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What next after retirement – 7-step process to fill a blank sheet

30 January 2020 By Victoria Tomlinson

What next?  Is that a question worrying you about ‘retirement’?

You are excited about freedom, new horizons, time to travel and for family – and walking, cycling or whatever. But you have skills.  You want to be useful and use those skills.  But doing what?

If you are not sure, you are not alone. In many ways, people leaving corporate life these days have too many options! They are fit, healthy (relatively), have amazing networks.  They can travel or work from home. They have skills that are helpful to so many people – but who?  What and how would they be useful? 

A large number talk about going the non-exec route – but as one former professional partner said, “This is more because there is a defined role and recruitment process and you know where to start.  Not because I have a dying urge to be a non-executive director.”  Oh – and it’s also because, “My peers expect it”.  This last comment initially puzzled me – who cares?  As they said, “I shouldn’t care, but I do.”  I guess when you have worked for a firm for 30 years, you are institutionalised and your peers are almost family.  For a time.

So what else can you do?  Here is a process to get you going.

  1. What do you want?

First of all be clear what you want.  How many days a week, in blocks of time or a commitment every week?  Do you need to earn money?

If you really need to earn money, you have to start with that. However, what I generally see is that people would like to earn something – say, to pay for great holidays without dipping into their pensionbut they don’t need to earn.  If that is the case, then offering to help others for free initially can get you into new networks, help you find out what help is needed, give you ideas to repackage yourself and it may lead to something paid eventually.  Generally, this won’t be anything like your previous ‘day rate’, but it can be enough for those holidays.

  1. What interests you?

In the process below, we are trying to help you find things that spark your interest, light your fire, make you feel enthusiastic. 

Leaving corporate life is a time to live life on your terms so this is about finding things that make you want to get out of bed in the morning.  Listen to your heart and your head.

I used to suggest people start with their passions. I am learning that the word ‘passion’ is difficult for professional types!  One told me later that the question made them feel inadequate because they didn’t have any passions. What was weird was I got them to give a talk to their peers coming up to retirement – and they put up a slide showing what they had done in the last six months.

There were images of a cycle ride across Scotland, kayaking and camping.  I looked at it in shock. There in front of me was a clear passion – the outdoors and being active.  But they couldn’t see this for themselves.  My lesson was that I need to ask this question in a different way in future!

cycling

So have a look at this list and see what sparks a tiny flicker of interest in you – something that you would be interested in discussing, researching and learning more about.  I’ll show you below what to do with it.  For now just ask yourself, “Do I care?”

  • Your old school or a local school
  • Your university or a university that you have links with (or college or similar)
  • Your professional or trade body
  • Your company/firm – helping them tackle some of the challenges that you never had time for. Perhaps helping women to get into leadership positions; achieving climate change targets; engaging with your local community
  • A charity you have always supported – or want to support
  • A sport that you follow – or a club
  • A hobby/passion (!) – gardening, baking, cycling, wines, vintage cars, making lampshades or beer
  • A group of people you have always felt had a rough ride in life or that the system isn’t fair to them – homeless people, children in care, refugees, single mums or dads, ex-offenders
  • Your local community – is there a campaign you want to support, a particular need that is overlooked, a local sports club or kids’ club
  • Local (or national) arts and culture groups/organisations

Can you find three or four that you could start with?  Write these down and then let’s take them further 

  1. What issues do they have – and could you help them?

Your next step is to get out and start meeting people for coffees and find out more about the things that triggered a response in you.

This is about asking questions, listening and thinking, “Could I help?  Do I want to?”

  1. Finding people to meet

Most of the people we work with are very well networked in their professional careers, but often limited in the wider world. However, you may be surprised at what your network is involved with, when you start researching!

How can you do that?  LinkedIn of course

Let’s suppose you live in St Albans and are interested in the theatre.  I just typed into Google, ‘St Albans theatre’ and it has come up with Maltings Arts Theatre, ‘140-seat auditorium with a programme of drama, music, comedy and youth performances, plus workshops’.

