Have You Started Thinking About Retirement? | Women at Work | Podcast

Have You Started Thinking About Retirement? | Women at Work | Podcast

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AMY BERNSTEIN: Amy G, how do you think you'll introduce yourself when you're no longer a writer and contributing editor to HBR, and you're no longer a co-host of this podcast, and all the other things you do? I know you'll always be an author, but how else do you think you'll describe yourself? AMY GALLO: Is it bad that that question makes me want to cry? Because I don't have an answer. I mean, I don't know. And I know I'll have to do a lot of work between now and that moment, whenever it is, to actually figure out what is my identity as a person, post all of these work identities.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah. AMY GALLO: How about you? How do you think about it? AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, god, it kind of sends a chill through me. And I'm a lot closer to that moment than you are.

And you know, I've thought about what I would do I. I so love what I do now. The idea of not doing it kind of scares me. AMY GALLO: Right.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And then I tantalize myself in quiet moments with what I could do. You know, I could volunteer at the animal shelter where we got one of my dogs. I could teach, as if somehow, anyone could go teach.

AMY GALLO: You could, I'll take that course. AMY BERNSTEIN: All right, well, you're very generous. I could always continue to edit. But yeah, it feels like I've got a lot of puzzle pieces but I'm not sure they're all from the same puzzle. I don't know. AMY GALLO: That image of the puzzle pieces and some hunches, right? Like, oh, I could do this, or I could do this, but not a plan.

That makes sense to me. I'm not even at the puzzle piece yet. I'm tightly gripping to my current identity, and can't really imagine it going away.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, and neither can I. And I probably, given my age, should start imagining it going away. You're listening to women at work from Harvard Business Review. I'm Amy Bernstein.

AMY GALLO: I'm Amy Gallo. And clearly, we haven't thought enough about what comes after we stop working, or come to grips with how we'll think of ourselves. Because retirement-- even semi-retirement-- changes us. AMY BERNSTEIN: Maybe you're in the same boat.

In your early 60s or late 40s, either avoiding the subject or feeling uneasy about it. The experts say we should actually be thinking about retirement sooner than later, Amy G. So this episode is really for women of any age. How can we prepare ourselves to make this major life change as smoothly and successfully as possible? Don't we all want to end up active, engaged, and healthy, not bored, lost, and lonely? AMY GALLO: Yes, please.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yes. Yes. So let's start by hearing from two women who very recently retired to get a sense of what the experience is like these days. AMY GALLO: Audrey Michaels had been working in the aerospace industry at just one company for nearly 44 years, and most recently, as a leader in supply chain management, before she said goodbye to all of that. Donna Hall's last job before leaving the workforce was being the publisher of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Before that, she was in different Vice President and executive roles at Cox Media Group, where she worked in broadcast for over three decades. I spoke to them about making the decision and the transition. Audrey, Donna, thank you both for joining me for this conversation today. SUBJECT 1: Thank you for having me.

SUBJECT 2: Yes, thank you so much. AMY GALLO: Yeah. Well, I first want to understand what led you to retire. Audrey, maybe we can start with you? SUBJECT 1: What led me to retire.

After 44 years in the aerospace industry, I thought it was time. I actually knew, probably five years before I actually retired. I started thinking about it more, and more, and more. It started to become a predominant thought in my head.

So I knew I was approaching the time. The actual date I didn't really know, but I knew I would know when it was time. And I knew that because people who had retired before me that I kept in touch with they said, you'll know. AMY GALLO: Was that helpful advice? SUBJECT 1: It was very helpful.

It was very helpful, because it prompted me to really listen to myself. AMY GALLO: Yeah. And how about you, Donna? What led you to make the decision? SUBJECT 2: Very similar to Audrey. I've been in media for 37 years, and with one company for 35. And I'd been thinking about it for a while, and I had been intending, when my children got close to graduating from high school and I had one boy graduate a year and a half ago and another boy nearing graduating.

And had been talking with my husband who was a stay at home dad for 20 years, and my finance people, the people that have managed my money. And I started talking to about three years ago, am I prepared, and am I ready, not just financially, but mentally, and emotionally? And looked at the organization I was leading and whether or not they were ready, whether or not the leadership team was ready, whether or not the organization was ready. And really felt like it was time, in all of those respects. AMY GALLO: Yeah. Audrey, I see you nodding along. SUBJECT 1: I was going to just comment on what Donna said.

It's not just financially. You have to be psychologically ready to do that, because it's a big step. It's going to be a big change. And fortunately, I watched my father transition from his work life to retirement, and we would talk a lot.

So I felt I had some good reference points from not only ex coworkers, but my father as well. AMY GALLO: Yeah. It's interesting that you bring up being ready financially. Of course, that's a huge concern for most people. But then it's also the mental shift. My mom worked for her entire adult life.

She retired five years ago. She said, for years, I just can't do it. I can't do it-- meaning, financially.

