Include Passion and Vision in Your Retirement Plan

Include Passion February 3, 2020 By: Leigh Wintz, FASAE, CAE

What will your life look like when you leave the working world? Each person’s retirement is unique, and there’s no “right” way to do it. This (sort of) retired association executive shares her story and a few tips for planning your life after work.

I’m failing retirement. And I’m OK with that.

Many of us spend a great deal of time in financial planning for retirement. Fewer spend time envisioning what our lives will look like when we are retired. Eventually, as we approach—and even pass—the traditional retirement age, it can be difficult to know when it’s time to leave a fulfilling career behind.

That was certainly true for me as I neared the end of a long career in association management, as both a CEO and a consultant. By age 64, I had reached my retirement financial target. By 65, I was weary of a to-do list and calendar driven by other’s needs and schedules. My volunteer activities felt like an extension of work, so I got off all the boards I was on. I wanted more time to travel with my new husband and ride my horse. I talked about retiring, but I wasn’t ready yet.

To celebrate his retirement and encourage my own, my husband booked a five-month around- the-world cruise. What a great way to clear your calendar! My colleagues in our consulting practice treated the cruise as a sabbatical. We made no announcement that I had retired. I wasn’t ready yet.

Time for Reflection

On the cruise, I had time for reflection about what I wanted my life to look like when we got home, both of us retired. I’d had two bouts with cancer and was facing major surgery for repair of a longstanding heart issue. At 67, I had already lived longer than my parents or grandparents and had no vision of what retirement looked like.

Life onboard the ship was idyllic. We toyed with the idea of becoming the old couple who just keeps cruising rather than settle into a retirement home, but that was not a sustainable financial option. We missed family, friends, and the horses (two by this time). Thinking I was finally ready, I emailed my consulting colleagues and told them, “I have lost my will to work somewhere in the South China Sea.”

When we got home, our days were filled with family, friends, and the horses. I got rid of most of my work clothes, spent more time exercising, and discovered the value of sleeping more than six hours a night. I started collecting Social Security to relieve my anxiety about having given up my income. When asked about my occupation, I checked “retired,” even though I had found the time for one client.

Follow your passions. If you love your vocation, think about how you might redesign your role in the work community.

Then I had the planned open-heart surgery, followed by a second one due to a complication. Within three months after that second surgery, I bought a new horse trailer, celebrated turning 68 with a trail ride, and spent two weeks on a river cruise in Europe. I was able to return to the retired life I had imagined. That vision was literally what I was living for.

But it turned out I wasn’t ready yet. Working with clients, especially facilitating a group, gives me a sense of fulfillment like nothing else does. It feels good to share my expertise and knowledge in the association community where I have learned so much, gained real friends, and shared unique experiences.

So I'm back in the saddle again, figuratively in this case, working with familiar clients on projects that I care about and that accommodate travel and horse events. I choose my work commitments carefully to maintain the right balance in my life.

A Few Tips

When to retire is a personal, individual decision, but one that affects your entire family. It takes thought and planning to figure out what will work for you. My tips:

  • Make your retirement plan more than a financial one. Create a real vision and share it with family and close friends.
  • Think about the hobbies or activities you love that you don’t get to do often enough. Those are likely the things that you will do more of when you have the time.
  • Follow your passions. If you love your vocation, think about how you might redesign your role in the work community.
  • Cultivate friendships that go beyond work relationships or geographic proximity. You will need a strong support system to help you through the inevitable challenges that will occur.
  • Be flexible. Health or family matters can drastically alter your plan, but those unexpected changes don’t necessarily mean you have to abandon the activities that give your life meaning.
  • Don’t wait. You know that life is too short. Live that way.

For me, retirement is a journey, not a destination. I’m not ready yet.

Leigh Wintz, FASAE, CAE

Leigh Wintz, FASAE, CAE, is principal consultant emeritus with Tecker International, LLC, and was an association CEO for 25 years.