Transitioning to a fulfilling, successful retirement can be daunting. Here are some life lessons to help you navigate your personal journey to Life’s “Second Act”.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “You’re never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Truer words have never been written. There was a time when entering one’s retirement years usually meant kicking back and taking it easy. Not anymore. While many in the twilight of their career still look forward to their retirement years as endless days of golf, travel, doting on grandchildren, tinkering around the house, or simply appreciating that they don’t have to deal with the daily stress of their work-a-day lives; others, like me, are putting a new spin on their “Next Act”. It’s knowing what that “Next Act” should look like and how to get there that’s the rub.

I believe the key to making a successful transition from career to retirement rests in finding the right combination of “kicking back” and outside involvement. As I look back, I can see that my life was influenced by my years in the Army, at the University and with Marriott International. By observing my business friends and relatives who made this major life transition before me, I learned a great deal about myself and how my post-retirement years should look.

In my case, I realized that my needs were focused on still making a difference, trying to add value to whatever I was doing and having interaction with associates, customers and friends. I knew from my college days that I was happiest when I was busy. I also knew, as I crossed into my 70’s, that I could no longer keep the pace I maintained for more than half of my 40 years with Marriott addressing global business demands. And, I also knew I needed to make some kind of contribution. At the same time, I wanted to be sensitive to the needs of my wife Michela and our family, including grandchildren and pets.

Now, after four plus years of retirement, I am still trying to find the right balance between the work I like to do today and my family commitments. But I’ve made a lot of progress: during this time span, I also was able to forge a work schedule that includes: consulting (five projects and business boards a year), being an adjunct professor and serving on a number of charity, educational and foundation boards.

Reaching this point required a lot of planning and preparation on my part long before I left my post at Marriott. As a friend once advised me, “Watch Tarzan swing through the jungle. You’ll notice he doesn’t release his current vine until he’s secured the next one”. I have always taken that advice very seriously and so should you.

So, if you’re among the millions of Americans contemplating making the move to your “Next Act” in the near future, or are among the four million that will actually retire next year, here are some tips to help you navigate to the next chapter of your life.

What’s Your Vision of Your Future?

Begin by creating a vision of what you want your future to look like. Journalist Claire Booth Luce suggested that it helps to write a single sentence that sums up who you are and what you want. This can be something as simple as “I am a travel agent who gets a lot of satisfaction out of planning memorable holidays for my satisfied customers”. Or, “In my retirement years, I want to put what I’ve learned to mentor others who are just starting out in my chosen field”. In other words, take what you know or do and repackage it in different forms. You might even consider orchestrating a phased transition that may involve taking on a position that is more satisfying and/or less demanding or pursuing a wholly different career in another field.

Then, make a list of all your skills, certifications and accomplishments. Include your strengths and weaknesses, what you really like, what you’d rather avoid and your unique talents and hobbies. The list will help you evaluate what you might like to do in your “Next Act”.

Study trends in your area and look for a pattern of skills and abilities that are in demand locally. And, if “making a difference” is important to you, look in your own backyard for special needs that you can fill in your community. In other words, consider how your personal skill set can be adapted, or repackaged, to fit existing needs whether inside or out of the field in which you are now.

Prepare for the Life You Want Next

Next, gather as much information about where and in what capacity you want to transition. Long before making your move, search out on-line courses and seminars that can provide new skills and information about how to turn your dream into reality. Ask if what you want to do is realistic and whether you can afford to make the move financially. If not, determine how you can shift the odds in your favor. Most of all, expand your social and professional networks; it’s the people you meet along the way who will be able to help you with your transition.

Many people struggle with the concept of “networking”. They believe that networking takes a lot of time and ends up in nothing more than an exchange of business cards. However, networking is probably the most important activity you should undertake throughout your work life – if you engage in it actively and consistently over the years, and not just when you find you need or want to make a change. Everything I’m doing today in my retirement is the result of my networking over a lifetime, starting in my school days through to today. I can’t stress enough that networking is the one activity that will help you turn challenges into opportunities throughout your life.

Additionally get involved in activities and volunteer programs related to what you think you’d like to do in retirement. Often unpaid, these positions are incredible test-drives into your new life, providing you with life-long contacts and the chance to actually experience what your “Next Act” is likely to be like.

Flexibility is Key

Lastly, be flexible. It allows you to look beyond your initial preconceptions. Just because you have a passion for something doesn’t mean it will actually work out. Flexibility allows you to look beyond and to identify other transferable skills, interests and opportunities that can lead to an enriching new path to your next act in life.

Wherever your journey takes you, trust that you can create the future you want. Have a good idea about what’s important to you and be true to that vision, build the necessary skill-set and network, stay flexible and open to new opportunities. Your next chapter can be the best one yet. Go for it!

As Published