Retiring From…Retiring To…

by | Oct 27, 2023

One day, my spouse was driving us down the highway. All the lanes were open, making an easy flow of speed and direction, and he started talking about his work.

“It makes a difference when you are retiring to something, versus retiring from,” he said.

I’ll get back to that beautiful statement in a moment, but first, let’s examine the word “retirement.”

I find “retirement” to be one of the worst financial words. It’s used as an insufficient shortcut for one of the top three big transitions in life. The truth is, retirement is a season, or a series of seasons, that can span years.

A few careers have a limited timespan due to wear and tear on our body. Consider team sports (any football fans?), military careers, construction, and basically any work that requires our body to perform more (or as much) physical labor than use of our brain. Retirement season can arrive fairly quickly or definitively in these cases.

Other careers, more sedentary work, have a longer arc with multiple kinds of ends. Careers that depend primarily upon our brain, knowledge and thinking can stretch seasons out considerably.

As my spouse and I consider non-retirement, our financial planning profession lands us in the long season with complex choices.

We’ve grown a boutique wealth management firm, offering Integral Wealth Planning, for more than 35 years. We have two paths ahead of us: 1) an “exit plan” or 2) a stewardship plan.

An exit plan typically focuses on individual desires and needs of the owner(s) selling. The options for exit are plentiful and take many forms. In the industry, an exit plan is selling the firm, either through an outright sale to a larger firm, a merger, or internal sale with current members/employees.

A stewardship plan focuses on the collective benefit of the individuals who energize the organization and the people who are served. It is an intentional path, sourced through the heart, with a clear aspiration for the mission and output of the firm to remain relevant and of benefit to the world. The implications of retirement broaden, as the firm determines if it is worthy of continuing, worthy of stewarding. If the answer is yes, you choose to steward.

If you know us, you know we are on the stewardship path.

The process for both paths is very different and both paths are worthy pursuits. I will not judge one better than the other. Yet, to follow a path it is crucial to know by heart which path you walk. Both paths take a few years (or more) to complete from start to finish. Both paths are a part of every family business. Both paths are complex. Despite the many methodologies, formulas, and practices for exiting or stewarding a business, no one transition is the same because the humans who are transitioning are not the same. Moreover, evolutionary businesses are not the same because they evolve with current reality and an eye, heart and wholebody attunement to the future.

Which returns us to the question/statement: Are you moving to or are you moving from?

In the car, my spouse was mumbling to himself. I loved listening to him reflect under his breath. I imagined his silent, soft reflections were whispers inviting him into a contemplative cauldron.

When these whispers arrive, it is easy and natural to put a hand up and say, I am too busy with other matters to enter you right now. Later. I have time later.

But then, “later” arrives in the midst of life. Our own health crisis, a family health crisis, a shift in the business, intense burnout: something happens and immediately we are thrust into the moving from lane, rushing to an unknown horizon.

While navigating the unknown skillfully is a superpower, practicing it in the middle of a retirement season may not be optimal. We want muscles to hold both a gentle thread of moving from and its unknown excitement, along with the grace and intention of moving to a new adventure.

We need both the to (an inspirational horizon) and the from (an honoring of achievement).

Moving to, without a conscious kiss to where you are moving from, might automatically put you on the exit plan, i.e., “I am ready to move on to … (fill in your dream of what is next), and I have no more time or energy to give to what was.” You lose the practice to honor what you are leaving and consciously complete these specific work seasons of life.

Moving from, without awareness of answers to the deepest questions (why am I here – on the planet?) – that pull you toward meaning and purpose, establishes the potential for a season (or more) of transition woes and wobbles. You lose the early practice of apprenticing what’s next, elderhood, a new vocation and what it means to be wise every season of life.So tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver

Transition planning for livelihood change is crucial, particularly when your choice of when and how is broad.

Many methodologies for navigating change exist. My preference in my field is the work of Susan Bradley, who began her first personal transition from financial advising over twenty years ago. At this time, her book Sudden Money marked this change, as she studied new wealth holders (inheritances, lottery winners) and how well or poorly they could integrate financial windfalls into their lives. Since then, she has developed thoughtful and keenly researched processes, tools, applications to assist all people and professionals in all types of financial transitions. As trained professionals in these practices, we know the difference in effective integral wealth planning when transitions are a focal point of the process.

A page from my journal as we transitioned from our family home of 40 years, December of 2021.

For all of us, the first step is to enter the contemplative cauldron, in the way that suits you. Before we experience the metamorphosis of something new and what’s next, let’s choose consciously and carefully to enter the new space of change.

The question, am I moving from or moving to?, can be the generous invitation to a space of change. Ask, and listen wholeheartedly for the whisper of answers.