“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” -author unknown
I have a new take to share on retirement.
Search online about retirement and much advice will pop up. You’ll find advice about celebration, financial planning, hobbies, exercise, courses, bucket lists, disenchantment, and more.
In 2015, Ken Blanchard co-authored the book, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. I agree that many people need to go beyond golf and playing cards at the club. They need to “refire.”
I’ve failed at retirement several times, but I finally got it right. Perhaps my experience will be of use to some of you? To “refire” well, we first have to “reawaken” to some latent longings deep inside.
Phase One of Rethinking Retirement: Firing Up
I spent 30 years in business moving from challenge to challenge to learn the crucial elements of better leadership. Over that period, I made many mistakes and learned lessons from wonderful colleagues.
I discovered servant leadership and put it into practice. Over time, I led five different businesses, from a startup to the ethical turnarounds of two public companies. We unleashed leaders throughout our organizations and built vibrant cultures. I was proud of my accomplishments and felt my career was my contribution to my purpose:
My purpose: To help make the world a better place.
Let’s call this phase one of my professional career, firing up for a worthy career in business.
The turnaround work was extremely draining, so I retired at 57. We built our dream house in the Vail Valley of Colorado. (My dear wife, June, did most of the supervision on that project.) At the time, I just wanted to relax, ski, golf, and road-trip on a motorcycle.
I did all that and soon got bored. What I realized was this: I still had more to give.
Phase Two of Rethinking Retirement: Refiring
A friend, Dan Sweeney, was teaching at the University of Denver and founded the Institute for Enterprise Ethics. He invited me to be a guest lecturer and to speak about leadership at his Institute. I loved it, because I was sharing what I had learned the hard way over the years. Later, I got certified by Harvard’s Kennedy School and the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society to teach leadership. I taught adults at Colorado Mountain College.
Then I got deeply involved with another good friend and colleague, John Horan Kates, at the Vail Leadership Institute (a precursor organization to the Vail Alliance for Purposeful Living). I was a VLI speaker, board member, and then board chair. Over time, I helped many leaders find better ways to lead.
My son, Gregg, invited me to collaborate on a leadership book. We interviewed senior executives at scores of organizations in 11 countries that were achieving remarkable results over time with integrity. We researched organizations that were the most admired, most ethical, most sustainable, and more. And we developed our own performance metrics and looked at how companies fared over time.
The result was our book, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations. Our book led us to the speaking circuit and leadership workshops to share what we had learned.
I realized my 30-year business career was not what I was meant to do with my one-and-only life. It was the education I needed to share what I had learned.
Let’s call this phase two of my professional career, “refiring.” I spent 20+ years teaching, speaking, and writing about leadership, helping people become better leaders. I felt this was my true calling.
Then, after 17 years in the Vail Valley, June and I moved to Golden, Colorado to be near our families. I was ready to “retire” again.
Phase Three of Rethinking Retirement: Reawakening
I soon realized I still longed to give more. Thus, began phase three, “reawakening and refiring” to give away whatever gifts I have. I felt the need to go beyond being a servant leader, to simply serving others.
Reawakening to something calling out from within is the vital lesson I wish to share.
After much reflection, reading, and dialogue with family and close friends, here’s what I chose to focus on in this third phase.
To serve others, I must start from within. I’m getting better at self-care. Several years ago, I became a vegetarian and then a vegan for health reasons. I strive to get eight hours of sleep a night. Six years ago, I gave up all alcohol and tobacco. Even with aches and pains, I try to exercise five days a week.
To keep sharp mentally, I listed over 130 of the “great books” that I wanted to read or re-read. So far, I’ve read over 120 of these, as well of scores of other books not yet classified on the “great” lists. I read every day and often outline the books to internalize them and share their wisdom with others.
I learned over the years that business, leadership, and life are all about relationships. So I’m practicing being a better person, trying to be kinder, gentler, and more present for others.
Business, leadership, and life are all about relationships.
I’m working on my weaknesses. I realized through the Leadership Derailers Assessment that, while much of my phase-one business career did help others, I was hungry for the accolades. I don’t want the spotlight anymore. When teaching in phase two, I found my best connections were with people when I spoke from the humility of my mistakes and prayed before each engagement that this work was for them, not for me to shine as a “sage on the stage.”
I’m trying to become a better husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend. I’m deepening my relationships with close friends. We’re all finding deeper meaning together.
I love to write. It’s hard when I start a topic, but as I work at it, the subject comes alive and my thoughts and experiences evolve and crystallize to, hopefully, serve others. My writing is sharing, and I feel content.
Gregg and I have been writing many articles for our Triple Crown Leadership blog. Gregg also gifted me Storyworth, a story collection service. I’ve been writing a story a week about my life experiences, good and bad. By next year, we’ll have 50-60 stories to preserve in a book for family and friends.
Inspired by our family friend, Pastor David Gray, and his book, The Five Letters Every Christian Should Write, I’ve written letters to my parents, God, June, the next generation, and myself. I’ve also written another letter to my dear sister. After giving a eulogy for my friend, Dan Sweeney, who died before I could tell him how much he meant to me, I’m planning to write more letters to those who have touched my heart over the years.
Returning to God
Most importantly to me, I’m deepening my covenant with God. June and I were raised as Catholics but drifted away from religion as our busy lives unfolded. I have felt a hole in my heart and want to refill it with God.
Recently, I read or reread scores of books on spirituality, God, and Christianity. I was immensely impacted by C. S. Lewis’s seminal work, Mere Christianity. A dear friend, Bo Miller, gave it to me years ago, but I never really absorbed it. Rereading it now, slowly, has been transformative.
Other books that have deepened my faith are The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren; The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller; and Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison.
June and I joined a wonderful, welcoming church. I repent for my transgressions and accept God’s forgiveness, love, and grace with humility. And I pray daily. I attend Bible study classes weekly to understand its messages and mysteries. Also, I volunteer to serve meals to the homeless. I’m in training, even at my age, to become a Christian caregiver to people in need.
I’m slowly and steadily returning to a relationship with God. I’ve redefined my purpose to be:
Love God, serve others.
Rethinking Retirement: Summary
I have retired, refired, and finally reawakened to the deep longings stirring in my soul. While you must decide for yourself based on your circumstances, my humble suggestion is:
Don’t retire, reawaken and refire.
I’m at the best time of my one-and-only life. I hope you can get there too.
Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, trainers, and award-winning authors. They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards, and called “the best book on leadership since Good to Great.” Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or sign up for their newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!