by pamela welling

This week I have been reading Geoff Colvin’s “Talent is Overrated”, one of the books that inspired Malcolm Gladwell to write his best seller about success, ability and circumstance “Outliers”.  Both authors make arguments very relevant to the leadership development space as they deconstruct the idea of talent as an innately occurring set of traits exclusive to each individual. Both Colvin and Gladwell point to research studies that suggest our talents can be nurtured and developed through a process called deliberate practice. I particularly like Colvin’s book as he notes that it is deliberate practice and not just innate ability that leads to success in our chosen field.

It seems to me that Colvin’s work is capturing the cusp of a watershed moment that’s occurring in some American organizations. Millennials know that they should not expect a job for life, they also know that the opportunity for them to have access to a corporate sponsored pension when they retire is retreating, but high potential millenials still retain the expectation, like gen X before them, that their hiring organization will be proactive in identifying development needs at each step in their career progression. It seems to me that alongside the diminished pension schemes and expectation that you’ll stay with a firm to life, organizations are looking to employees to drive their own professional development through internal and external experiences.

This expectation was brought to life for me recently during a conversation with a millennial running buddy of mine; as he reflected back on his first post college role with a renowned Financial Services firm he was shocked to realize that the firm had not created a bespoke training plan to meet his development needs. He was even more surprised when I pointed out that good career management encompasses more than just executing successful transitions between roles, it also means managing your development and progression once you land.

As Colvin notes, talent development is complex for both employees and internal L & D practitioners. General Electric, Morgan Stanly, McKinsey and AMEX are among the firms that have developed inter- organizational ‘Universities’ to help retain and train those on the High Potential track, but most firms do not have the funding or the high level internal sponsorship needed to set funds aside for such endeavors.

For high potential millennials (and any professional) keen to continue their development despite limited access to formal channels like those offered in the firms mentioned above, I’d recommend Colvin’s book. In it he prescribes a plan for developing expertise through the application of deliberate practice; he uses examples from industry and history including Ben Franklin to help illustrate his highly applicable suggested techniques.

As we move into a new post crisis employment era I think this process will be just as important as managing our career transitions and pension plans. So be on the look out for part 2 in a few weeks when I plan to share how you can move forward.

by carolyn mathews

The one aspect of positive psychology centers on the flourishing of people, organizations, and communities. Flourishing has several meanings, including to thrive, to prosper, and to be in a period of highest productivity. Yet many of us do not. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The How of Happiness, most of us aren’t flourishing. Lyubomirsky states, “Nationally representative samples of U.S. adults indicate that slightly more than half of us (54%) are ‘moderately mentally healthy yet not flourishing – that is, we lack great enthusiasm for life and are not actively and productively engaged with the world.’” In other words, too many of us languish – at work, at home, in life.

When we review the definition of flourishing and think about its advantages in the workplace, who wouldn’t want to flourish? We spend so many hours either traveling to and from work or being at work, it makes sense to make the most of that time. To help you find your passion, move from “all right” to “yeah, it’s Monday again!” and ultimately flourish, we offer three steps:

  1. Explore and identify your values
  2. Identify and develop your strengths
  3. Explore the “fit” of your work with who you are at this stage of life

Values: Each of these suggestions is important in and of itself, but the real power comes from how they link, like words in a crossword puzzle. Positive psychology has long considered the link between values and strengths. In fact, researchers Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, along with their colleagues, created the Values In Action (VIA) assessment. Their research defined six values that are acknowledged across cultures: Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Love and Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Spirituality and Transcendence. Further, they identified 24 strengths that exemplify these virtues. You can learn more about values and personal strengths by going to

Strengths: Once you have identified your top five strengths (your signature strengths), think of ways you use them at work. Strengths are different than skills. Strengths are intrinsic to you, whereas skills can be learned. For example, you may be highly skilled at working miracles on spreadsheets. This skill may be related to one of your strengths (Love of learning), which in turn reflects the value of Knowledge and Wisdom. You can also find ways to strengthen your strengths. If you have the strength of leadership, but feel it is underused in your work, think of what you can do to further develop it.

