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Reflect on Lessons Learned from Experience

At this stage in your life, with all the experience you have accumulated, you should be well prepared to consider your choices for future work and retirement. What are some of the lessons learned by others that you should consider? Here are a few.

Think Positively

Be very realistic about where you are, but very optimistic about where you can be. Consider the following:

  • Engage your heart as well as your head. Unleash your imagination and stretch your potential. Follow your instincts—don’t overanalyze. Go “straight from the gut” as CEO Jack Welch advised in his book of the same title. Or “think without thinking” as Malcolm Gladwell advised in his book, Blink. Relax and be yourself.
  • Make your own clarion call—what excites you? What will be your ideal future?
  • Ask yourself what value you will add in the future—what difference will you make to society, your organization, customers, or your family and friends?
  • Recognize that just doing different things doesn’t necessarily add up to changing yourself and your path for the future. Changes need to be big enough to make a difference—letting go of the past and moving to a “new place.”

Most people are optimistic when imagining how our own plans will turn out, believing ourselves to be more competent and in control than we actually are. And as we get older, we tend to recall our happy experiences more than the unpleasant ones. Research suggests that optimism is often self-fulfilling—your attitude helps you overcome adversity. At the same time, people tend to be more pessimistic about general, big-picture matters, such as global warming or world peace. As a rule, psychology looks at negative or discouraging factors rather than the positive ones. Martin Seligman, psychology professor at University of Pennsylvania, has argued that we should take the positive side of psychology and how people can build “authentic happiness.”

Know Yourself

Always be authentic. Take the following into consideration when trying to find out your essence:

  • Separate your past work role or job from the real (and future) you. Don’t let your past jobs or roles define you for the future. Reach down into yourself and be the person you really are, and want to be.
  • Face your self-limiting assumptions and attitudes and bring them up to your consciousness so you can deal with them. Were your past failures merely learning experiences? Have you avoided activities because you weren’t sure you had the skills? Do you fear the unknown? Have you had a “can’t do” attitude you need to overcome?
  • Be honest about your personal progress and your satisfaction with it. You must be the judge of yourself and your work. Gandhi said, “Man becomes what he believes himself to be.”
  • Look for signs of real change and celebrate them. Don’t let the illusion of change keep you from making substantive progress. Companies often restructure and implement cosmetic changes that conceal shortcomings that ultimately slow growth and development. Don’t let this happen to you.
  • Use self-assessment tools to identify your strengths and weaknesses, interests, and “drivers.” Several books provide detailed checklists such as in the book by Sadler and Miners or websites such as authentichappiness.com, futuredecisions.com, or 2Young2Retire.com.
  • Authenticity means being yourself—how you present yourself to others, how you interact with others, and what you are, are all consistent with your real personality and character. You are genuine if you are not “faking it,” trying to kid yourself or others that what you are saying is consistent with your behaviors. Authenticity requires that you know yourself well, that you reflect the qualities you’ve had through your life, and that you adapt (but not too much) to social norms, so that you represent your inner self, and you aren’t acting.

Don’t Go It Alone

Don’t depend solely on yourself; rely on input and support from your friends, family, and colleagues, as follows:

  • Acknowledge that you are not alone in facing choices. Many others are grappling with similar issues and trying to figure out how to move forward in uncharted territory.
  • You can also rely on professionals and consultants to assist you with fact-finding, analysis, and assessment of your unique situation.
  • Develop a knowledge and awareness of issues that will spark discussion and dialogue at home and in the workplace, creating momentum and shining the spotlight on this topic.
  • Learn from the experience of others and from common themes and lessons learned.

It is important that you at least talk with your spouse, partner, or significant others. A Fidelity Investments survey of 502 couples found that 41% of couples gave different answers when asked whether one spouse would work in retirement. Men often underestimated how long their wives would continue to work. When asked whether their nest egg would allow them to lead a comfortable existence, 37% of the couples gave different answers.

Bring Your Thoughts Together

Create your mental model of where you are and where you are going:

  • See all the factors that affect your choices and your future. Too many poor decisions made about relocations or new jobs are based on thinking too narrowly and not considering the implications.
  • Challenge your own thinking. There are no right or wrong answers—just those that are the best fit for you. Your answers build on one another—and become a completed puzzle. Over time, you will fit in all the pieces of your vision for the future.
  • Understand the difficulties of doing what you want to do. Are opportunities open to you? How well prepared are you for your choice? Will working independently as a free agent professional be difficult for you? Are you prepared to adjust your living expenses to afford a low-income choice?
  • Know the difference between hard facts, myths, and assumptions. Challenge information that you receive and verify that it is reliable. Often it is not necessary to go back and reassess basic personal values, vision, dreams, and passions. Boomers don’t change much in terms of fundamentals, but merely return to them and bring them into sharper focus. There is an old saying that “As you grow older, you become even more like yourself.”
  • Practice your elevator speech. A concise, positive answer to the question, “What do you do?,” represents your current life without boring or confusing other people. One author suggested that boomers may be involved in so many activities that it would take a half hour to explain. Don’t go there. Keep your story brief, interesting, and to the point. When others ask, “How are you?,” they are not asking for a full health report.

Chart Your Own Future

Be aggressive in pursuing the opportunities you desire. Try out these techniques:

  • Make clear commitments to action. It is easier to talk about making changes than it is to behave differently. Set specific action plans, goals, and timing. Be businesslike.
  • Have courageous conversations with others who have the power to open doors for you—even talking with those who may put up barriers or close doors (for example, because of age bias).
  • Take risks to get out of your comfort zone and move to a new place, whether or not you or your world is ready.
  • Decide what you will leave behind—the activities you will stop doing—in order to free up your mind, your assets, and your time to do new, future-oriented activities.
  • Feel empowered to do what you really want to do and what you need in order to ensure a secure and satisfying future.
  • Customize your choices and press your employer and others to accommodate them.
  • Consider alternatives and afford yourself the luxury of experimenting with different options.
  • Be prepared to suffer adversities and then bounce back. Athletes talk about recovering from losses and personal setbacks; you must do the same. For example, an empty-nest couple sold their home and moved into a small condominium in La Jolla village; however, six months later they decided they could not live in such cramped quarters. They sold and bought a larger home, demonstrating their resiliency.

If you feel stuck, step back and analyze why. What caused your crisis or impasse? What issues need to be resolved? What are the assumptions and your own patterns that keep you from taking positive action? Several books are available to help you move forward.

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