“Age is only a number, a cipher for the records.
A man can’t retire his experience. He must use it.
Experience achieves more with less energy and time.”
— Bernard Baruch, American Financier

Have you ever found yourself asking, “What’s next?” Things are going well in my practice now, I’m successful, I’m helping people and enjoying my work. Still, that question has been tugging at me.

I see it as a good thing.

In this newsletter over the past few years I have talked about a variety of transitions, including moving from a clinical to leadership role and transitioning from a leadership role to entrepreneurship. But what about the transition to the second half of your life, when people start thinking about what they’re going to do when they retire, or what they might move on to next after a 35- or 40-year career?

I just read an insightful book by Marc Freedman titled, “Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life.” Freedman is the founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, a think tank and incubator intended to help society achieve the greatest return on the experience that is out there. The time for an organization like this has come—the number of people age 55 and older is expected to double between now and 2030. Instead of a problem to be solved, Freedman sees our increasing longevity as an opportunity to capitalize on this vast wealth of experience for the greater good of society.

Freedman says: “Tens of millions of baby boomers are entering a period of their lives between midlife and the onset of true old age. For most, this period will not only be a new stage of life, but also of work.”

That’s the way I’m starting to look at the future. For the past year, even before I read this book, I had been mulling these kinds of thoughts, as many baby boomers have.

In the past, when people talked about their second half of life, they talked about retirement. More people nowadays are planning to work well into what used to be considered their retirement years.

A lot of people, when asked what they will do when they retire will say they want to travel. That idea appeals to me as well, but then I think, “How much traveling can I really do?” If I took a year off and traveled extensively it might be fun…

…for about a year.

Fewer and fewer people at this stage in life seem to be saying, “When I retire I want to do X.” Many of them are “unretiring” very soon after they retire because they are unchallenged, and they decide they want to do something else. A short stint with retired life convinces them that they’re at the point where they “want” to work rather than “have” to work.

Many times when people go on to that new work in the second half of life they graduate toward activities that improve the quality of life in their communities or that have some social purpose or impact. But many boomers also want to make money. They say, “Wait, I don’t just want to volunteer. I want a career that combines continued income with social impact.”

For me, like many boomers, there is something about making money that’s stimulating, and I want to leverage the skills I have. I’m thinking about where I want to drive a stake in the ground to make a difference and how I’m going to go about doing that. I might not do it for another five or eight years, but I’m actively thinking about it and working on a plan.

You may not want to make a drastic change at this point in your life. A lot of leaders who have been in their businesses for many years might be thinking:“I’m not going to leave now. I’ve got a nice little retirement going here, I know my job and my people really well, so this is actually a cush job right now. But I may eventually want to do something else.”

By all means, stay in that job that is serving you well, but start exploring that “other place” as well. Seasoned, experienced individuals who have things going well are in a great position to explore what they’re going to do next, who they’re going to be, and where they want to focus.

The time to plan a transition is not when you decide to step out of that job, or circumstances decide that for you. The time to start planning for your next life could be five or even ten years out. The more time you have to think about it, the more prepared you will be and the more likely the outcome will be much better. Don’t wait until something goes sour or your business is inching into the red, and then try to decide what you’re going to do in a day. You’ll only end up making a decision that hasn’t been well thought-out and will likely not be the best option for you.

Starting With Who You Are

Many of us have a 30-word elevator description of ourselves. Look at how you describe yourself. Do you describe yourself by your title, or by what you accomplish in your work? Is that description really who you are and what you do?

Mine looks like this: I am a leadership coach who works with people who are connected to medicine—such as executives, physicians, scientists and administrators—who are struggling with challenges in their professional roles.

Then look at what you would aspire to be. If you got to the point at which you just “want” to work rather than “have” to work, what would you do with yourself? What would your elevator description look like then? Exploring the answer to that question is a good start on planning for the next big thing.

If you had to come up with a 30-word elevator pitch of who you want to be ten years from now, how does it look?

Mine is on the lines of healthcare reform and advocacy. I’ve seen so much in health care over the years and I just can’t believe that we can’t figure out how to provide affordable health care for everyone.

We’re supposedly so creative and innovative and smart in this country, I don’t know why we can’t figure that out. Maybe it’s time to gather some of this collective wisdom and finally make it work. I’d like to be a part of that.

This is something I may want to tackle in the future. So how do I start? I just can’t be speaking off the top of my head or relying on some things I’ve read on the subject. Who are the people who are going to make up my “board of directors” to advise me, guide me and give me some real information on this?

The first person I thought of is a hospital CEO I know who now runs a healthcare foundation. This is a person I can tap into and ask to help explain this issue for me and reach deeper into it.

Many leaders in organizations don’t have anyone on staff that they are comfortable talking with about their perceived shortcomings or areas in which they are looking to improve. And they can’t talk about “what’s next.” Sometimes it’s lonely at the top. You may even be in a community or an area where you have nobody to share those kinds of issues. Being part of a more diverse group can expose you to people who might excel in areas where you might need help.

There are other options out there now. Some call them mastermind groups, others success groups, others peer advisory groups. They meet in an environment of confidentiality where they have conversations that stretch them, or they take advantage of the group as a neutral sounding board. Or they come together to solve present problems they’re having and solicit solutions. I have been considering joining and even facilitating one of these groups.

It’s like networking but with a deeper purpose. It’s more like people helping you to be successful, people parroting things back to you. It’s not about getting more business directly from other people, but is more of a way to cross-fertilize your ideas.

The time to start planning for what’s next is not the day you leave. You want to start thinking about that far in advance. Decide what you want to know more about. Surround yourself with people that keep you engaged and keep you learning more about something that excites you and grabs your imagination.

The passion is there in leaders, and leaders are going to be the ones that are going to drive all of these things in the future. I would like to be one of those leaders, and would like you to be out there with me.