Fit: Take time to think about your job description, how you spend your work days, and your stage of life. Is it a good fit? You can’t really change your stage of life, and you may not be able to make drastic changes to your job description, but you can alter how you go through your day. Sometimes, simply raising your awareness that much of what you do already is the result of using your strengths may increase your enthusiasm for what you do. It may be that later in life you place a higher premium on the strength of gratitude than you did 10 or 15 years ago. How can you work differently in a way that reflects this to make your work the best possible fit?

Using these tips can help you tip the balance from languishing to flourishing – in work and beyond – to help you live your life “north of neutral.”

the importance of being wrong

December 20, 2010

by pamela welling

‘If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original’. Sir Ken Robinson

Recently I was re- watching Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks on learning and creativity- I’ll click onto these funny, insightful clips when I need a break from my desktop. I’d recommend the clips if you have not seen them; just as you get comfortable with Sir Ken’s laid back humorous tone he’ll change tack and make a point that will challenge your thought process and leave you feeling provoked. He discusses family, education and creativity.

The talks resonate deeply with me as I think about an idea integral to Positive Psychology and the North of Neutral philosophy; the concept of authentic self. It’s a topic that’s been central to many of the conversations I’ve had and the reading I’ve been doing recently around professional satisfaction and effective leadership.

Sir Ken focuses mainly on the education sector in his research; he champions the importance of arts, music and dance programs in schools as a way to help young people explore the passions that could lead to future career success and happiness. He suggests that a more comprehensive educational experience could help us get clearer understanding of our authentic selves not just at home, but in the workplace too.

It’s a fascinating idea to me and as I look at the work of management theorists like John Kotter and Daniel Goleman, I see that the research exists to encourage us to bring our authentic selves to work: We’re aware of the benefits of this in our management style and understand it as a concept. We’ve got tests that help us identify our biases, articles by experts with case studies that help us create a map to implementation, so why don’t we do it? As I think about this question I reflect back on the quote from Sir Ken about the importance of failure. If we truly bring everything we have to the workplace, then we are at risk of showing our flaws to colleagues, reports and clients. It means we need to be prepared to be wrong, to make mistakes and allow others to call us out.

And that seems to be the hardest thing to do at work. Harvard researchers Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey have identified that deeply held and sometimes unconscious fears about exposing self perceived flaws can impede our ability to perform and lead. As a coach, I’ve worked with many clients who’ve held the same set of concerns and have questioned if managers will truly tolerate imperfection. In my experience, I’ve found that employers at every level are willing to discuss mistakes, in fact, we’ve all been to job interviews armed with responses to the “Tell me about a time you’ve failed” style question. I’ve found that the candidates who’ve been honest about the times they’ve been wrong and who’ve been able to articulate the reasons for their perceived lack of success have been the most compelling; they’ve demonstrated the ability to learn, grow and drive change. It seems that if you are willing to embrace the fear, identify the mistake and reflect on the actions, assumptions and emotional responses that led you to it, you will be able to bring your authentic self to work. You’ll likely be happier and as Sir Ken suggests you’ll to bring the thing to your workplace that employers want most: Originality and innovation.

the age of age irrelevance?

November 28, 2010

by carolyn mathews

It seems that almost everywhere I look in the media right now, the issue of retirement is prominent. There are the strikes in France, reportedly about the government needing to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Then there was the study mentioned in the media regarding how memory decline and early retirement go hand-in-hand. (This study was disputed by many other researchers.) Then there was the New York Times article titled, The Financial Time Bomb of Longer Lives. The author, Natasha Singer, interviews various government and financial experts regarding the topic of how (Western) countries can best cope financially with the growing older population. For sure, we’re walking the proverbial tightrope.

