Steps to Finding Purpose in Retirement as a Former CEO

Retirement, like any major life event, can be a rocky transition. For people who had high powered leadership roles, that transition to civilian life may be all the harder.

Steps to Finding Purpose in Retirement as a Former CEO

Each year, over one hundred CEO’s retire from the S&P 1000. They may leave with nice exit packages and praise for their successes, but often, because their positions were so demanding, they didn’t put too much thought into what would happen next.

Feeling the Loss

The average CEO retires at age 62 and with the average lifespan in the mid-eighties, that leaves over two decades to fill. Retirement can be a challenging period for some, resulting in depression, social isolation, and a loss of purpose. CEOs and other highly successful individuals may, in fact, be more prone to depression than others.[i] Ironically, their success may contribute to their feeling of loss later in life. If self-worth is measured by success or competition, adapting to a non-career driven life may be more challenging. Often, the best way to avoid retirement malaise is to have a plan. The transition to retirement is all the more difficult for individuals who define themselves by what they do. Taking time before retirement to self-reflect and dig into what you want to do next, can help with feelings of loss.

End of One Thing, Start of Another

A lot of retired CEOs, rather than stopping work entirely, begin working in the private sector, with non-profits, or with philanthropic ventures. Studies have found retired people who take on part-time work or volunteer even just a few hours a week report higher satisfaction in their life, fewer major diseases and had lower blood pressure.[ii] In short, being an active member of the community, in some fashion, can be good for you both mind and body. You have a lot of skills and many organizations would be happy to have you, even if just for a few hours a week.

Retired CEO is Valuable

As stated above, CEOs are a valuable resource in retirement. Due to the rigorous demands of running a company, they bring with them leadership skills, high energy, and the ability to see the big picture. As a highly skilled person, newly retired CEOs may be surprised at the number of offers and invitations they receive for things like joining boards or helping organizations in some fashion. The good news is, there are many positions for those retired CEOs who aren’t ready to leave the professional world entirely. The challenge may lie in being selective and finding the best places to give up your hard-earned free time.

Look Ahead

While there may be an array of opportunities for a retired CEO, it is still better to have a plan for what you will do before making the big retirement leap. Ask yourself: how would you like to spend your retirement? This is an opportunity for you to explore interests that you may not have had time to during your busy career. If you’ve had a passion for humanitarian causes, venture capitalism, or starting a new business, this may be the perfect moment. The more time invested in thinking about the future, the less likely you are to fall into the trap of rushing into something because you got offered it. In taking the time, you are also learning about yourself. Is there something you always wanted to do? Perhaps opening a vineyard, learning to sail, inventing a product, starting a non-profit for a cause you care about? Your time is now your own, so, how can you fill it meaningfully? What would bring you fulfillment?

CEO as Partner and Family Member

Retirement also comes with it more time for family. High-pressure jobs may have kept you from the more day to day operations of your household. But now you may have the opportunity to make up for lost time. With the freedom of retirement, you can take more time for the simple pleasures in life. Being more present in your household may be grounding and help you to understand how you want to spend your days.[iii] Having communication channels open between a CEO and their spouse and family is key during this transition. Encourage spouses to share their ideas for retirement, as often couples are not in agreement. If one wants to travel and the other wants to start a new business venture, that's a problem. Find a compromise. Open channels of communication are vital during the transition to retirement and beyond.

Be a Mentor

Retired CEOs are also unique in that they have two things that can be quite beneficial to up and comers: time and experience. The ability to make your own schedule combined with a proven track record in their profession makes retired CEOs uniquely qualified to be great mentors. Taking a young you under your wing to guide and advise may give a sense of satisfaction that walking around a golf course just can't bring. You get to help problem solve and use your acquired knowledge and skill set, while also helping pass on and inspire a younger generation of workers.

Find A Purpose

The challenge as a retired CEO will be finding a purpose that is fulfilling. After spending so much time in the cutthroat, high-stakes business world, it may take some time to even learn how to leave that behind. You may need to reconnect with you. Think back to your hopes and dreams when very young, what experiences or opportunities you may have missed out on because of your high-demand career. Now is the time to go back and check off that list, revisit old passions and hobbies, and find ways to be an active member in your community. Retirement may be the end of the corner office and all the stress and prestige that go with it, but it isn’t the end of you. In fact, it may just be the beginning.


[i] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1136888

[ii] https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-07-28/can-retirement-be-a-depression-risk

[iii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/01/26/why-the-super-successful-get-depressed/#59fc23023850


Disclosure text: Securities offered through Triad Advisors, LLC, member FINRA/SPIC. Advisory services offered through TriCapital Wealth Management, Inc. TriCapital Wealth Management, Inc. is not affiliated with Triad Advisors, LLC.

About the Author

Randall E. White, CFP®, RICP®, CRPC®, CMFC®

Randall E. White, CFP®, RICP®, CRPC®, CMFC®

Randy entered the financial services field in 1983 with Northwestern Bank which subsequently merged with First Union National Bank, and he later joined Wachovia Bank and Trust Co.

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