And then one time she was like, OK, I'm going to retire in five to seven years. And I was like, I thought you couldn't do it? And she's like, I could, I just didn't want to. And she said, I just had to get serious about the financial side once I was ready, emotionally. SUBJECT 2: Yeah, so the financial people that I work with they had me begin filling out a clock-- a weeks period of time to see whether or not I was mentally ready.

And how are you going to start filling your time, Donna? When you stop working, what are you going to do with your time? And the first time I filled out a clock of what are you going to do, how many hours are you going to sleep? How many hours are you going to have leisure time? Are you going to read? Are you going to-- how much time are you going to find to eat and prepare your food, like down to that granular level. And the first time I filled out the clock, I had like 30 hours in the week left over and they said, hm, you're not ready, because a bored Donna is a dangerous Donna. So let's start thinking more about what are you going to actually do. So I would just say that financially, it's what we spend a lot of time preparing for and thinking about. But my goodness, if that's the only thing we think about and prepare for, we're really in a host of trouble. AMY GALLO: That exercise is so interesting because I think we think of retirement as stopping working.

We don't think about what you'll actually do with that time. So what a smart exercise to go through. Audrey, did you do anything like that? SUBJECT 1: No, I was going to say, that was pretty granular. SUBJECT 2: It was very granular. SUBJECT 1: But I won't say I was just frivolous. Of course, I planned and of course, I sought financial advice and went to planners and went to seminars.

I did the whole thing. But ultimately, you have to make the decision. And then you just kind of have to step out there. And prepping my mind about it five years ahead, I knew certain things I was going to get involved with. I knew that I was going to be more involved with a lot of volunteer work, because I just felt like it was my time to give back. And thank god I have a really busy church that I attend.

And so I knew a good chunk of my time was going to be devoted to that. But I also-- I like to be active. And so I also knew that a big part of it was going to be doing some things that would make me feel good. Like, I play golf twice a week with a group. And I've just picked up pickleball twice a week.

So that's four days a week with a couple of hours of activity. And it's social, too. I've met new friends and those kinds of things. So I knew it was going to be a good mixture of that. And then, of course, spending a lot of time with friends that I hadn't talked to and family that you kind of push off.

I know Donna had a really big and important job and took a lot of her time. And same with me, I was traveling a lot and I just wasn't there, even at family gatherings. I was on my stupid cell phone or answering-- oh, just give me a minute, I got to answer this email or some dumb thing like that, I think about it now. But it was important to me at the time.

But I really wanted to be present again, be present with people. AMY GALLO: Yeah. I want to come back to that question of being present. But I first want to ask, because you had been-- both of you, sounds like, you planned at different levels for what you would do after you retired. How is that aligned with the reality of what you're actually doing? How is it different? SUBJECT 1: Go ahead, Donna. SUBJECT 2: Well, so it actually has aligned very, very well with what I'm actually doing.

I'm involved in my church. I've joined a Bible study, which it's the first time-- oh, goodness, in 30 years that I've been able to do something in the middle of the week. I've worked 60 hour weeks for the better part of a very long time. I've had big jobs, I've had jobs that have taken me around the country, I've traveled, and I've just worked like a dog for a really long time. And so to think that I could do something in the middle of the week, just for me, is pretty unusual. So I'm doing that.

I'm in the best shape that I have been since I was a kid. I walk every morning for a couple of miles with my dog. My dog is also in very good shape right now. I'm getting a lot of good physical activity, as is my puppy. And I'm also taking a class, which was my plan. I'm taking an executive coaching class at one of our local universities here in Atlanta, which has been my long-term plan.

And so all of that was what I intended to do. And I'm spending a lot more time with my boys and my husband. I love the words that Audrey used.

Being more present. Not looking at my phone during dinner time with my kids and my husband, who'd have thought I could do something like that. And so I love-- I love the words that she used, because I'm getting to do that as well. And it feels right, like Audrey said, being present with the people that I love. AMY GALLO: Yeah, gosh, you're both making retirement seem really, really appealing. SUBJECT 2: Amy, the water is warm.

The water is so warm, come on in. SUBJECT 1: I wish I could have done it sooner, because I felt like I missed so much, time has gone by fast, and missed important things, I think, by, I'll repeat it again, by not being present, really listening. And I'm doing everything, I believe, that I thought I would do. And I hope for some surprises as well.

I'm open to some new experiences and some surprises. So yes, I think everything is coming to fruition, just as I thought it would. AMY GALLO: Right. Yeah, I've heard people say, I'm not ready to retire because I haven't done X or I have one more job in me, I know it.

And it sounds like both of you had felt like, no, I've done it. I've done what I needed to do and there's not something else I'm really itching to get done. SUBJECT 2: Yeah. No, I don't know that I'm done working forever.

I think I'm done working full-time forever and I'm done running businesses. I don't wish to run a business again. I don't want to work 60 hours again.

I don't want to work 40 hours again. I would love to be an executive coach and I'd love to work 20 hours a week. I'd love to have a handful of clients at a time.