But when I write about retirement, it is generally about the psycho-social aspect of this transition stage, not the financial aspect. Singer’s article broached this side of the retirement discussion. She included comments from experts who mention that governments and industry will have to work together to create employment opportunities for people in their 60s and 70s. Of course, raising the retirement age keeps people working into their 60s and beyond. For example, next year Britain will eliminate its default retirement age of 65. Workers in the United States born 1960 or later will have to wait until they are 67 before they can collect full government retirement benefits.

Laura L. Cartensen, a psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, takes another view. She suggests that instead of raising the retirement age, both industry and governments could offer incentives that motivate older worker to remain in the workforce, (including bonuses for those choosing to continue work until they are 70 years of age), more flexible work schedules, options to telecommute, and time away from work for education and training. These suggestions make sense in terms of the national financial outlook. The longer older people work, the longer they pay into the Social Security system. The longer they pay into Social Security, the healthier the system remains despite the apparent dearth of younger employees available to pay into the system.

Such suggestions also seem agreeable to those who want/need to continue working past the age of Social Security benefits and those organizations that need those employees to remain. However, they raise more questions. For example, how do organizations release the non-performers who want to keep working and retain the performers who think about retiring? What is the effect on the talent pipeline, with the high-potential employees waiting for their chance to show they can lead? There is no easy answer. For each organization and each employee, there is a fine balance in the decision-making process involving productivity, economics, health, societal pressures, and more.

At the end of Singer’s article was a little gem, attributed to Lady Greengross in Britain, caught my eye. She said, “In the long run, I’d like to see age irrelevance, where people aren’t just labeled by their birthdays.” Perhaps one day…


by carolyn mathews

You may be a “high potential,” enthused about your career and working long hours to achieve success. Or, perhaps you are a seasoned leader, who dedicates most of your time to ensuring deadlines are met and the organization continues to move forward. As busy and dedicated professionals, who also may have a family, friends, and community outside of work, you likely strive to find work/life balance. Some organizations provide “family friendly” policies to help. You may seek out information on your own through seminars or books to find ways to balance your work life and the rest of your life. In fact, if you go to, select the books category, and put in the key words “work life balance” you will get more than 450 results. As professionals with demanding positions, 60-hour (plus) work weeks, and even long careers, this topic is near and dear to many of you!

While I acknowledge it is a commonly referred to phrase, I am not fond of “work/life balance.” The phrase suggests the two are separate entities and ignores the fact that, for most of us, work is part of life and life is part of work. It’s a concept that baffles me, like having health insurance that does not cover eyes or teeth, each of which is usually part of the body. But I digress…

Returning to the topic of work/life balance, I searched for information and found a research article that suggests why it makes sense to lead a “balanced life.” First, though, it is important to define balance and imbalance. According to the authors, an imbalanced life occurs when one experiences satisfaction and/or fulfillment in one area of life that leads to negative feelings in other areas of life. A balanced life, however, happens when one experiences satisfaction and/or fulfillment stemming from many life domains and does not experience negative feelings about the other life areas. Like the English proverb states, you should avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. In their model, the authors do not divide domain areas into work and life, but rather into survival needs (biological, safety, economic) and growth needs (social, knowledge, aesthetics, esteem). Therefore, a balanced life (and greater well-being) occurs when we experience satisfaction from several areas within these domains, while not experiencing negative feelings about the others.

This is not to suggest all domains should receive equal billing; rather it suggests that the person find the right balance between all of these areas in order to experience well-being. By focusing on only one life domain, to the detriment of all others, you run risks. Imagine your life domains as an investment portfolio. We are advised to create financial portfolios that range from stocks to bonds, with various options in between. The basic concept is to not invest all of your wealth in one stock. This portfolio approach spreads the risk, but does not require that each area receive equal percentages of your investment. The same is true for the various domains of our lives. If someone invests all of their time and happiness in their work, while ignoring friends, family, health, etc., that person is left with few resources, and possible lack of support, if their career ends unexpectedly.

