On Flunking Retirement

I recently ran across an article by Mark Walton on Why We’re Flunking Retirement. Now, it has been my position that you cannot ‘flunk retirement’. I learned from personal experience after I retired, that it takes time to find your new ‘calling’. I tried various things, which did not work for me. But then eventually something clicked, namely developing and running programs for boomers on planning for their lifestyle in retirement. I concluded that if one thing does not make you happy, and provide meaning to your life, you can try something else – or two or three something elses. You are not building a career here, and you can take your time in finding out what works for you. And over time that can, and probably will, change. This is not failure. There are any number of opportunities out there waiting for you to discover them. And, as Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”

Mr. Walton’s article caught my eye, however, because he cited Peter Drucker, who has been called the Father of Modern Management. Peter Drucker’s writings were required reading for us MBA students at New York University, and as a young manager, I found much in them that resonated with what I saw in my own organization. Drucker coined the term Knowledge Worker, one whose body did not wear out from physical labor, and who reached retirement age with a brain that was still working. For the knowledge worker, a retirement of leisure, referred to as The Golden Years, was not satisfying. These people need a new way of retiring, one that challenges the mind.

In Drucker’s 33rd major book, “Management Challenges of the 21st Century,” published in 1999, he proposed that the greatest management challenge of the 21st century will be managing oneself. To do this, we need to know our strengths, identify our values, and know where we belong – the result of the first two points. From that, we can approach the questions of what is my contribution, and where and how can I make a difference? For retirees, this line of thinking may lead into new careers or volunteer activity in the nonprofit sector. Success is redefined as making a difference in the world, or some corner of it, not achieving the top job or the highest salary.
What Drucker proposed has become the Encore movement, spearheaded by Encore.org, an organization dedicated to building a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world. Encore looks to harness the experience and skills of boomers to address the problems of the modern world and create a better future for generations to come. You can read what others are doing in their encore careers at encore.org.

Dr. Drucker, by the way, remains a role model for aging. He was writing, teaching and consulting up until his death at age 95.

Mark Walton is Chairman of the Second Half Institute which offers courses to people who are approaching the second half of their lives.

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