On Being “Mostly Retired”

I’m wicked happy!” ~ Mike M.

Last week I shared a conversation I had with my father a number of years ago about retirement and how expectations have changed among generations. I mentioned that In the next 10 – 15 years, 10,000 North Americans will retire every day, creating a “retirement tsunami.” And many of us can expect to live long enough after retirement that we could be retired for more than 20 years.

So what do we do for the last 20-odd years of our lives?

How do we find meaning in the last part of our lives? What will our legacy be? 

I’ve been chatting with a number of folks who are addressing just that issue. This week is a profile of Mike M. who spent a long career as an HR leader in various organizations.

Being “Mostly Retired” is Liberating

Mike refers to himself as “mostly retired.” He does some consulting work (about 3 to 5 hours a week). While his consulting is incidental in terms of his time, it’s enough to “keep me in the game; to keep me sharp. It’s enough to make me feel that I’m making a contribution.”  

Mike is able to take on work that he cares about, and work with clients that want what he offers; factors not always present during his long career in HR.

“The ability to pick and choose what I work on and with whom is very liberating.”

Multiple Passions Provide Purpose

I asked Mike what his purpose is at this stage of his life. He noted that he has multiple purposes:

  1. He still likes making a professional contribution through consulting and he gets validation from it;
  2. He has a “larger leisure life,” where he can pursue his passions of reading and music, and connecting with people on a social level. Mike schedules two-to-three coffee meetings a week to catch up with friends;
  3. Mike also serves on non-profit boards where he contributes to causes of interest; and
  4. For the past five years, he has spent at least half of his time between May and mid-November at his camp on a lake in western Maine, where he’s relaxed and worked on ever-present improvement projects.

Letting Go

At heart, Mike has always been an activist. His passion for the well-being of others led him to leadership roles in HR. During his career, he always paid attention to women in the workplace, LGBTQ issues, disability issues; “I was twenty years ahead of most people in the field, and it was a struggle. All. The. Time.”

“I’ve jettisoned the resentment of working in and for organizations that didn’t want to consider what I offered. Now I’ve taken that activism and liberated it to being what I choose to do in the world. It doesn’t have to be anchored to an organization that may or may not want it.” 

What Do You Want Your Legacy To Be?

“That’s a really important question in my life.” (Spoiler alert — almost everyone I’ve talked with noted the significance of this question). 

Mike mentioned that 15 or 20 years ago he would have provided a very different response — one based on professionalism or activism. “Today, though, I think more in terms of relationships that I’ve been able to leverage, in my own small way, to make things better for other people.”

And the Best Part?

“All the things I do in consulting, avocational work, board work, activism, coffees with friends; all these things expand to fill the time no longer required by a busy career. And I get to choose on what and how I spend my time.”

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