By Caroline Hall

Don’t wait until you retire to figure it all out–Proactive planning creates a powerful compass for your next chapter of life

I had dinner last evening with Mary Spilde, President Emeritus of Lane Community College in Oregon, and a member of the growing Life Reinspired tribe of next chapter thought partners. When Mary was contemplating retirement, she was frequently advised to leave the first 6-12 months wide open. After a hectic worklife, the wisdom went, it’s important to create the space to enjoy yourself while you contemplate your next moves.

I both agree and disagree with this advice. Yes, it’s marvelous to give yourself a sabbatical and check some pleasures off your Bucket List—that barge trip through the canals of Provence or playing all the great golf courses on the planet, for instance. And it’s true that you now have all the time in the world to dream and plan—time that’s harder to block out while you’re still on the job.

Here’s where I disagree, though. For people who are accustomed to considerable structure in their work lives, a sudden lack of structure—blue sky, clean slate–can be hugely disorienting. Often the response to a clean slate is to say yes to way too many invitations and activities and stuff your calendar so full that you don’t have time to notice whether you’re fulfilled or not.

In other words, “not knowing” is a very challenging state of mind to sustain, and most of us want to fill our dance cards as quickly as possible. But bear in mind, “busy” is not the same as “meaningful.”

There is a middle ground here: Do some dreaming and planning before the day you retire. Reconnect with your purpose, values, and passions. Identify the kinds of differences you want to make in this next phase. Start fleshing out your Bucket List to include meaningful contributions and relationships along with fun and pleasure. Have conversations about these topics with thought partners, friends, and family.

Of course you’re really busy and it may be challenging to find the time to fit this in. But know that by doing substantial planning, visioning, and alliance-building in advance, you’re creating a solid anchor and rudder for yourself in the vast sea of post-retirement possibilities.

And then, by all means relax and have fun for the first several months of your next chapter. Work out every day. Play with the grandkids. Do things you love. And as you refuel and enjoy yourself, keep your eyes on the prize of your next meaningful endeavor.

walking meditationThere’s one more piece that Mary brought up last night—the importance of some form of contemplative practice that helps you clarify your intention and create a compass for the day’s activities. Contemplative practices take many forms—Mary’s is to read poetry every morning, capture a few resonant lines, and notice how the stanza informs her day and vice versa. Meditation is good. So is journaling. So is taking a mindful walk as you set your intentions for your day, week, and life.

As my friend Noelle Dye (another Life Reinspired thought partner) says, the keys to a fulfilling life are:

Something to do—Purpose
Someone to love and serve—People
Something to look forward to—Pleasure

Let that be the framework that informs your exit plan and launches your reinspired new life.

Find out about the programs Life Reinspired offers to support you in that jump to your next chapter of life.

Caroline MacNeill Hall is Co-Founder of Life Reinspired, a reset lab for successful Baby Boomers contemplating a meaningful next chapter of life. She is President of MAC Advisors, an executive coaching and leadership development company. She’s also senior faculty for the Coaches Training Institute.