I would love to do that, and that's been a long-term goal of mine. For the last several years, I thought it would be my post-retirement plan. I just don't want to run a business anymore. And I really don't want that to be one of my biggest priorities in my life anymore.

And I think I've spent a lot of years being distracted, no matter what I do, and being a working mother, you know, you're guilty when you're at work and you're guilty when you're at home. And I don't want that anymore, even though my boys are mostly grown. I don't want to be a guilty wife anymore. I want to have much more peace and balance.

I want to have less distraction. And all of that said, I will be really transparent in saying that one of the challenges I'm facing today-- and I'm entering my sixth month-- is I have a little bit of an identity crisis right now. You know, I've had big jobs for a really long time and I'm struggling with what is my value outside of my home.

And so I think that it is something I don't know that I was well prepared for it. I think it's something to think about, for sure. I think I was prepared for a lot. I think I planned for more, maybe, than the average bear.

I don't think I prepared for that well at all. And I would say, yes, I absolutely am struggling with an identity crisis. AMY GALLO: Yeah. What would have prepared you, Donna, for that? What would have been some advice that someone could have given you, you think, that would have helped? SUBJECT 2: Well, I think at least to think more about it. So I do know myself pretty well.

And I think if I had at least just given some pause, given some thought about, how are you going to feel? How are you going to process that on a day to day basis? Is it really going to matter to you? Yeah, darn straight, it's going to matter to you. It's going to matter to you a lot. And I just didn't even think about it at all. And so would it make me feel differently today? Probably not. But maybe I would have been prepared for that little bit of-- it's maybe an empty feeling. And I don't know, but I don't even know how to describe myself right now.

I could describe myself by the jobs I had. That's how I always led. This is the job I have.

And I loved it. And I had great pride. And I am wildly proud of the young men that I've raised and the husband that I have. But then what else? And right now I am struggling with that a little bit. AMY GALLO: Audrey, are you in a similar boat, in terms of the identity? Or how do you conceive of your identity? I guess, let me actually ask this in a very practical way.

When you meet someone new, how do you describe who you are? SUBJECT 1: I guess I don't. And I don't have the same experience that Donna's having. Once I decided to let go of it, I let go of all of it. And I said, here's an opportunity to start anew, start afresh.

But I will say that a lot of my skills or the skills that I used, I'm using in other places now. In some of the things we're doing at our church. I attend the board meetings.

And we have a lot of women, strong women at our congregation, participating in the board meetings, and we're working with the leadership. Because we have a lot of women who were in pretty significant positions. We're taking those attributes and those skills and we're bringing them, I feel, to an area where it's more meaningful.

So I really didn't have the same feelings, and I didn't think about it much. I just said, hey, you know, I'm just going to transfer all this stuff over to something else. And so if you know how you want to live and what you want to do-- and that's why starting five years ahead of time was so important, because it was like, OK, do you have the right stepping stones in place to be able to say, OK, I'm done.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. And you mentioned three years-- you've been talking about it five years, those time periods. Do you wish you had been thinking about this sooner? Is there advice you'd give people who are younger, earlier in their careers, to help them get ready for this? SUBJECT 2: Well, I would say, first of all, when I started with my company, I was 20 years old. And when I joined that company, my dad said, Donna, they have a pension. And I said, what's that? And so he had to explain to me what a pension was.

And then he said they also have a 401k. And so as soon as you can start putting money in that 401k you need to start doing that. And so I started saving money for my retirement when I was 20 years old. SUBJECT 1: Wow, that's impressive. SUBJECT 2: And so it is never too early. Never, ever, ever.

If you're just starting your career and you're 22 years old or you're 30 years old and you think, eh, I've got 30 years before I'm going to call it a day. Now. And you start by a little bit here and a little bit there. It's just steady.

Steady is the name of the game. And build, and find an expert that can help you. And while I started thinking about it in earnest three years ago, I actually started thinking about it 36 years ago. AMY GALLO: Yeah I was one of those people who the first 15 years of my career, when I was given the paperwork to opt into the retirement account 401k or 403b, I never said yes, because I was like, no, I need that cash.

I can't actually pay my rent-- I can't do. And I felt a lot of guilt when I got to be in my late 30s and thought, oh, gosh, I haven't put a cent away. So as much as I agree it's never too early, I also think it's never too late. So if you're sitting there going, oh no, I already messed it up. It's like no, no.

Just start now. Just start now. SUBJECT 2: That's right. I'm so glad you said that. That's exactly right.

So if you are 40 years old and you haven't put a dime in, go. You must begin. It's not too late. You have to begin.

And so no matter your age, start thinking about it and start getting help. And don't despair. Don't despair. Just go get some help. AMY GALLO: Yeah. Audrey, what was your experience with the financial piece? SUBJECT 1: Well, I wasn't as good as Donna, I'll tell you that.

But one thing, I know my dad and my mom would say early-- and I didn't do this until later, but they said, pay yourself. When you're paying your bills, pay yourself. And I was like, what do you mean, pay myself? Pay yourself. If you can't get around the idea of saving, then look at it as your bill, and you need to pay yourself. AMY GALLO: One of the other hurdles I had to get over-- because you both have mentioned financial advisors-- was I remember in my late 30s thinking, if I'm going to start saving, I need someone to help me do this, I don't know how to do it.

