How To Retire Successfully By Finding Fulfillment—Not Just Fun
Most people look forward to retirement. It’s an opportunity to spend a lot of time having “fun” – something that a hectic, executive-level job never affords. For others, it is frightening. What will you do with all of the free time?
Once you get within 10 or 15 years of retirement, these questions pop up more frequently. What will my post marketing career look like?
I recently talked with Bill Linton, former Global Export Manager at Bush Brothers & Company. He retired at 57 in 2018 and says that if he’d known how great retirement was, he would have done so earlier. As he recounted his approach to retirement, I was fascinated. He planned it. He thought about it. And he attacked retirement the way he would any important project. Below I share his insight on how to increase the likelihood you will find fulfillment in retirement.
Kimberly Whitler: You suggest that you must have a plan for retirement. Why is that?
Bill Linton: If you don’t have a plan for retirement, you will go nuts . If you are a smart, driven individual, you have to know what it is that you want to do. The plan has to include what your post-retirement relationship with your significant other will look like, because retirement requires you to renegotiate what worked pre-retirement. I have a friend who said that his partner indicated: “for better or worse but not for lunch”. Post retirement, you are together a lot more than before. Behaviors that were rewarded at work are not rewarded at home. You have to change your mindset about what your relationship is going to be. What are you going to do?
Whitler: Can you talk more about how you decided to create a plan?
Linton: There are many paths to retirement. My father told me that you live your first 25 years for yourself, the next 25-30 years for your family, and then later in life, there is less pressure so can pursue what makes you happy. But the question is, how do you want to live your life when your time is your choice? What will that look like?
Without a plan, you can get in trouble. I’ve seen people fill the void by doing things that are self-destructive. I’ve talked to people and asked them why they are pursuing certain activities in retirement and they’ll say “I just want to do something.” Your chance of being happy is greater if you plan those things when you are working, rather than after retirement because it may become an act of desperation. You take the first thing that comes along.
For the first time in your life, you can pursue your passions, but you have to have a goal. And then you have to have a plan to achieve that goal.
Whitler: So what does your plan look like?
Linton: I had a blueprint before I retired: 33% of my time on fun activities, 33% on feeling valued by giving back, and 33% by continuing to grow and learn, ideally through consulting and other projects. I believe that while fun is … well … fun, it isn’t exactly fulfilling. And I knew that to feel like I was continuing to grow and creating value, I needed to set aside time for those activities. It was important for me to continue to feel like I’m making a difference – that it didn’t stop when I stopped working.
How do I implement my plan? The fun part is easy. My wife and I block time during the year to travel. This is a big part of our “fun” goal, but it also helps fulfill the “growth” goal as we try to go places we’ve never been before. Finding ways to give back is really rewarding. During Covid, I started substitute teaching because our community was lacking substitute teachers. I’ve also found that there is a lot of opportunity to volunteer if you have marketing skill. I was asked to be on the board of Clemson’s Alumni Association. And I’ve been guest lecturing in marketing classes at Clemson. There are things that you learn as a marketing professional; sharing real life examples with students helps bring theory to life. For me there is something that resonates about teaching young people how to do this. Everybody wants to feel like they have value and when you read about what happens as you age, some start to feel like they aren’t contributing. I wanted to be intentional in the activities I wanted to pursue. And for the growth part, I have a goal to read a book a week and to continue to learn new things through exploration (e.g., travel to new places) and working on challenging projects (e.g., consulting).
Whitler: You said something about fun not being sufficient to create a fulfilling retirement plan. Why is that?
Linton: A lot of people think 100% fun it is terrific … but I actually think it is relatively empty and frankly, it feels selfish. I’ve also seen people who don’t have a plan and then they make poor choices to fill the time. While it may be fun in the moment, I don’t think it provides the intrinsic feeling that you get from creating value. That feeling that you matter to somebody, to something. It’s hard to “make a difference” when you are pursuing “fun” – unless perhaps your fun is related to making a difference. And I believe we tend to feel better about ourselves when we believe we matter.
100% fun gets boring very quickly. Here is what it looked like for my dad. He was let go 3 times. In 2007, my dad put together a program to help people put their resumes together and teach them how to network. He taught them how to fish—he didn’t write the resumes for them. The program was so successful, other cities called and asked him to help. He went to Buffalo, somewhere in the Midwest, and Seattle. He got nothing monetarily from it but I can’t remember my father ever being happier.
This construct of giving back — this is where, I believe, people in retirement are the happiest. They are doing it because they want to not because they have to.
Whitler: Was it easy to give back? How did you do it?
Linton: You may have to look for opportunities to give back. When you knock on the door, they may say no. But have a backup plan. For example, I wanted to guest lecture. I reached out to a professor who invited me to guest lecture. That turned into a guest lecture for another class and then for a third class. Now, some students call to ask for help on networking and resume writing.
The course I visited in the spring was an international marketing course. I was able to talk about real-world examples. When you hit on a key topic and the lights go in the students’ eyes get it, that’s gratifying; seeing the idea go from a concept to a construct. That is a great feeling. I drove home from Clemson, which is a bit of drive, and that feeling of helping the students reinforced an ongoing need I have to make a difference.
Whitler: I’ve watched my parents go through different stages in retirement. It seems like a barrier is finding the right opportunity to contribute. How did you find the substitute teaching opportunity?
Linton: I saw the opportunity from reading the newspaper. I knew that I wanted to work with young people and I saw that during Covid, my local schools were struggling to find substitute teachers. It wasn’t easy. I had to find a social security card, which I didn’t have so I had to go through the government process to get one. I had to take a drug test, which I hadn’t taken for decades. You have to look around. There are more opportunities to volunteer than there are volunteers. You have to be proactive. Nobody will knock on your door.
You also have to be able to answer three questions:
1) Who am I?
2) What do I do well?
3) What do I like to do?
Whitler: What do you do with the plan once it is developed?
Linton: You have to be flexible and adaptive. Things never quite work out the way that we think they are going to and so you want to brush off your plan and update it. Also, I found from watching my dad that you want to go big early in retirement. As we age, and our mobility declines, our world shrinks. We don’t want to drive or travel as far. We stay closer to home. So, part of my plan will be to shift into different types of “fun” activities as I age and may not want to travel to as adventurous places over time.
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