Three Paths

Dan McDermott

I’M A BIG BELIEVER in retiring gradually, rather than declaring you’re done on a single retirement day. This lessens the change to your routine and your identity. One of the main appeals of a phased approach to retirement is that you can craft it to meet your needs. You may want to shift from fulltime work to part-time consulting, or perhaps lend your talents to a nonprofit or a startup.

To do that, you’ll need to figure out what you want, find the best fit for your interests and intended level of time commitment, craft a message about what you’re looking for—and then share that message with people who can help bring it to life.

You don’t need the perfect plan from the get-go, and you don’t have to spell out every area of interest you might want to explore. Instead, you need a few key ideas that you can share with others and then refine them over time.

People are typically willing to help you if they can, but they aren’t going to figure it out or do the planning for you. You have to make your plan concrete and make it easier for others to assist you.

My suggestion: Tell your connections that you’re considering three different but related paths. Using the “three paths” approach is an effective way to shape and share your interests, and get additional perspective.

For example, if you’re a seasoned professional trying to figure out what your phased retirement might look like, you could share the following during a networking discussion or casual coffee appointment: “I’m considering three paths for my next chapter. I’m interested in a senior marketing role with a progressive company, either as an interim leader or consultant. I would also entertain joining a smaller firm or startup where I could really help make a difference from a marketing perspective. Finally, the third path would be to lead the marketing function for a nonprofit and then coach others there on marketing capabilities.”

Of course, you can change “marketing” to your area of specialty, and adapt the substance of the three paths to suit your experience and interests. The key: This approach should help you refine your message and your thinking. It allows you to focus on your desires, while also leaving open a variety of ways to realize them. Not only does this help you clarify your thoughts, but also it provides distinct ways for people to assist you:

  • They can help by providing their perspective through the questions they ask and the experiences they share. Each time you meet with someone, you get a chance to test and refine your message.
  • They can help by connecting you with others. In the scenario above, your contact may not know of any companies looking for an interim marketing leader, but he or she may be able to connect you with a leader at a startup.

The three-paths approach gives your connections three different ways to connect with your plan and to potentially help. You don’t have to tell anyone it’s your “phased retirement plan.” But you’ll know it is.

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