retired couple in carFrom time to time I have lunch with a long-time friend, now in his late sixties.  He’s enjoyed a successful career as an independent sales representative, and has been winding down for a while now from the high pressure, high stress world.  He recognizes the need to retire someday. “Just not now” is his comment, when I ask him about it.

Trouble is, I’ve been asking him about this for about 5 years.  So next I asked about is wife.  He replied that she retired a while back and seems fairly happy, yet she is searching for something else.  My good friend is puzzled as to why she is searching for anything else, since they have a very good life.

I then turned the conversation back to his situation and his plans for the future.  He described his frustration with the companies he represents, how the industry is changing, and his increasing displeasure with business travel (who can blame him for that one?).  I  asked why he was sticking with it, if even his reduced schedule was a burden.  He paused for a moment and declared he wasn’t ready.  I pressed him on this and the  need to make plans for his future.  He   quickly said, “I don’t need to make plans – “Susan” (his wife) will keep me busy”.  I laughed and said, “Really, you’ve asked her about that?”  There was a much longer pause in the conversation as we ate lunch.  Then, he switched the conversation back to business talk.

Of course this isn’t the first time I have heard such comments from men who are business owners or long-time career professionals. What these individuals are  saying in effect is “I will become my spouse’s retirement project.  He or she will make all the plans  and I will just do whatever needs doing around the house“ But there are several fatal flaws in this line of thinking.

First, these folks almost never talk about the subject with their significant others.  Second, they are also used to ‘doing things their way’ at work, whereas their wives (or husbands!) are used to ‘doing things around the house their way’ too.  What these men and women are doing is setting themselves up for a major clash:  the CEO of the business vs. the CEO of the house.  Third, because they have devoted so much of their lives to their business-career, they often have   had little time for spouse or family, hobbies, volunteering, intellectual stimulation, and similar activities – all  aspects of a dynamic and meaningful life beyond the working years.

Imagine driving a car at 100 miles per hour with your spouse in the passenger seat, then suddenly taking the off ramp and stopping the car because you don’t like how it was running. And instead of asking for help, you open the hood and decide to take apart the engine and fix it yourself with no manual. Or you may ask your wife, “Whatever you want to do to fix it is fine by me”.  As my kids would say – “That’s going to be an Epic Fail”.

One outcome from such lack of planning is “grey divorce”, named for those who are getting divorced after 20, 30, or more years together.  The rate of grey divorce is skyrocketing.  I read recently that in 1990, the divorce rate for those aged 50+ was one in ten; in 2011 it was one in four – that’s a 150% increase.  Why?  Because both spouses keep grinding through life,   move emotionally apart, and then don’t address the issues and questions at this new time of life.

So what is a better way?  It’s called planning, but for your life, instead of your career or business.  And it’s primarily YOUR job.  No doubt you will have to work on it with your spouse, but you can’t leave it to someone else to plan your life for you.  Nor should you simply float along, waiting “to see what happens”.  That’s a recipe for grabbing at bad ideas, pushing yourself into places where you have no knowledge, or being frozen by the seemingly endless choices.

At my firm we call this Transition Planning for The Platinum Years℠.  We ask clients to follow a series of steps including:

1.    Learning how you make key decisions – the upsides and the downsides, and then learning how to counter balance them
2.    Planning ten lifestyle areas to create a more complete life
3.    Uncovering your fears and learning to counter balance them

This is an oversimplification of the process to be sure, but you get the general idea.  It’s not rocket science, but it is not a walk in the park either.  My business partner, Jack Beauregard, has written two books on the subject, The Balanced Paradigm and more recently, Finding Your New Owner.  He has a third scheduled for 2014.

So, you can decide to take a big risk and “just float along”, or start making plans for a dynamic and meaningful life beyond the working years.  If you don’t, you may find yourself with a spouse who is searching for something (and perhaps someone) else.


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