To find out more about the balance in your life, try the Happiness Pie Exercise. Michael Frisch, Ph.D., a leading researcher in the area of quality of life, uses this with his clients. Complete the exercise to see what areas of your life – positive and negative – might be brought more into alignment to bring about greater well-being and a balanced life.

by pamela welling

Carolyn’s most recent blog got me thinking; boomers are trying to discover a definition of life after work that encompasses financial freedom, good health and multiple outlets for years of accumulated knowledge and experience. At the other end of the spectrum, the millennial generation, those (unscientifically) classified as being born between 1982 and 2000, are trying to mark out a life in work that is flexible enough to meet many of the same objectives; compelling careers that are energizing, engaging, well compensated and accommodating of a broad range of outside interests and pursuits. Although the two groups are often portrayed in management texts and the popular media as being at very separate ends of a very broad spectrum, I can’t help but see deep parallels in preferences between the two groups.

In their 2000 book, ‘Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation’, William Strauss and Neil Howe credit a group of almost twenty-something’s with coming up with the term ‘Millenials’ as a way to differentiate themselves from Gen X. This commitment to carving a new path and creating a new definition of work life balance is seen as definitive of this multi connected, socially complex group. With networks extending far beyond traditional spheres thanks to cross-border platforms like facebook, LinkedIn, twitter and the blogosphere, millennials are the group expecting a customized experience. Nick Hilton, tech Blogger for the New York Times and author of the book: ‘I live in the Future and this is how it works’ defines them as the “me, now” generation and points out that millennials can’t be blamed for having what many boomers would find to be an unfathomable approach to work and life. As he points out, this is the generation that will tap into their Smartphone’s mapping feature to find they are a GPS’ed dot at the center of their own customizable worldview.

It’s an approach that most employers (in addition to boomers) are struggling to adapt to as they try to align the structures laid down by boomers with the preferences of Gen Xers and the expectations of the ‘me, now’ millennials. One firm attempting to respond to this challenge is the consulting firm Deloitte, who’ve created a lattice model for career development- a model that promotes up, down and side to side moves with the aim of fostering a collaborative approach to career customization by employer and employee. AMEX, the multi-national, multi-service firm is renowned for a model of career development that will take their high potential talent across the firm to stretch projects nationally and internationally regardless of previous assignment.

By creating tailored responses to the preferences of their newest generation of recruit, Millenials, employers are also laying the foundations to meet some of the objectives of their most recent “de-cruits” (viz. boomers). As we know, boomers want to share their hard earned professional and personal life experience. A matrixed approach to the training and development of high potentials creates a structure that could greatly benefit from engaging boomers on informal advisory boards or ‘Executive in Residence’ style mentoring programs. Utilizing the ubiquitous and inexpensive technological platforms that millennials are so comfortable with like Skype and IM would support the creation of such initiatives without the geographic or time constrained parameters that most boomers are looking to step outside of.

In return, millenials are on hand to reverse mentor boomers in the use and application of technological interventions that can make their lives easier and cheaper (Skype, anyone?). This potential is noted by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Ph.D, Founder and Chairperson of the Center for Work-Life Policy who has extensively researched workplace diversity and written a number of publications on the subject. In a blog she co-authored for HBR in 2009 Hewlett highlights the example of Time Warner which matched college age students with senior execs to help them increase their TQ.

Innovative interventions like these address some of the concerns that thought leaders, employers, governments and boomers themselves have around stemming the retiree brain drain. In addition to aiding competitive advantage, they can create inspirational focus for new recruits and help define the concept of ‘sustainable legacy’ proposed by Carolyn in her blog on the subject.

by anne lueneburger

This is my third entry regarding Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction… (on October 16th and November 1st you will find more)

Today Laurence had us roll out yoga mats, lie down and took us step-by-step through the ‘Body Scan’ Meditation. And yes, she literally guided us (in her calm voice with its strong French accent), through our bodies:

