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Things come in threes. Good things and bad things. This week I was hit with 3 things that reinforced that work needs to be done to change perceptions. It’s not reality that runs the world, it’s our perception of how things are and how they should be.

1st thing

A newly retired person was referred to me for suggestions on what to do in volunteer capacity. Again, I heard that the volunteering had to have value, to be meaningful. This person would rather be working but an accident triggered a begrudged retirement and from there a series of disappointments in her efforts to volunteer.

Hoops to jump through, time consuming training programs of little value, certifications that would have cost a bundle and a general approach that said “we don’t really want you.” I referred her onto a community non profit in her neighbourhood that I had heard good things about and asked that she share her findings.

2nd thing

I was approached to join a board for a volunteer organization. This organization is in trouble and yet it had a mandate of great value. A badly administered board lead to a bumbling recruitment process, a rushed timeline and concurrent but uncoordinated recruiting.

On top of that, the time crunched board balancing the demands of young families and hard driving careers, seemed more like an exclusive club than a fully functional team. I haven’t heard from them since the interview.

3rd thing

I was idly listening to a CBC radio interview with Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut. A good portion of the interview focused on questions of what a retired astronaut does. I can’t remember his answer other than a chuckle that this was his second retirement. He retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force and joined the Canadian Space Agency. But I do remember his definition of retirement.

Retired
‘You used to be useful and now you aren’t.”
Chris Hadfield, the astronaut, reflecting on society’s definition of retired.

So far Mr. Hadfield (a Boomer having been born in 1959) is in “Post-retirement” according to Wikipedia. An author, a professor at the University of Waterloo, and undoubtedly a list of other activities.

So maybe the terminology I should use is “I am in post retirement.” I came through a period where I was not useful (retired) and now I have regained my “useful” status.

It’s interesting to swap stories about folks that are making the transition to their next self. I have become a bit of an example of how to retire well. I was a former workaholic with no life to speak of – just focused on business- nearly 7 days a week, diminishing from 80 hours a week to a mere 65 as age started to affect my endurance.

With no real plan, one day I was working and the next day I wasn’t.
No plan exactly, just a rough idea it was time to start living. I wanted to travel and I wanted to give back in thanks for the opportunities I had been blessed with. And so like any other project I began the research of what, how, when, etc. Within a year or two I had a solid plan and had begun putting the pieces in place, even before the plan was clearly articulated.

I’m not alone in this approach as many of my peers are enjoying the journey as they redefine their lives. Most are opting for a portfolio life rather than a singularly focused one. Others are not faring so well as they are being turfed out of careers, mourning their past rather than planning their future.

As someone said to me this week, “why didn’t I know these opportunities existed before? I switched focus and now everywhere I look there are exciting roles for me to use my skills but in a non-profit space.”

2 Similar men, 2 very different paths
Both are traditional male executives in their late 50’s (or a bit more), family men, experts with 30 years spent in the same industry mostly with the same company.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

One voluntarily retired and after a bit of searching and talking to a variety of folks, landed a couple of board member roles, now mentors at an incubator and contacted a local university where he started mentoring students and then worked his way to an instructor role which he really enjoys. Amid all this he is reconnecting and spending more time with his kids. He’s learned to Facebook, has a great LinkedIn profile and is busy connecting and learning. His energy is great.

The other is hanging onto his office for dear life but the axe is coming. He has no hobbies or interests outside of his industry. Any referrals or recommendations to connect go untouched as he waits for someone to personally approach him with the right offer. He’s stressed, out of shape, and over weight, and those around him are worried.

Making the transition
To help those who need to get going on their plan , here are some keys to transitioning

  • Accept that things will be different
  • Research what’s out there until you find things that appeal
  • Create a collection of things to do so you can continue exploring and extending your network
  • Listen and learn while leveraging what you know
  • Reinvigorate yourself by meeting new people and trying something new

You’ve waited for retirement for years. The last months of work were excruciating as your patience wore thin and your interest dwindled. You couldn’t wait to escape the rat race and yet, 8 months of leisure and you’re back in the game.

Transitioning is difficult

If you didn’t have a good enough plan then starting from zero is difficult. As much as you may think so now, non-stop golf, lunches, grandkids or catching up on reading will not make you feel fulfilled. It’s kind of like a kid’s dinner of candy – great for the first few minutes but after that you need something nourishing.

I predict that recently retired boomers will be back to work in 8 months if they don’t find enough meaningful activities to fill their days.

The draw of something familiar, something that reaffirms your value is strong. Add money and the draw will be irresistible, especially if you feel it is on your terms. But is that really what you want to do with all your productive days?

A meaningful retirement takes work

You need to figure out what you want to do – what you value. Then you need to reinvent or as I say “realign” yourself. It will probably be a portfolio style life where you focus your energy on a few different areas.

One will be friends and family, one will be leisure and probably travel, one may be work and one may be contributing to your community in some way. Then you have to plan activities in each of these areas to keep the engagement going. Retirement is work – just a different kind. You get out of it what you put into it.

Volunteering is not easy

It’s easier to get a job than give your time away for free. Unfortunately non profits and community groups are not prepared for the mass numbers of Boomers ready to give back. The models for volunteerism are old and are resistant to change.

So at this point your biggest challenge may be in breaking through and finding or defining volunteer roles that leverage your assets and fit the organization.

Be prepared to be a part of building these new models – that may be where some of the most meaning volunteerism will be.

