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The Question:

I'm approaching so-called retirement age but feeling nothing like a 'retiree.' That said, I recognize I have to plan for a transition of some kind. I'm a senior-level executive with a great career track record. I feel I have a lot left in the tank to give but not sure I want to work full time either – nor at the same kind of work. Luckily, my finances are in pretty good shape so for me it's more about figuring out a future that will be fulfilling. I'm not even sure how career will or will not fit into this. I have other things in life that I'd like to pursue, too. As you can see I have a lot of decisions to make and I'm not sure how to begin to approach this – any thoughts?

The Answer:

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Welcome to the new paradigm of retirement. Like you, boomers are redefining this life stage. Whereas past generations defined retirement as the time to stop work, boomers are making different choices. Some continue to work because they have to financially, others because they want to for fulfilment – and some forego work all together as they pursue other life passions. Retirement these days is going to be like thumb prints. Each one is unique to the individual.

This life stage can actually be 20-30 years in duration – the longest of all life stages. Like any journey, having a focus and a road map is helpful. While you may not need to have all the answers from the get-go, it's important that you make choices that will engage and inspire you.

Sometimes people contemplate only the negative aspects of work as they get ready to retire – such as no more commuting in traffic, office politics, stress, and so on. Often overlooked are the benefits associated with working beyond the financial. Work brings us opportunities for social connection, learning, accomplishment, structure to our days/weeks, self identity (status for some), engagement and more. It's important to plan for how you will replace these things as you make your transition because to some degree we need all these things in all stages of life to thrive.

Careers in retirement can continue to provide these benefits but there are other life dimensions that can also take on a more salient role now that you have more choice in how you invest your time.

Rather than making any decisions about your career in isolation, I'd encourage you to consider career within the context all of life dimensions such: leisure, health, family, social, community, learning, self growth, spiritual – and others. Try this exercise: Draw a circle and create a slice for each dimension that is important to you, including career. Rate each for the importance they have in contributing to your life fulfilment. Then consider how much time you want to give each in the next stage of life. This exercise may illuminate some ideas for you. For instance, do you notice any areas that you would like to spend more time with? Brainstorm possibilities for those 'slices.'

The insights you get from this overall life perspective can help you determine how much time you want to devote to work and in what shape and form. There are many ways to work and to contribute and be engaged. For instance, one can pursue full-time, traditional work as per your current situation. Or work part-time, do unpaid volunteer work or join boards. Consulting is an option for individuals with particular expertise and for some keeners, starting a business.

Interim leadership roles are another avenue to consider for some senior-level executives. If this is of interest, talk to recruitment firms that specialize in this area. The contracts tend to be for senior-level executives and are full time for about a year or less.

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There are lots of options to explore. Change doesn't necessarily have to be a hard stop and a hard start. Consider transition strategies and test drives. Ask yourself how you can find out more about the paths that interest you and if there might be way to put your 'toe in the water' to test out a particular direction. Of course, in any life stage career changes take a lot of effort, focus and tenacity – so be prepared for all of that. Even with your experience, you may have to work hard to create your next opportunity.

Ultimately, each person needs to navigate their career and life planning choices by starting with a foundation of self awareness. What are the key benefits you seek in your work life? What are your goals, values and aspirations? What are your non-negotiable wants and needs for the next stage of your work and life? Your answers to these and other questions can help serve as a compass for your decisions and planning. While some people will get to their answers more quickly, others can benefit from coaching to help explore these questions.

Whatever your process in planning, I wish you success and a meaningful next stage of work and life.

Eileen Chadnick is a career coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.

Have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it to our panel of experts: careerquestion@globeandmail.com Your name and address will be kept confidential.

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