  • Lie on your back with your legs uncrossed, your arms at your sides, palms up, and your eyes open or closed, as you wish.
  • Focus on your breathing, how the air moves in and out of your body.
  • After several deep breaths, as you begin to feel comfortable and relaxed, direct your attention to the toes of your left foot. Tune into any sensations in that part of your body while remaining aware of your breathing. It often helps to imagine each breath flowing to the spot where you’re directing your attention. Focus on your left toes for one to two minutes.
  • Then move your focus to the sole of your left foot and hold it there for a minute or two while continuing to pay attention to your breathing.
  • Follow the same procedure as you move to your left ankle, calf, knee, thigh, hip and so on all around the body.
  • Pay particular attention to any areas that cause pain or are the focus of any medical condition (for asthma, the lungs; for diabetes, the pancreas).
  • Pay particular attention to the head: the jaw, chin, lips, tongue, roof of the mouth, nostrils, throat, cheeks, eyelids, eyes, eyebrows, forehead, temples and scalp.
  • Finally, focus on the very top of your hair, the uppermost part of your body. Then let go of the body altogether, and in your mind, hover above yourself as your breath reaches beyond you and touches the universe.

About 5 minutes into the meditation my neighbor had started snoring slightly and I knew where his thoughts were… Mine kept going over my day and what I wanted to accomplish over the next couple of weeks, but I worked hard on refocusing myself solely on the ‘instructions’. The total exercise took around 30 minutes, whereas the full body scan as developed by Jon Kabat Zin, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, takes 45 minutes to an hour.

So how did it feel? Well, I was more relaxed afterwards, but the key is really in the practice. Ideally you practice this every day until it becomes second nature to you, and living a more mindful life in the ‘here and now’ becomes part of who you are.

And the scientific evidence is in: meditation really does permanently change our brain for the better. (Based on new ‘functional MRI’ technology undertaken by researches such as Richard Davidson, who have looked at Buddhist monks and other meditators.) It’s not unlike working out with handlebars to train your biceps – the brain has the capability to build new neurological pathways and to strengthen the brain circuits that support concentration and empathy, important qualities that sustain a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle.

So, is the body scan meditation the best way to manage stress? To reap the benefits takes quite some practice, maybe not 10,000 hours, but still many weeks, months and years are necessary to reduce anxiety and stress. And I am the first one to admit that I really struggle with spending 30-45 minutes lying still and concentrating on my body every day. This is where choice comes in, and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) does offer a variety of meditation techniques, and you can select the one that works best for you.

Next session Laurence is introducing us to walking meditation which sounds pretty good, given that I sit on my chair most of the day. So stay tuned… And until then I will do what relaxes me most: ride ‘Einstein’, a black stallion who teaches me how to focus on the ‘here and now’ as I make sure I stay on. I wonder what my brain scan would look like? Based on how happy I am when I am on horseback, it may show that a de-stressing activity need not be meditation or calmness; it could be anything that engages us, takes the focus off our worries and re-energizes us. It is about finding our authentic comfort activities to replenish.

by carolyn mathews

I recently returned from a trip to Paris. On our last day, it was beautifully sunny and warmer than usual and we walked for miles (or kilometers). We decided to rest in the Jardin des Plantes to eat lunch. The Jardin des Plantes has a zoo, natural history museum, and scenic paths to stroll. We sat on a bench near the gazebo to eat our picnic lunch, when I noticed a memorial plaque affixed to the bench. It had two names, and listed the department these people worked in for this fabulous park and zoo. Underneath that information was the following: une vocation, une passion, une vie. You don’t have to know much French to understand the translation: A vocation, a passion, a life. A perfect description of a calling…

I wonder how many of us have the opportunity to live in such a way that our work is our passion and the passion, our life. Not many, I suspect. Most people I know, both professionally and personally, have a career, as defined by the work of Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues. A career is focused on achievement and advancement, whereas the focus of a calling is the enjoyment of fulfilling work that benefits others. It is this kind of work that brings the greatest life and job satisfaction, according to research.

Many professionals do not feel they are in a position to “indulge” in work that is their calling. C’mon! This is the real world and there are bills to pay! True. Perhaps, though, your calling happens later in life, seemingly by happenstance. This is what happened with Ken Wood, of Maryland. Ken owned a water-drilling business for years and now drills wells for villages in Ghana. Watch this short video for a truly touching and inspiring story of how he turned a job into a calling later in life.

