Welles: What’s after retirement?

When feds leave government, they often seek new meaning in life as retirees

An Energy Department manager wonders what her next step will be when she retires. By working for the government, she believed she could earn money and also contribute something meaningful. Now she is looking for meaning in something else when she retires. She is not alone.

People want clarity about what to do with the extended period that often follows a career in government. “It’s the third stage of life,” said Peter Sherer, former deputy director of the President’s Commission on Executive Exchange and co-founder of Life After Government for people approaching age 60.

“They are looking for what is going to give themselves meaning,” he said.

The Senior Executives Association is responding to such concerns by offering Life After Government seminars about the next step after retirement. Called “Putting Your Experience to Work,” the seminars cover the nuts and bolts of finding work that means something and meets your financial needs after federal service.

People want to know about the private sector or academia or what it means to start your own company, Sherer said. And it’s not just about work.

Sherer will lead the seminars, which are designed to clarify what people want out of the next stage of their lives and how they can use their skills, he said.

For example, in one exercise, participants choose their top five “drivers” such as the need for authority or visibility. They also choose how they would like to spend their time: what percent do they want to devote to family, work, hobbies, recreation or travel?

“Everyone is more exhausted than they know,” Sherer said. “They are physically tired. Many need to take some time and do what they want to unwind.”

It is no surprise that many want part-time work or intermittent consulting.

The idea is to be clear about who you are now and then walk through the mechanics of what is likely to happen. When you retire, you are leaving an old identity and going through a neutral zone or transition before a new beginning.

Sherer also teaches people how to conduct informational interviews that enable them to talk with people in another area of work. First, make a list of all of the people you know in other jobs. They could be people from a religious institution, your neighborhood or the fitness center.

Then call them to arrange a time to talk about the work they do. An informational interview can be a time to explore part-time options or ask questions about work life benefits.

For members of the Senior Executive Service and other federal managers, the next step is a challenging retirement question because they often have many options. It can be formidable to think that you no longer have to do what you don’t like. You “can work for fee or work for me,” Sherer said. In other words, you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself regarding what contribution you make next.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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