I’ve been exchanging ideas with a newly retired exec as he transitions into the volunteerism space. We seem to be aligned, adding to my working theory that there will be a huge number of folks like me with lots of biz skills available to be leveraged.

I have often blogged about non-profits needing to rethink their volunteerism models but we volunteers need to think different as well.

  1. Start lower and learn: Just because you had the corner office doesn’t mean you start there in this new space. It’s like changing careers or industries. You need to listen and learn first.
  2. Understand their language: Any industry has its own language and non-profits and even sectors within it, all speak a different language than you’re used to. Words have nuances and your biz terms might be totally foreign in this environment. You need to learn their language in order to be effective.
  3. Prove yourself: You have taken years or decades to get where you are in biz, why would you assume this power transfers directly into a space where you are unknown? Invest your time in getting to know the community. Your value will be recognized in time when it’s presented in context.
  4. Be a team player: this is not your biz and they are not your staff. Figure out how you can support their teams best.
  5. Understand their issues, goals, and constraints: Consider it a biz case. The elements will be familiar but the exact details are different.
  6. Set a new pace: double your expectation for the time it will take to be fully engaged. After all, what you have now is time – so use it to explore and let the answers surface.

You can find opportunities everywhere

You can start by harvesting your network for contacts. After that, I’d  just read the local paper and see what’s happening in your town. Once you’ve altered your focus you’ll be more attuned to the articles about causes and ads for events that support your new interests.

Great concept, monetized and expandable.

“The mission: To mobilize volunteers and community partners in building affordable housing and promoting home ownership as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty.”

Want a company outing for team building and to give back – it’ll cost you. It should – as organizing your group takes time and effort. Expandable as they’ve gone vertical with their ReStores where they sell quality new and gently used donated building materials. I’ve had many a friend who donated their old kitchens through the ReStore – it was easy and Habitat did it all.

Now they’re recognizing the mass capabilities of retirees and “soon to be reitrees” through their ReTooling Build program.

ReTooling for Soon-to-be Retirees

Look at the positioning: “The ReTooling Build aims to inspire healthy, active retirees in volunteerism and philanthropy to make Toronto a better place to live for all.” Then see how they artfully phrase it for the target audience.

The Habitat for Humanity Toronto ReTooling Build is a perfect opportunity for you to make volunteerism a part of this exciting new phase of your life. Designed for retirees and soon-to-be retirees, the ReTooling Build is a way for you to make a tangible difference in a family’s life – and also to meet new friends, learn new skills and and have a great time working hard for a good cause.

Rather than think that this group is just waiting for a spot in a nursing home, they understand the untapped potential and are making it a win-win. How do I know this…they paid a visit to my little lawn bowling club.

Kudos to Habitat for Humanity!

Best use of the web

A further pat on the back for making the best of the online medium. Seamless integration, appropriate content and use of each platform, robust actionable information and story telling in each site. Here are just a few examples of what the Canadian and Toronto chapters are doing – explore for yourself.

The program: http://www.retoolingbuild.ca

The main site for Toronto: http://www.torontohabitat.on.ca (see the volunteer section)

The community: http://www.facebook.com/HabitatforHumanityToronto

More social media:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/habitattoronto

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/habitattoronto

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/habitattoronto/

Blog: http://habitatforhumanitytoronto.wordpress.com/

I was enjoying patio weather with a pal this week when she told me of an opportunity in her native Newfoundland. There was an opening for a marketing strategist at an advertising agency in St. John’s. This firm has about 50 people. That’s a good size firm and they promise a lifestyle you’d expect from this great province.

“There’s something to be said about a place where the sun rises first in North America. Inspiration comes in many forms and can be found around every corner.” http://www.targetmarketing.ca

Now I’ve just returned from a holiday in Newfoundland, starting and ending in St. John’s. It was an amazing trip and I totally understand why folks that come from there hold it so dear and why so many folks are looking to buy property and move there in retirement (perhaps for summers only but I understand Toronto winters are actually colder than those on this island).

So I marry up this precious province with its great culture embracing nature, people, food and music and an opportunity to do great work at a good sized agency and I’ve got a marvelous opportunity for a burnt out, big city boomer.

Now all I need is for both parties to understand their opportunities.

Transitions

I guess this blog is about 2 things. First, working as a volunteer for non-profits. Second, it is a journal of the transition I have made from a workaholic entrepreneur to a life-balanced strategic volunteer. Both these areas seem to be of interest to folks depending on where they are in life.

I can see the day where I take my public speaking or coaching skills and help other boomers make the transition from a lifetime of a defined career(s) to the more self-defined career/life mix that is retirement.

“The most important thing anyone can think about when retiring is how important it is to have a reason to get up every day and be excited” Prof. Robertson, Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario

I get it

I now have a firm understanding of what I want the next 10 years to look like and it is the definition of work/life balance. It incorporates what some are now calling the 1,000 hour work year along with a good chunk of fun and the need to watch my health, funds and the rest.

1,000 hours of strategic volunteering + 1,000 hours of fun = energetic, meaningful life

Redefining volunteerism

This blog is tracking the journey of my 1,000 hour work year – focused on volunteering. As an entrepreneur I am creating something new and as a boomer I am not restricting my thinking to traditional views of volunteerism. I’m creating a new category – high impact volunteering – where 1,000 hours of skills from my previous work life can be repurposed in the non-profit world.

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