Alternatively, you can pay those bills now based on your career and start planning for your calling at the same time. This is what my friend William is doing. William owns a company that produces and sells safety products. He oversees both a sales force and a manufacturing plant. He is married, the father of two pre-teens, and active in his community. Sounds like a busy life, right? While his work provides a nice living for him and his family, by his own admission, it is not his calling.

For the past few years, William has prepared for his calling by working toward a Ph.D. The focus of his research centers on how people with physical disabilities become leaders. His research includes focus groups conducted with “followers” and interviews done with leaders in business and politics. Currently, his research benefits others by raising awareness regarding this topic – especially those in the focus groups. At some point, William will have an even bigger impact. He plans to sell the current business and eventually consult, conduct seminars and teach. As a hard-of-hearing person, this work is his calling. He brings passion to his research and work with those who have physical disabilities. His work will continue to benefit others in whatever capacity his career path takes him.

Ken Wood did it later in life. William prepares for it while he has a career. Une vocation, une passion, une vie. What would be on your park bench memorial plaque?

Take our complimentary North of Neutral assessment to get the ball rolling…towards your calling!

by anne lueneburger

Following on from my blog entry of October 16th, I have now had my first session of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. It was in a corky old house in Rye, New York, and sitting in this room with 10 complete strangers it felt a little awkward and, for a moment, I contemplated leaving to spend some time playing with my 8-year old daughter instead.

Laurence, the instructor, jumped into this thought when she started the session by encouraging us to think about why we were there. I remembered that, not only was I there as I have made a firm commitment with myself to live life fully and to not let stress (or the fear of its consequences) interfere with my aspirations, but also to add new skills to my toolkit that I can utilize with my clients (many of whom are stressed!). So, as promised, I’ll share some of what I learned with you…

The Raisin Exercise

Laurence got up and handed us an object which we had to experience ‘consciously’, pretending we had no previous experience with it and looking at it with the eyes of a child who had never seen it before (it was a shriveled up raisin and, of course, my mind began to wander, thinking of the shriveled up skin of an old person who has spent to much time in the sun… Remember the old lady in ‘Something about Mary’?).

We spend the next 10 minutes exploring the ‘object’, staring at the raisin in our palms, bringing awareness to how it looked to the eye, its folds in the skin, the reflections from it, the different shades of maroon.  I noticed how it felt to the touch, the sensation of it lightly resting in my hand. Then, holding it up to my nose, I sensed its smell: musty and slightly sweet.  I tuned in to the sensation when I placed it in my mouth, noticed how saliva was building up and an urge to chew developed. The taste, once I bit and swallowed it, was more aromatic than I had remembered.

It was unbelievable how, once you focus on these different sensations, a simple raisin can take on entirely different dimensions and become a ‘new’ experience. If other thoughts appeared then Laurence encouraged us to gently but firmly bring our mind back to the here and now. In this case back to the raisin sitting on my palm.

So what about the raisin?

The goal of this exercise was to introduce participants to the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is increasingly employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including stress and anxiety. Jon Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness as ‘moment to moment non-judgmental awareness’, creating a greater awareness of the body’s functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself. Scientifically demonstrated benefits of mindfulness practice include an increase in the body’s ability to heal, plus bringing awareness to what is happening in the ‘now’ tends to reduce stress, as stress is often triggered by worrying about past or future events.

Mindfulness practice can also result in a neurological shift from a tendency to use the right prefrontal cortex, to a tendency to use the left prefrontal cortex – associated with a trend away from depression and anxiety and towards happiness, relaxation, and emotional balance. No wonder the number of followers is steadily increasing!  In fact a 2007 study by the U.S. government found that almost 10% of U.S. adults (over 20 million) have used meditation.