And I was embarrassed to reach out to a financial advisor, because I had more debt than I had savings. And I thought, who would want to work with me? Like, I don't have any money, how would they-- But one of the things that was really helpful when I did find someone who I felt comfortable working with is, he told me, no, no, it's about future. This isn't about what you have right now.

He's like, we're working on your future. So I'm not judging you based on what you've done. I'm judging you based on what the decisions you make going forward, and I'm trying to help you make those decisions. SUBJECT 2: That's exactly right.

AMY GALLO: Aside from the financial investing right now, any other advice you would give people who are 10, 20, 30 years out from retirement, so that they're ready to make the transition you all have just made? SUBJECT 2: Yeah. You said something at the very beginning about many times we think of retirement as the end of something. And I would encourage everyone, no matter where you are in your career, whether at the beginning, the middle, the end, to really think towards retirement as the beginning of something and to plan for that. The beginning of a new phase of your life. Don't just take for granted that it's all going to work out exactly the way the back of your mind thinks it will, to really have a plan, whether you're a planner by nature or not.

It can be the beginning of something fantastic. And while I admit to having a smidgen of an identity crisis, that's one small part of what I'm experiencing right now. It's the beginning of what I hope to be a really fantastic part of maybe 35, 40 more years. I'm young, I'm in my mid-fifties, right? And so yes, it's the end of what has been an amazing career, but it's the beginning of something fantastic, a new phase of my marriage, a new phase of maybe a new part of a career in executive coaching, a new phase of my parenting of my boys, and I have grandchildren in Ohio. And so much newness, but only if you plan for it. And it can be so much more wonderful if you give some thought and intentionality about it.

And so you want to plan for it now. You want to think about it and jot down what would bring you joy and bring you a lot of happiness in new phases of your life. SUBJECT 1: Exactly, exactly. AMY GALLO: Yeah, well, it's not just a new-- I'm hearing-- what I'm hearing or what I'm taking away, I should say, is that it's not the end, it's something new. But it's also a return.

It sounds like for both of you, a return to what you really value and care about in life. SUBJECT 2: Yeah, absolutely. SUBJECT 1: Absolutely, I agree. AMY GALLO: Yeah, and that just makes me so hopeful. So thank you both, so much.

SUBJECT 1: Oh, yes, thank you so much. This has been both a joy and cathartic, as well. SUBJECT 2: Oh, absolutely.

Audrey, it was good to meet you. SUBJECT 1: Good to meet you too, Donna. SUBJECT 2: Amy, thank you. AMY GALLO: It was great to hear two firsthand perspectives of what this process is like, especially just a few months out. AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, it was so good to hear their stories. AMY GALLO: And, of course, we had more questions.

So when we were thinking about who else might help us better understand how women are retiring these days and how we can prepare to make that transition ourselves, Ann Bundy came to mind. I know her because for over a decade, she was part of the same executive coaching network as I currently am. She spent much of her career advising individual leaders on their careers, and also teams of people on how to best manage big, complex projects and changes. A few years ago, she applied that knowledge and those skills to writing a practical guide to retirement. It's called Encore, Living Your Life's Legacy. The book covers everything about preparing for life after work.

And then a few months ago, she retired herself. Ann, thank you so much for joining me today. ANN BUNDY: Oh, it's my pleasure, really. AMY GALLO: So you have both personal experience and professional experience, then, with retirement.

I'd love to just pick up on our conversation with Audrey and Donna. Audrey talked about how she intuited it was time to retire, she just felt it and she knew it would be time. And Donna talked about how really financial planning and working with her financial planners drove the decision. How else, in your experience, do women make this decision? ANN BUNDY: I think that listening to yourself is really number one, because everybody wants to offer advice. And I think that have to really be honest with yourself, because I think there's a lot of myths about retirement. And even though I'd done a lot of research, talk to tons of people, it's kind of like childbirth.

You don't know what it's like until you personally go through it. Sometimes there's external triggers that are making it happen. But oftentimes it's, how do we, inside ourselves feel, and what is it that we want from this next phase of life.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. So when you work with women who are on the cusp or trying to make the decision, what do they tell you that feeling is? Like what's the voice or thoughts they have that it's really time? ANN BUNDY: I think part of it has to do with the post COVID workplace and feeling like they're not really getting their groove on and maybe they're feeling a little bit obsolete. Maybe they've read an article by Arthur Brooks, who writes a lot about professional diminishment. And when I read his work at first I thought, oh, that's so scary, but it really is kind of true. Others, they find their attention wandering and they can't kind of keep up. And ironically, they don't want to keep up.

