8 ways to reinvent your life after the C-suite
It’s the standard American retirement story: You announce your retirement, you receive a gold watch, then you live a life of golf, leisure, and the occasional visit from the grandkids.
To most executives, this standard retirement story leaves a hole. An executive mulling life after the C-suite might consider this story and wonder: Where’s the excitement? How can I use all the energy I still have? How can I pass on all that I learned?
These are common ponderings. A 2019 survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 80 percent of people at retirement age want to keep working for financial reasons—after all, people now have the potential to live healthily for longer—and 72 percent of people said they wanted to keep working to age well.
Healthy aging itself is a great reason to keep going past retirement, as research shows that extending your career could also extend your life. A 2015 study of more than 83,000 people, for example, found that those who worked past the age of 65 were three-times more likely to report being in good health than those who had retired.
But another good reason to keep going is to simply continue on your path, to take the knowledge you learned on your path and pass it on. As an executive with years of experience, you have so much to give to others, so much that could make a difference in someone else’s career.
Whatever your reason for pushing beyond retirement, it’s clear that many retired CEOs are reconsidering what it means to retire. Here are eight ways to reinvent your own retirement.
1. Become an executive coach
If you’ve been successful in the C-suite, your mind is a treasure trove of information that could help the next generation of leaders thrive.
Your career as an executive puts you in a unique position. By virtue of your experience, you can profoundly impact the lives of people who are, for the first time, seeing the problems you spent your career solving.
Your knowledge of leadership can make your voice the one helping new leaders learn how to lead. Your history of successes and failures can impart advice that only you can give, advice that would be lost without you. Your guidance and equanimity, learned over years in the fray, may be what sets the example for a new CEO.
If you love mentoring people and spending time talking strategy, you’d be perfectly suited to becoming an executive coach.
If you want to help people but would prefer to get to them before they’re in business, start teaching.
Teaching may be a good route for executives who can easily explain how to work from first principles, picking away the jargon to plainly explain concepts of business.
There are universities, community colleges and online platforms where a well-taught class by a former executive would be invaluable. In the right class, you may create a lightbulb moment for students who could go on to become great leaders.
3. Write a book
If you want to be remembered and spread what you’ve learned to a potentially large audience, consider writing a book.
Books give the rare ability to pass down information and have your story be remembered throughout history. Many still speak highly of Alfred P. Sloan’s book “My Years With General Motors,” and Sloan retired from the company in 1946. Many of the lessons he wrote then still stand—”There is no resting place for an enterprise in a competitive economy,” Sloan wrote.
But don’t be mistaken: Writing is an arduous, lonely task that often ends with your book going unread. You should only write a book if you’d be happy to have written it even if it goes unread.
4. Serve on a board or lead a nonprofit
A popular route for executives after retirement is working in or advising other companies, often in the nonprofit space. Marc Feigen and Ron Williams wrote in the Harvard Business Review that they studied the post-retirement careers of 50 CEOs. More than half of them ended up in leadership positions at a nonprofit, with two-thirds serving on public boards.
Far from a leisure activity, retired executives who serve on a board or lead a nonprofit still get to use their energy, intellect and decision-making ability. If you feel that you still have a lot left, this may be a great option for retirement—or more honestly stated, your next career move.
5. Serve in government
Whether a local school board or the U.S. Senate, life after retirement may afford executives the time to run for office. And the government could always use a few more good people skilled in critical thinking, decision making, and the ability to manage.
But be warned: Politics may be one of the few lines of work with more stress than the board room.
6. Volunteer or donate money
In their research and interviews of retired CEOs, Feigen and Williams found that nearly all are philanthropic in some way, running foundations or donating money.
Bill Weldon, former chairman of Johnson & Johnson, told them that philanthropy is psychologically rewarding and offers “payback far better than any money we receive in our for-profit work.”
Similarly, there are plenty of organizations across the world in need of volunteers. If you’re passionate about an issue, it’s likely that you’ll be welcomed by an organization that needs your help, even if it’s completely outside your area of expertise.
If you’re truly done working but still have a lot of energy to spare, traveling the world is a great way to spend your retirement years. The world is filled with an amazing number of cultures, each with their own insights into humanity.
8. Keep learning
And for the retired executive who likes to travel, nothing will be important than learning—languages, history, and cultural norms. But even if you don’t want to travel—even if you don’t want to do anything else—it’s essential to keep learning.
By continuing to learn, you increase your brain’s cognitive functions and allow yourself to find new passions. New passions could lead to doing something else on this list or may simply lead you to more learning. In learning, there is no age—there’s simply the expansive mountain of books, an internet full of data, and a world full of people filled with thoughts, emotions and information.
As Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in his book “Meditations,” you can “look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too.”
Retirement offers an opportunity to look back over your career, thinking of the moments that shaped and moved you. You can pass these moments along through becoming an executive coach, teacher, or using your experience to do something entirely different. Let these moments guide you down the path into retirement.