When a successful retirement just isn't enough
Karen had a "dream" retirement: loyal friends, assets, holidays and status. But something was missing. To anyone looking at Karen Smith's retirement from the outside, she was a very successful retiree.
Prior to retirement, after 15 years in the corporate world, Karen had a significant number of loyal friends, a healthy amount of assets and a consistently good annual income.
Breaking through the ceiling
Karen Smith's retirement had reached a plateau. When Karen had felt this way previously, she had been on the cusp of change in her life.
Now, Karen has learned that:
She was well regarded by her peers, her employer and coworkers. Her significant other had been with her for a number of years, and she enjoyed a strong reputation in the community.
And since retiring, Karen maintained her contacts and friends, and didn't need to worry about finances.
So, why was Karen telling me something was missing — that she wasn't where she wanted to be?
"I can't fully explain it," Karen said, "I just have this sense that I should be doing better."
"What does ‘doing better' mean, Karen?" I asked. "is it more friends, more holidays, more assets?"
"Those things would all be great," she acknowledged. "But they are only ways of keeping score. The truth is that I feel I have reached a plateau in my life and I am stuck. I can't seem to break through to the next level, even though I know enough about how to be successful to fill a book."
"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Karen," I offered. "At some time in their lives, many successful people find themselves at a point at which they know they could be doing more but they can't find the key to getting there. In fact, it is not unusual for someone who has been in retirement for as long as you have to experience this several times. Let me ask you: have you ever felt this way before?"
"I guess, now that I think about it, I have," Karen admitted, "The first time was at the end of my second year in the corporate world. I was feeling that perhaps this business wasn't for me. I had been working extremely hard to launch my career. There was so much to learn and do. But I did everything I was told and while I was making progress, it was painful. I didn't feel I was achieving the results I should have been, given all the effort I was putting into it."
"And what happened next?" I asked.
"That's when I decided to hire my first assistant," she said.
I told her, "it's pretty common for new executives who are serious about building their businesses to reach a stage of development in 18 to 24 months when they max out on what they can do themselves. Up to that point, it was largely their energy and determination that powered their progress. Eventually, however, they run out of energy trying to do everything themselves – from sales to marketing to administration to client service to compliance – and suddenly the career looks much less attractive."
"One of two things normally happens at this point," I said. "People decide the struggle isn't worth it, so they leave the business. Or they recognize that they have to change how they operate. They bring in an assistant, perhaps part-time at first but soon full-time. After that, they wonder what took them so long to make that decision. You obviously stayed in the business. So, I guessed you followed the latter path."
"You have it right," Karen said. "Hiring an assistant was a tough thing to do because it was money right out of my too-slim commissions. Within six months, though, I was not only making up the extra expense, I was growing my business at a much faster rate because I had more time to do the things I was really good at."
"You said you've had this sense of frustration more than once, Karen," I said. "When did it happen again?"
"About three years ago," she answered,. "it was just before I made the decision to retire. In fact, I'd have to say it was the catalyst for that change. For at least a year prior, I had a growing sense that retiring was more appropriate for me and the way I wanted my life to evolve. Finally, one day, I just said, ‘That's it. Let's make the switch.'"
"We put a plan in place to make the conversion and, within a year, it was done," she explained. "We lost a bit of sleep along the way, but today I am very comfortable with the quality of my life. My activities actually began to grow more quickly, largely because our friends began to suggest others we should meet who preferred to do things we enjoyed doing."
"Good for you!" I congratulated Karen. "Have you noticed any similarities in the two situations you describe?"
"I am not sure I know what you mean," she replied.
"Well, it appears to me, " I said, "that in both instances, you had reached a ceiling that was preventing you from getting to the next level. You analyzed what was needed and eventually made significant changes in the way you managed your life and your time.
These changes, in turn, allowed you not only to get to a better place but also to accelerate your growth. I think you are at one of those important plateaus now."
"So, you think I need to change my approach again?" Karen asked, somewhat anxiously.
"No," I replied. "you have a great retirement today. However, like all great things in life, you have to re-evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it. Every successful person has to re-examine, re-invent and renew themselves periodically to stay healthy. Your time has come."
About the Author:
Tracey Fieber, The Retirement Transition Expert, is founder of the Secrets to Retirement Success System™ and www.NewFaceOfRetirement.com, the proven step-by-step program to create the retirement of your dreams, have fun with more friends, make more impact with your life, while having more time off to enjoy it all. To receive your F.R.E.E. Audio CD by mail and get weekly how-to articles on attracting the life you want to live, visit www.NewFaceOfRetirement.com.