And so that's kind of a surprise to them. And they kind of keep it quiet because it's almost like a shameful, private thing. And what I do know, universally, is that people want to control the discussion and the actual announcement of it very much themselves.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. What is professional diminishment? I'm not familiar with that. ANN BUNDY: Well, Arthur Brooks has done a lot of research. And he said that if you look at our natural lifespan, that around 55, 60, our performance starts to go down even if we think it's not going down. And that's a tough nut to swallow for those of us who have been very much identified with our work, our career, and serving others in our career. But if you think about it, you start to really watch yourself and observe yourself without judgment, I think we can see little glimmers of that.

And I was starting to see it in myself. And I thought, I do not want to go out on a mistake or have a lapse. But I've seen it happen. AMY GALLO: You have, yeah, It must be heartbreaking for those people.

ANN BUNDY: Exactly. So how do you architect your own decision making process, and how do you get the support you need so that when you do retire, you feel like it's a really positive experience? But let's be clear, it is a death. It's a death of the way you used to be in the world and your identity. And it takes a while to kind of reconcile this new version of yourself. AMY GALLO: Yeah, one of the things that Donna and Audrey really articulated, that I found helpful as someone who's a few decades-- we'll see-- but a few decades out from retirement, is that it did also feel like either a reconnection or a rebirth. And I think that's one of the things you say, it's a death.

And I think, oh, gosh, that's terrible. I don't want to go there. But that's not the whole story, right? ANN BUNDY: Absolutely not. I think what's so hard for people talking about retirement it is associated with death, because it's the last stop, if you will, in our productive life before we leave this planet. And because our culture is afraid to talk about death, we're often afraid to talk about retirement. And so there's a lot of mystery and shame associated with even discussing it.

And during COVID, I did a lot of observing nature, my own and mother nature, and things have to die for new things to come up. And I think the people that are most successful in their retirement, like what Audrey said, is those who plant seeds to their next future self. So when that old self dies off, you're saying hello to someone that you've already been kind of cultivating and enjoying. AMY GALLO: Has that been your experience? ANN BUNDY: Absolutely. AMY GALLO: What seeds did you plant? ANN BUNDY: Well, I knew that I wanted to have the latter-- last part of my life be dedicated to the arts. I'd already spent so much of my life dedicated to business.

And I took a docent training class so I learned how to be a docent up in National Park where we live. And I teach kids how to be at the farm camp, and that's really joyful. I took a fiction writing class and I've been writing short stories and taking workshops. I play water polo and I have done that for 20 years. So that was my way to offset the stress.

So I'm still doing that. So I felt like I already had a community, I had some intellectual pursuits and I had taken some classes. AMY GALLO: Yeah. So let's talk about the identity crisis, because Donna's very clear. And you can even hear the emotion in her voice when she's talking about how she's sort of feels lost in her identity.

And Audrey is sort of like, no, I'm fine. So I'm curious, are there any indications for how easy or hard the transition will be, emotionally? ANN BUNDY: Yes, and I think the clues to look at is how do you identify yourself? So when Donna walks into a room and she hasn't met anybody, I'm guessing that previously she would say I'm an EVP for XYZ company. And I think if she's trying to bridge from her past self to her future self, she might say something like, well, I'm taking my skills and competencies as an EVP in media and merging that with academic research that I'm learning in my coaching program so I can be an executive coach in service to other women. So that's bridging her world. AMY GALLO: Beautifully said.

Is that something you recommend people begin to think about before they even decide what the next evolution is going to be? ANN BUNDY: Yes, because it is a huge, huge transition. And I thought I was being so smart. I had my glide path all worked out, and it all was different. And I had so much more emotion than I ever thought I would possible. AMY GALLO: Yeah. And that's actually-- I don't know if reassuring is the right word, but that's comforting, I guess, to think, even with all the right planning, it's still going to be unexpected, it's still going to bring up things you don't realize it will.

My mom retired a few years ago, and I remember the summer after she retired, she was hanging out with a friend. And he just looked her in the eyes and said, you're unmoored. And she said-- she just started crying and was like, yes, that's what it is. And she had prepared a lot, financially.

I do think her identity was very wrapped up in her work. And I think that, to me, is an indication, that it might be hard. Although, I got the sense that Audrey loved her work, identified as an aerospace engineer, but she seems OK on that front.

ANN BUNDY: She does. So her seeds that she had planted with her church. So she already had a board position, she already was very active in that community, and they knew her outside of her professional capacity. I think if all your contacts-- and I was guilty of this.

A lot of my energy went into work, my family, and I didn't have that much time for friends and other pursuits. And so it's kind of a shock to the system. I look back on my calendar, it was so packed. And I would spend my days thinking, how am I going to get this all done, you know, I'll get up at 5:00 in the morning, I'll do this, I'll do this, and this. And now it's the opposite.

You have to create all this structure for how you're going to spend your time, and it is daunting. AMY GALLO: Yeah. So I want to get some practical advice for those listeners who are starting to make this transition or think about it.

