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Reinventing Myself

Mike Drak

WHEN I WAS FORCED out of my banking job of 36 years, I was age 59 and had enough money to retire comfortably. But I still felt the need to work—because that’s how I’m wired. Working gives me a sense of purpose and makes me happy, but it has to be the right kind of work.

I need work that’s fulfilling and which allows me to help others. I knew myself well enough to realize that, if I failed to find something meaningful to work toward, I was going to be in trouble. Sure enough, after I lost my job, I ended up stuck in retirement hell.

Figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life takes time and self-exploration. For months, I searched for my new “why”—until one day I had one of those “aha” moments and knew what my new mission would be.

I was bothered by the lack of guidance on non-financial retirement issues. I didn’t want people to struggle and go through what I went through. I felt obligated to write a book to warn others, and to share my knowledge and experiences, so future retirees could avoid the retirement shock I suffered.

In my enthusiasm, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. I had to learn a bunch of new skills, which took me way out of my comfort zone. I had never written a book before. I didn’t know how to get a book published. I didn’t know how to create and manage a website. I didn’t know how to blog or tweet. I didn’t know how to promote a book using social media.

Writing a book, and then building a business around it, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There was so much I didn’t know. Figuring out everything on my own was both hard and lonely. It was stressful and I was forced to make decisions on the fly. I can’t tell you the number of times I just wanted to call it quit.

It would have been easier to do this today. Colleges and universities now offer “transition assistance” programs aimed at helping retirees find new meaning and purpose by starting their own business or organization. Working with a group of like-minded people, all chasing after the same thing, is extremely motivating. It allows you to feed off the group’s enthusiasm and creativity. It facilitates the sharing of ideas and experiences.

These programs can help you discover your new source of purpose. Instead of having to learn everything on your own, like I did, there are courses on how to use new technologies like Zoom and Google docs, how to build a website, and how to market your product or service on social media.

Harvard University has a full-year course, the “Advanced Leadership Initiative,” that’s aimed at “experienced leaders” who want to contribute to society and help others in need. At the end of the course, participants present their action plan for addressing a specific societal problem. That plan might focus on saving the environment, or teaching kids about financial independence, or helping to build schools in African villages. What I like about the Harvard program is that it serves as a way to tap into all the human capital that’s sitting retired on the sidelines and using it to help create a better world.

The downside of the Harvard program is its high cost. But we’re seeing a lot of other schools wake up to the potential here and offer their own more affordable version of the Harvard program. I’m excited about these new courses because they make the transition to paid or volunteer work so much easier. Sure, they cost money. But the payoff—finding a new purpose, doing stuff you love and being able to do it for as long as you want—is immeasurable.

Mike Drak is a 38-year veteran of the financial services industry. He’s the co-author of Longevity Lifestyle by Design, Retirement Heaven or Hell and Victory Lap Retirement. Mike works with his wife, an investment advisor, to help clients design a fulfilling retirement. For more on Mike, head to BoomingEncore.com. Check out his earlier articles.

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