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Essay: The New Retirement

An Essay by Richard Leider

As the life expectancy of Americans stretches into the early 80s, it's time to redefine retirement as a period for personal reinvention, not for slowing down. Instead of growing old, you need to grow whole, and that effort means finding a purpose for the rest of your life.

For those of you who want to spend your retirement golfing, gardening, and going on trips, you can find room for leisure too. But you need more than just play time. Life after retirement is about money, medicine (health), and meaning. Now is the time to find a new purpose, a meaning, that gets you up in the morning and gives you a reason for living. Without that purpose, you grow old.

It's important to look back on the first half of your life and evaluate what you have learned. Harvest that wisdom and use it for the next chapters of your life. Figure out who will be in your network. Identify what dreams you would like to pursue  and chart a course for achieving those goals. They can be personal goals or goals for giving back to others or the community.

Think about these questions: What are your strengths? What can you give back? What are your passions? What things are calling you and are meaningful to you? You shouldn't get engaged in just anything. Use your gifts on something you care about, a problem in your community, difficulties in your family, or challenges in your religious institution.

Now is also the time to forge new relationships. People who have just retired no longer have the built-in community that comes from a workplace. Those of you who worked at home can move on, assured that your families have been launched. Find people who are on the same path as you and seek out others to mentor with the skills and experience you gleaned over the years.

I often call upon the wisdom of one of my teachers, Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who wrote Man's Search for Meaning. For more information about him, visit the website of the Viktor Frankl Institute. He observed that people who survived the Holocaust did so because they had something beyond themselves to live for. When you retire, it's critical to find the same spirit in the meaning of your life to make your days not only about meeting your own needs. Retirement should be a time to give back, however you can, to the community and people around you.

Retirement is not just about being busy; being busy doesn't bring your life vitality. It's imperative to get busy learning, growing, living, and giving. Find a balance in your life's portfolio just as you would create a balance in your financial portfolio. After all, as Bob Dylan writes, "He not busy being born is busy dying."

Richard Leider is founder and chairman of the Inventure Group, a coaching and consulting firm in Minneapolis that works with executives and large institutions. Named by Forbes as one of the top five most-respected coaches in America, Leider also wrote seven books, including Claiming Your Place at the Fire, The Power of Purpose, and Repacking Your Bags. October 2006

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