As with anything potentially life changing, to introduce mindfulness into your life takes practice. So our homework was to choose one activity we routinely do on a daily basis, and to bring awareness to it. It may be having a meal by yourself, brushing your teeth, or sitting at your computer. So now I am having a sip of coffee and being truly mindful of it… And the experience is heavenly. So, what would you do?

Next time I’ll talk about Lying Meditation- based on the Vipassana Body scan.

by carolyn mathews

Here’s a riddle for you. It’s a word most shy away from. Many question how to define it. Others use analogies to describe it. Some have not planned for it; others can’t wait to do it. What is it? Retirement!

The avoidance and confusion regarding the topic are understandable. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines retirement as “withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life.” Use a thesaurus to find a synonym and you may just feel a bit glum. Words like “retreat”, “flight”, and “withdrawal” will stare back at you from the page or screen. It sounds passive, like one is on the losing end of the journey. Moreover, the definition of retirement does not fit well with how most people want to live.

How does this ill-defined concept reconcile with contemporary life? With “boomers” living longer, healthier lives what is needed is a new term and definition. The term should describe the transition from fulltime, fully engaged work to the next phase of life, where one tips the work/home balance in favor of home. The trouble is no one can come up with such a term upon which everyone agrees. So, we are left to accept the word “retirement” and to describe it for ourselves through our actions.

Retirement is rarely an event these days, but more of a process. So, I propose a process called “sustainable legacy.”  Sustainable legacy might be defined as the transition from a fulltime career to a plan for the next few decades of life. It involves ones’ retirement, reputation, and their raison d’être. Again, something sustainable cannot occur as an event, but requires planning and action. And it is this that appears to be lacking in so many organizations.

Organizations have programs in place for employees at all levels to plan for their financial retirement. Go to the Retirement section of corporate websites, and the content centers on pensions, 401Ks, and the like. Rarely do organizations address other areas of importance to the pre-retiree. If you are in the C-suite, pre-retirement may involve a bit of succession planning, as well. Yet so many aspects remain unaddressed. Read on to find how retirement affects those who have enjoyed busy, high-powered careers.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with a recently retired executive at a conference, who was an emeritus officer for this particular conference entity. During our discussion, he confessed he was having trouble making the adjustment to retirement.  After years of long hours, in which he achieved great success, he felt fairly useless. For years he had an administrator who kept him on schedule as he ran from meeting to meeting. People cared about his ideas and opinions. “Now,” he said, “I can wander around Home Depot at 10 am on a Thursday morning, and no one cares where I am or what I’m doing.” The adjustment was difficult for him because he had no plan, beyond the event of retiring, to engage with others, and use the vast resources (skills and knowledge) he had built up over decades. In essence, he knew how to make it through the next few decades financially, but had no plan for his life. This illustrates why it is important to have a sustainable legacy plan.

Retirement, defined as the act of leaving one’s fulltime career, represents just one element of a sustainable legacy. It involves taking many steps, as opposed to marking an event. Consider the following: Have you chosen or recommended a successor? Have you found a way to share your specialized knowledge with others? Are you interested in some sort of bridge employment or consulting? Have you prepared financially?

The next thing to consider for a sustainable legacy is your reputation with those you care about. Ask yourself these questions: How do I want to be remembered? What do I want to be remembered for? What will those I care about know about my values and priorities? Do I care for myself, as well as others?

The third part of a sustainable legacy involves a sense of purpose, or raison d’être. Many people, especially those who found a large portion of their life’s purpose through their work, hesitate to make the transition from their fulltime position to something else. They feel their identity is reflected through their career.  Instead of looking back upon what has been accomplished, try to look forward to what still can be accomplished. How can you leverage your skills and knowledge, or interests you have outside of work, in a way that contributes to meaning in your life?

As you near [that word no one wants to say] consider developing a sustainable legacy. Have a plan, do things that contribute to a positive reputation, and discover your purpose. There is no need to withdraw from life because you won’t be working fulltime. Instead, start a process can continue for decades while you make all the necessary transitions based on your health, financial, and family circumstances.