And for example, if you're planning to retire, say, in five years or three years, but you're not ready to tell anyone, you're still making those plans in your head, just figuring it out for yourself, how transparent do you recommend we be with our boss or others at work, especially if they ask us about our future at the company? Where will you be in five years kind of questions? ANN BUNDY: Well, I think you have to really look at what is the organizational culture, what is your role, and what are the expectations around communication. Because I'll put it this way-- once the cat's out of the bag, you can never put it back in. And so I think it's really incumbent upon the person that's thinking about this to maybe make a one page, almost like business plan of how they would actually make that transition.

Because what I hear over and over from all the women I work with is they don't want to leave their organization bereft, and that's very laudable, but also, you don't want to put yourself in a situation where you're squeezed out a little bit early or you lose your opportunity to actually leave when you want to leave. So I think it's a little bit of a delicate dance. And I think you have to really pay attention to the nuances. AMY GALLO: Yeah. And I guess it doesn't even matter if you're going to make the announcement next month, because I hear what you're saying, which is that at some point, you start to lose control of the train, right? And it either moves faster or slower than you want, and you really need to maintain your control of the narrative and of the process by which you leave.

ANN BUNDY: In an effort to serve others and serve our organizations, we overdue. And so I think the tendency to overdo and over worry about the organization, I think you need to turn it back to yourself and say, let me really be very clear-- what is it that I want, why do I want it, and how am I going to get it. And I think asking those three questions are really important.

And I really, strongly suggest that people that are at the start of this journey get a journal and actually start to write their thoughts and ideas. And one of the things I always did throughout my career, which helped me a lot in retirement, is I would do vision boards for myself. And it's kind of like hearkens back to high school when we make collages with magazines-- those of us of a certain age, drawing or the stick figures. Where do you envision your life five years from now? Where are you living? What are you doing? And it's a right brain activity, and for so many of us who are left brain, it's a really good exercise, and things pop out that you don't even realize.

AMY GALLO: Yeah, I shared an office once with someone who used vision boards. And it was actually really fun to see where she was and what she was thinking for her future. I'm much more of a spreadsheet kind of person. But those three questions you point out, that can be the beginning of a journal prompt. That can be the headers on my spreadsheet.

There's so many ways to engage with those questions, no matter what type of tool you use. ANN BUNDY: Exactly. AMY GALLO: So let's repeat the question for people. It's what do you want-- ANN BUNDY: Why do you want it, which is a harder question to answer, and then how are you going to make that happen. So this goes back to the question you were asking, how would you let the organization know and what do you say or what do you not say? So that you've really, really clear and honest with yourself, because there's a lot of myths around retirement and what's going to happen, what's not going to happen. AMY GALLO: Yeah.

You mentioned myths earlier and I want to just pick up on that. What are some of the most pernicious ones that you hear? ANN BUNDY: That if you have enough money, everything's going to be fine. And that's the most dangerous one, because if you do not have purpose in your retirement, even if your purpose is self-care, that's a purpose.

And I actually wrote my down, because I would feel moorless to like your mother, like, how do I judge a good day? What have I learned? And so I wrote down my purpose statement and I look at it when I'm feeling a little unmoored and it says, yeah, no, this is what I'm meant to be doing right now. AMY GALLO: Yep, yep. We had a lot of our listeners write in about their experiences or questions about retirement and I wanted to just share some of what we heard and get your reactions. So one woman who's 60 and is planning on retiring in eight years.

She emailed us asking us for examples of how women spend that stretch of time that she's in now. So when you know it's on the horizon. And she's entertaining the idea of going part-time at some point, just because it seems daunting to abruptly stop, she told us.

Any advice for her? ANN BUNDY: Yeah. So I think that taking a page from the millennials and job crafting, how could she look at her current set of responsibilities and maybe make an is/is not list. On the is list, this is what I love doing and I want to continue doing.

On the is not, this is what I don't want to do. And is there a way for me to take my current role and make, again, a plan for how to telescope that down to my is list and package it so that it's part succession planning and part an opportunity for me to actually have my glide path to semi-retirement. AMY GALLO: Yeah, I love that. And that's-- I don't know if luxury is the right word? But maybe one of the privileges or advantages of being toward the end, is really having that clarity of like, this is what I like to do. And hopefully, having permission from those around you, because you've given so much in your career, to actually do that job crafting, being able to get rid of some of the is not's. ANN BUNDY: And this goes back to what's.

What do I want to do, why do I want to do it, and how am I going to do it? And I think what the why part, you also have to add what's the value creation for the organization, because you can't just make it all about you, obviously. It has to work for the organization as well. AMY GALLO: Yeah, right. The is list can't be things that no one else cares about. That's right. OK.

So let me tell you what another listener wrote to us. I'm going to read her quote. I'm nearing the end of a 35 year career in human resources, and planning how and when to make the leap to post work life. How do we, as women, define ourselves, if not through our work achievements? Our employers open to phased retirement schedules, how does the fractional or part-time executive fit into the succession plans? ANN BUNDY: For some of us who have lost touch with who we are outside of work, I would invite you to think about your 10-year-old self. What is it that you loved to do when you were younger and unencumbered? And then back to selling it, to the organization, I think organizations are way more flexible than we give them credit for. And I think a part-time executive, as long as it's creating value for the organization, that can be very, very helpful, especially if it's paired with succession planning and/or mentoring.

