Americans don’t have enough in their nest egg, and recent stock market dips combined with low interest rates have made their problems worse. That means some people will need to postpone “retirement” for economic reasons.

For the rest of you, postpone “retirement” for your own good; for your own satisfaction. You are talented, experienced, competent people. Find somewhere to use that talent, experience and competence doing something that makes you feel good about yourself and your accomplishments. You’ll live longer and enjoy it a lot more, and society will be better off too.