5 fun, fulfilling and not-so-common hobbies for retiring CEOs
As executives anticipate leaving full-time leadership roles, most look forward to taking up or returning to activities they struggled to fit in while running a company. From golf to travel to spending time with the grandkids, certain pursuits appear in almost every hobby-related article for the retiring CEO.
But what if you’re not interested in these pastimes or are engaging in some of them but still find the days unfilled? What not-so-common options might pique your enthusiasm? And how can you find the right mix to bring enjoyment and meaning to post-work life?
1. Create experiences
“I build escape rooms,” says former technology company president Kevin Williams, who hung up his executive hat two years ago to be more present with his wife and five children. At the time, he wasn’t sure what form intensive family life might take. Then he brought his kids, aged 11 to 21, to a venue full of puzzles requiring teamwork to solve. “They all said, ‘That was really fun.’”
Kevin was impressed that everyone enjoyed a single activity, especially one without any electronic devices involved. He decided to launch a business with his children to create similar experiences in his hometown.
Of course, escape rooms aren’t the only choice. Retired CEOs may enjoy planning holiday events or contributing to a community garden that invites the neighborhood in. If you brainstorm, what excuse might you find to bring people together?
2. Escape from it all
Travel is a common post-work objective and it definitely made the list for Rick Self. He retired twice, the first time from the military and the second from a technology company. Today, he spends some of his days as a wilderness guide, primarily in the High Sierra and Rocky Mountains.
“I take people backpacking in remote areas,” he says. “Helping them relate to the natural environment is something I’m both personally interested in and have a passion for sharing.”
Rick especially loves the transformation that occurs when clients finally disconnect. “You watch people’s stress just melt away.”
You don’t need to enter the wilderness to flee modernity once in a while. Whether taking a meditation retreat or watching the birds in the backyard, what appeals when you determinedly put the cell phone away?
3. Find some balance
“A lot of people golf. I don’t golf. A lot of people garden. I don’t garden,” says Marty Stowe, but the gym does call to him in his semi-retirement. “I like to pursue things that are athletic in nature.”
With more time, though, he felt it important to integrate some activities that weren’t about sweating it out. “I also need some cerebral hobbies,” he says. “One thing I’ve gotten into is ancestry.com.” Marty has tracked the Stowe family back to 1635 Boston and enjoys pondering what life would have been like for those who went before.
Need some balance like Mary did? Ask yourself what’s dominant in your daily lineup. If you’re often solo or bookish, what would get you into the community or wake up your body? If playing 18 holes with friends is getting dull, how might you engage your mind?
4. Share sustenance
Taking cooking classes, even becoming a Cordon Bleu Master Chef, appeals to many a retiree. And why not treat your friends and family — or even just yourself — to some spectacular meals?
Not chef material? There are plenty of other ways to bring food and drink into your lifestyle. Marty tells the story of one of the nation’s top CEOs, who now volunteers for Meals on Wheels. “The senior citizens he visits don’t know his background. He’s just Gary who stops by every few days and gives them someone to talk to. They don’t know he’s getting such emotional benefit.”
How could you share sustenance and support? Think beyond food, if you prefer. Knitted blankets for premature babies or a casual conversation with a lonely neighbor can mean just as much.
5. Get back in business
“I don’t like the word ‘retired.’ I don’t think people retire anymore,” says Niels Lameijer. He trains Vistage Chairs so he routinely witnesses how newly and sometimes long-retired executives cope with the change of lifestyle.
“Rarely are people saying, ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with the business world anymore.’” He recommends coaching, mentoring, and running peer advisory groups as good ways to stay connected without necessarily toiling full-time.
With the profit motive removed, some retirees drift toward the nonprofit arena. Marty, always full of anecdotes, mentions a friend who started, consulting for organizations that couldn’t normally afford someone with his experience.
As Marty says, “he’s still relevant. He’s using his brain. He’s using his skills to help others.” These are much the same benefits Marty himself experiences through Vistage.
How might you apply your executive expertise? If not in business, where?
The bottom line — retire to something
Much about life after an executive career comes down to perspective. In Marty’s opinion, “people who retire from something because they’re bitter or burned out, they become miserable.” Life has to be about more than what you leave behind, Kevin agrees. “You can be running from something or you can be running to something. It’s much healthier to be running to something.”
Can’t yet see what’s in front of you? That’s okay, according to Rick. “I think if I had waited to have a detailed plan, I would never have pulled the trigger and retired,” he says. “And that’s from a person who’s a planner at heart.”
He has advice for those still searching. “Understand the particulars of where you have been doing work in the past. What is it that you both deeply enjoyed and were good at? Generalize beyond a particular business or industry.”
For example, Rick knew he wanted to help companies create great workplaces and to share his love of the outdoors. “When opportunities arose, I knew they were aligned because I had thought through those questions.” From two broad goals Rick has grown an incredibly busy life as a master gardener, adjunct professor, Vistage Chair, and home renovator — and that’s when he’s not guiding small groups through the mountains!
What hobbies and activities might emerge from your interests and values if you begin to explore and experiment? Who knows, but we bet it will be fun.