One of the things that I've learned about millennials and younger people coming to the work world is they really, really, really want mentors. And so there's a way to be able to make your pitch and say, I may cut back on my executive duties, but here's what I'm going to do, and be very concrete about how many people you would take on and what the value creation would be for them and for the organization. And that can help ease the transition.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Well, and what I hear you saying in that answer, Ann, is that just because you haven't seen someone do it doesn't mean you can't, right? You really have to craft the request, back it up with what the value is to the organization and then negotiate. ANN BUNDY: Exactly. AMY GALLO: All right. So one more listener question. And I'm going to read this quote.

I already have a fairly balanced life. I travel, lead a healthy lifestyle, enjoy time with family and friends. And I genuinely enjoy building a values based business. I don't look at retirement the same way my parents do-- as freedom-- and a time to be able to do all the things you couldn't while you were working and looking after a family. So I wonder whether I even want a traditional retirement at the age of 65? This gets to the question of, is this the end? I did get the sense, I have to say, from Audrey and Donna, there was this sense of freedom, even if that's not what they were planning. Any thoughts about that idea of freedom and then also what a nontraditional retirement might look like for this person? ANN BUNDY: Yeah, well, it feels like she's actually done a really good job of doing a values based life planning.

Good for her. And I think that, just keeping her finger on the pulse of how she's feeling as she goes through because, 65 is different than 67 is different than 70. So what works for a 65-year-old may not work 18 months, two years from now. And just, again, to be very honest with herself about that.

And also, I think what is the definition of freedom. For some people, that means having a totally empty calendar on a given day. If that were me, that would panic me. So I think, she's got to, again, figure out as an architect of her life, now, are there things that she wants to add or subtract, and if so, why? AMY GALLO: Yeah.

Listening to this listeners situation, it sounds like she's exercising, she's spending time with family. She's doing all these things we know that are great for us. And I get the sense-- I'm totally reading between the lines-- but that she's afraid of upsetting that balance by removing work.

That's something I can relate to, is that it's a very full life but it feels complete. And so when you subtract work from that, how do you make sure the pieces still fit together. ANN BUNDY: Right. And I think what I'm hearing between the lines is intellectual challenge, and I worry about that for myself, because I love solving problems. I love thinking about new ideas and things. And that's why I had to have writing as a way to exercise my intellectual growth.

And I think without something like that is really meaningful, yes, you can do Wordle and you can do crossword puzzles and that's all great and good. But I think either creating something or participating in something larger than yourself where you actually have to use some of the skills that you've developed so carefully and so lovingly all these years really is important. And I think that's what's important to her. And I think that a lot of us who were working full time plus being moms, we were like-- it's like disembodied heads. And I think our spirits and our bodies took a hit.

And I know a lot of women that I worked with have exhausted adrenal glands, and they don't realize how exhausted they are until they actually stop working and like almost have to go through a detox process. AMY GALLO: Interesting. Yeah, well, and Audrey talked about that too, of just that being present. She was talking about being present with the people in her life. But I also think being present in your body, in a way, you probably haven't been.

I do feel like my life feels a little bit like a disembodied, sometimes, of just barely hanging on and just getting through the day. And ultimately, these are all things I want to be doing. But it's a lot. ANN BUNDY: It's a lot.

And so one of the things is to kind of do a self-assessment. How am I doing with joy in my life? How am I doing with connection in my life? How am I doing with my spirituality? And looking at that and being able to say, where do I need to put some love and attention now that I've got more time. AMY GALLO: Yeah.

Ann, this is great. Thank you so much for sharing your advice. This has been really practical and I imagine very helpful for lots of listeners. ANN BUNDY: Well, I hope so. I mean, it's been a real joy.

And I admire women who've been in the workforce. And there's a lot that we overcome. And I think retirement can be a great gift, but it takes some planning, and I think we have to be able to receive the gift in the right spirit in which it's intended for us. AMY GALLO: So Amy B, had you heard of this concept of professional diminishment before Ann mentioned it in this interview? AMY BERNSTEIN: No, I never heard the phrase, but the idea is one I'm familiar with. My mom, she was in the advertising industry.

And she finally retired. Her career really just-- it kept going strong well into her 70s. But she finally retired around the age of 76.

And I asked her, why? Why now? And she said because I feel like I'm the oldest fig on the tree. And when I asked her what that meant, she said, people are talking about popular culture and I have no idea who they're talking about. So it's time for me to back away. AMY GALLO: Yeah I think there's sort of two elements to that, because when Arthur Brooks talks about professional diminishment, I think it's also the mental capacity to do your job, the cognitive ability. And that, I do remember my mom at retirement saying, I want to go out strong, I don't want to go out-- and I think Ann says, like, having made a mistake. But then there's also what you're alluding to with your mom which is feeling not in the loop, or feeling-- AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, like not up to date.

