A number of CMOs either choose to retire early (their 50’s) or they transition into an entirely different career. As somebody who left the CMO world behind in my 40’s to pursue a career in academia, I appreciate the allure of change at this point in life.

To understand what it is like to transition early (before 65), I talked with Heather Loisel, the former CMO of Ricoh, USA. In an earlier post (see here), Loisel discussed the preparation stage – in particular, how to prepare for the healthcare costs that you must cover before Medicare kicks in.

In this article, Loisel talks about the “experience” of transitioning into retirement. I’ve always thought that retirement isn’t something you just did – it requires thought and planning because it is an enormous adjustment. I recall reading Iocacca’s biography and his description of transitioning from CEO to retiree was frankly not appealing. He was honest in explaining that it was very difficult, especially psychologically, to go from being in charge of a full plate of work, to having no status and nothing but time.

Consequently, I appreciate learning from people who are honest about the transition to retirement are are forging a successful path. Below, Loisel shares some of her retirement journey.

What Retirement Looks Like

Loisel indicated that the decision to retire comes with a lot of questions. “When I started to share my desire to retire, people immediately asked what I was going to do. My response was, ‘I don’t know but something different.’ I had spent decades working long hours with every waking minute structured to accomplish something. In this phase, I wanted to sit in the unstructured time and assess the needs and opportunities that were presented to me.”

A typical day for Loisel starts with an early breakfast with her husband. She explained: “We’ve kept that ritual most days and it’s a great way to start the day. In the first 6 months, there was a lot of activity in downsizing and settling into a new location. Now that the settling phase is over, the days are mixed with outdoor exercise, walking on the beach, home projects and time to pause. When friends need help or a volunteer opportunity comes along, it’s easy to act because the time is available.

Prior to retirement I was a Course Leader for a Columbia Business School course delivered by Emeritus. This is an online course with executive students from around the world with 3-4 runs per year. It’s a very reasonable time commitment and is very satisfying so I’ve continued to play that role.

I no longer feel compelled to be productive in the traditional way. My productivity may be taking time to think about things, read, research, or get into a topic that I never had time for previously. In an unstructured way, I’m doing things that I always wanted to but didn’t have the time to do.

The Challenges

When asked about the challenges that retirement poses, Loisel indicates that she “sometimes feel a little off balance with the lack of structure. My initial reaction was to structure the time, but I caught myself before the days got full. I’ve given myself permission to chill. Moving to a new place away from old friends (she moved from the north to the south) also created a challenge but technology and commitment to maintaining those relationships, in addition to finding new ones, has been helpful.”

The Suprise

Curious about what surprised Loisel in her transition to retirement, she explained that it is the “slow down”. “I really like the slow down. It was a conceptual idea in the years before retirement. The reality is very pleasant without feeling like I’m missing out or not fulfilling my purpose. I sleep a lot better. I also now live closer to family and have been able to spend more time with them. Our new home is in an area where the arts thrive so I’m investing in new experiences and art classes. My brain feels like it’s activated in completely new ways.”

Advice to Others

Loisel indicates that there are two key considerations. “One is creating a reasonable financial model so you can feel secure. Mine was possible with downsizing and planning. There are great tools available to help you estimate your lifetime expenses and income needs. (www.fidelity.com and www.vanguard.com ). The second is knowing yourself and making a conscious decision about who you want to be in the next stage. Retirement is an opportunity to create a new combination of fulfillment.”

Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler

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