Type in the theatre name in your LinkedIn and see what connections you have.  I have just done this and even though I live nowhere near this and am not connected to the theatre particularly, I have four contacts – one of them is a trustee of a museum that I know well, let’s call him John.  So I would start with John and send a LinkedIn message, ‘Could you spare five minutes – I see you know x and wondered if you could introduce me?  Looking to see how I can use my skills after retirement next year and would love to help a local theatre.’

Depending on your relationship and how active they are on LinkedIn, you should get a response?  But don’t despair if not – many people aren’t good networkers.  Just try a few other routes till you get there.

Even if you don’t have immediate success, you are also starting to tell your network that you want to be active after retirement – and often this can trigger other useful conversations.

I recently heard someone say, “After retirement, opportunities and roles are likely to come from the fringe of your network – not your immediate contacts. So you need to connect with more people on the fringe and make sure they know you and what you are interested in.”

  1. The conversations

One of the things people seem to hate most about leaving their firm or company, is that they will have to ‘sell themselves’. Yet the most effective selling is not to talk about yourself, but be interested in other people and get them to do the talking.  You only need to listen and chuck in a question now and then!

So in these coffees, you want to

  • Build a relationship with them, with a few minutes general chat initially
  • Find a point of common ground with them if you can (do initial online research to find these)
  • Explain very briefly that you will be leaving xyz shortly and want to get more involved in your community – you’d like to understand how you could be of help. You might give a couple of seconds on your skills but probably not, better to listen and then think what you could help with
  • Then move into, ‘I would love to understand the challenges you have and discuss how I could best help you – if at all!’
  • Make notes and find/explore say three issues that come out – check this back with them and then choose one that most interests/sparks you.  And say something like, ‘Would it be useful if I spend an hour or two with x’ or mentored or gave a talk on something or helped fundraise or whatever is a good starting point
  • Write up your notes in a table with these headings – just pointers to remind you. Putting in email and phone is useful to give you a quick database reference, so you can follow up easily

20 conv

I would set yourself a target – say, to have 20 conversations within two months.  If you could do 50 that would be great. You don’t have to meet everyone in person – it can be by phone/Skype/Zoom calls.

  1. Create a plan

When you have reached your target, sit back and think about the themes.  What is making you excited, is there one thing you really want to know more about or get involved in?  Or maybe two.

Pick up on these and start making something happen – volunteer your time and see where it takes you.

Stay in touch with all the rest, thank them for their time, maybe help one or two others.

  1. Start focusing

A few months on from this, have another reflection.  Maybe find someone to talk things through.

Ask yourself

  • Are any of these things really ‘getting me out of bed’? Do you want to do more or less of any of them?
  • Is there a theme coming through, with what people need and how you are helping?
  • Could you develop this into becoming an adviser around this – voluntary or paid? Is there a business here? Do you just want to do more of this as a volunteer?

If you find a theme coming through, now might be the time to ‘rebrand’ yourself to become the expert in this field.  Maybe become a thought leader, go on boards or more.

Look out for future blogs on what this all means and how you might do it!

Hopefully you will now have the first steps towards filling that blank sheet.  It may take months or a year or two till you feel you know what and where you want to go. But that is the joy of having options and no-one else to please?!

Good luck – and please do share stories of how you have done.  We would love to feature you on our Peer Stories – if you would like!

Hear what Keith Madeley says about how 'Listening to people and finding out what their problems are, is a great way to expand networks and get known for your expertise.' click here

Victoria Tomlinson

Written by Victoria Tomlinson

Victoria Tomlinson is chief executive and founder of Next-Up. Next-Up supports employers with a range of services for directors, partners and employees to help them understand the impact of retirement on mental health and create a plan to use their skills and experience in new ways to ensure wellbeing. A key part of our role is to inspire people with ideas and contacts, beyond traditional expectations. A former director of EY, she is an international speaker on unretirement, personal branding and using LinkedIn strategically as well as on leadership and women on boards. She mentors chief executives and directors, start-up businesses and ex-offenders. Victoria is Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University and chaired an advisory board for University of Leeds.

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