And that was heartbreaking when she said it. But I get it. AMY GALLO: But I also think we need to watch out for ageism in that. AMY BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. AMY GALLO: Because I think there's the perception that older people aren't in the loop or as capable as they once were.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Right. And I do think that there's the part about staying up to date, which does help there. I mean, when you lose the threads, when you don't get the context, that's something you actually can control, no matter what your age. AMY GALLO: Yes. So how do you think about professional diminishment over the next 10, 15, 20 years for you? AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, I still feel sharp and able to do my work.

And even saying that out loud just made me feel like about 1,000 years old. AMY GALLO: But it's true. I know you're not going to take that complement, but it's absolutely true. AMY BERNSTEIN: Oh, shucks.

Thanks. But I think about it differently. I don't think about it in terms of professional diminishment. I think about it in terms of my next chapter. I don't want to go out unable to enjoy the rest of my life. I want to be able to do whatever it is, whatever those puzzle pieces, however they come together, I want to be able to throw myself into it and do it with vigor and with focus.

And so I really don't even want to get to the point where I ask myself, am I still good at this? AMY GALLO: Right, right. Yeah. I mean, I think Donna and Audrey did a great job of making sure they had the energy for this post-work life. And that, for me, is really inspirational, because I think I had very much been conceiving of-- not even consciously-- but very much conceiving of retirement as like, the end. Like as Ann says, the next step toward death. And I don't think that's helpful to me because I think it'll A, make me work longer than I need to and B, like you say, I won't gather those puzzle pieces so that I have a complete puzzle, or at least a sense of what that complete puzzle will look like when I'm ready.

And I really need to start-- I'm taking a tip from Ann and really start thinking about what do I want, what would I include in this post-retirement life? Not in like, oh, I'm going to put that off until then. But as a goal of, this will be an enjoyable, fulfilling thing to do when I'm no longer working the way I am. AMY BERNSTEIN: Right. So it's not a question of filling time, it's more about what brings you joy. AMY GALLO: Exactly. And I don't have any answers to that question yet.

But Ann and Audrey and Donna have inspired me to at least ask them. AMY BERNSTEIN: You know, when my mom did finally retire, and this would have been 15 years ago, so I would have been around your age, I think. It did get me thinking about how I would face that turning point in my life. What I wanted to do was not run into the same kind of challenges she ran into, the what am I going to do now kind of question that she was asking herself.

And I wanted to look forward, not back, because I didn't feel like she had given herself the chance to do that. And so it does help me when I'm going through the course of my days, look at roles as options. So I mentioned working at the rescue where we got our younger dog.

I went there looking to pick up the guy who became Wally five years ago. But I have to admit, I looked around, I saw what people were doing, and I thought, oh, I could do this and this would give me enormous gratification. And so I wasn't kidding before when I said what I said. I do think about that a lot.

And it has helped me, and that was my mom's work. AMY GALLO: Well, and I like that. You're sort of window shopping.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Exactly. AMY GALLO: Yeah. I like that. And actually, it's funny you say that. I saw this movie this past weekend about election workers, which was fascinating. Now that you mention it, I did have a thought, oh, that would be fun to do in my retirement.

Work at the polls every year. And there's so much that happens with elections year round. I was like, OK, that's something I could get involved with. AMY BERNSTEIN: In fact, I started doing it during the pandemic.

AMY GALLO: That's right. AMY BERNSTEIN: So many retirees couldn't do it. And I wouldn't stop doing it.

It's really, really important. And I'm glad I did it. And I encourage you to do it. But it's exactly what I'm talking about. It gives you joy.

It's also-- one of the nice things about this is that it's not 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. AMY GALLO: Yes, I like this. OK. So I'm picturing-- we're focusing on you, because I still can't fathom retirement. But I'm picturing Amy B, the volunteer at the animal shelter, the teacher, and the poll worker. That's a pretty good life.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, that's not a bad life. And watching TV, reading books, eating dinner. That actually doesn't sound so bad-- AMY GALLO: Doing your 4:00 AM yoga? AMY BERNSTEIN: Doing-- well, maybe we'll switch to the 9 AM class.

AMY GALLO: There you go. There you go. That's the joy of retirement, the 9 AM class. AMY BERNSTEIN: That's our show. I'm Amy Bernstein.

AMY GALLO: I'm Amy Gallo. If you're looking to hear more about how retirement changes your identity, we recommend you listen to the HBR idea cast interview with Teresa Amabile-- that's episode number 665. Idea Cast is one of several podcasts that HBR has to help you manage yourself, your team, and your organization.

Find them at hbr.org/podcast or search each HBR and Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. AMY BERNSTEIN: Women at Work's editorial and production team as Amanda Kersey, Maureen Hoch, Tina Tobey Mack, Rob Eckhart, Erika Truxler, Ian Fox, and Hannah Bates. Robin Moore composed our theme music. Thanks for listening, and email us any time at womenatwork@hbr.org.

2022-10-29 23:48

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