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Jennifer Wilson
Let go gracefully

Five strategies to retire powerfully.

September 10, 2012
by Jennifer Wilson

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

—Ann Landers

I coach a lot of successful, powerful people as they prepare to retire from important positions such as CEO, managing partner, practice leader, and others. There are important strategies and tactics to ensure a successful transition, including choosing a successor; documenting the clients, people, processes, and duties that the successor will inherit; and training the successor to ensure readiness for the new role.

More important than all of these, though, are the mental preparation of the retiring party and the development of his or her steely commitment to let go with grace.

After all, retiring is not easy. Many picture mall-walking, being underfoot at home, endless hours with grandchildren (which for some sounds heavenly, while others are less amused), and a life that has less meaning. Others fear financial difficulties or the decline of their health. Sadly, these stereotypical images of retirement haunt many, and their fear of living a life-less-powerful keeps them from preparing for retirement properly and setting up their successors for true and lasting success. Instead, they risk jeopardizing their long-term legacy because they don’t ensure the perpetuation of their organization without them.

Letting go is hard. Retirees must face the “death” of their career and pass through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief including denial (where many get stuck and never progress), anger, bargaining, depression or sadness, and, finally, acceptance. Most retirees don’t want to admit their fears, feelings of vulnerability, or their sadness at the loss of their work identity. As a result, they hang on well past the point of what’s best for their successors, their organizations, or themselves.

Instead, combat your fears of retirement and follow these five strategies:

  • Get into the habit of declaring retirement dates for all partners annually. This is typically done at a partner retreat, and it removes the mystique and guessing from retirement timing. It also provides each person—regardless of age or life stage—an opportunity to reflect annually on the end of his or her career as a partner with the firm. This type of reflection will enable you and others to more readily accept and plan for retirement.
  • Pay attention to your health now. Don’t wait until you have time to do so. Nothing is more important. After consulting with a physician, begin a form of regular exercise. Keep up with your regular checkups, teeth cleanings, and other maintenance. Eat right. Get enough sleep. Manage your stress. I am always amazed by great leaders who let their health go—ultimately affecting their ability to lead and narrowing their possibilities for the future.
  • Plan for your retirement finances. Use the AICPA retirement calculator to get a sense of what you’ll need in retirement. Depending on how many years you have until retirement, this can give you a sense of what you’ll need to contribute and what your expenses will need to be in order to live comfortably.
  • Within three years of retirement, get honest and open about your retirement buyout. Don’t wait to model your retirement buyout; do it now and share it with your partners to ensure that they are committed to managing your buyout or retirement payouts the same way you’ve been picturing it. Come to an agreement, and put it in writing.
  • Plan for an exciting new possibility for your life after work. Write a list of all of the things you might do after retirement from the small to the big and exciting. Your list may include teaching, volunteering, travel, golf or other exercise, a new vocation, going to school, reading all the books you’ve had to pass up, catching up on movies, researching topics or hobbies you’ve wanted to learn, having leisurely lunches with friends and family, and more.

Life after “the old job” can be exciting, fulfilling and transformative. You can continue to learn, contribute, grow, and thrive after retirement. Your actions today will influence your outcome tomorrow—the decision is entirely yours!

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.