Millions of Americans retire every year. Relatively few live lives that benefit others. Too many drift till the end, squander their skills, or die early. By the time we finish full time work we have had a few decades to learn how we’re wired, what we’re gifted at, and what we should not even try. We have discovered what comes naturally and what is almost impossible. When we step away from full time work, let’s use those skills we polished over decades.

For many Americans success means making money, winning awards. Wisdom claims that benefiting others defines significance. Investing your life in something bigger than yourself, some cause that will outlive you, tends to mark a life worth imitating.

There are scores of books, webinars, TED talks, and courses about the transition to retirement. There are retirement coaches. Yet relatively few people have SIGNIFICANT life after full time work. Few people deliberately, purposefully explore ways to live beyond comfort.

Here are two brutal truths that I don’t like and can’t change. Outside the US and Western Europe less than 5% of the globe’s population have options anything like most of the readers of this blog. Two of three Americans over 50 won’t have a financially comfortable retirement.

You probably have some retirement funds, and your health insurance provides access to whatever medical help might be appropriate for your coming decades. But even with enough material resources, many fail retirement.

Some go back to work within two years out of boredom or because they didn’t plan the money well enough. Too many die early because they lack anything that makes life worth living. Those options are mediocre or awful.

You and I will probably live long enough to retire. Since we’re going to make the transition, let’s do it as wisely as we can.

A Positive Example

A friend was hyper successful in an extremely competitive field. San Diego named a day after him. He was elected to head the state organization in his craft. He founded a company that outlasted ten larger competitors. He stepped away a couple of years ago and the firm continues to be a force in the market, even though he is no longer at the helm. Yet his significance is more important than his success.

He’s not golfing eight days a week nor doing his 1000th jigsaw puzzle. Instead, he’s doubled his travel schedule with his beloved and he’s still active in his craft. When he’s in town he donates hundreds of hours to people who desperately need a leg up. He leverages his skills, talent, and relationships to help others who will never be able to repay him. He is living a life of significance. Contribution matters more to him than notoriety.

Make Wise Choices

A wise transition can make our remaining years more productive than our earlier years. Our legacy can be obvious because of our transition choices. Too many people don’t make any conscious choices. They drift aimlessly into retirement. You can avoid that fate by doing the work of choosing your options. Here are some of the best approaches.

Identify and Own Your Unique Gifts, Skills, and Relationships

People who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report “having an excellent quality of life.” StrengthFinder has tested 25 million people on 34 skills. StengthFinder reports your top five strengths. The odds of another person having the same strengths as you, in the same order is 1 in 33,000,000. So, only nine other Americans have your strengths in the same order. Don’t squander your precious gifts.

Identify Your Passion

Some people care most about kids. For others, seniors matter most. Some people want to serve the disadvantaged while others aspire to build up the gifted. Still others are eager to work for, not just talk about, social justice or better climate policies.

Select a Worthy Organization to Plug Into

What organization? Sierra Club, your faith community, Boys and Girls Club? There are probably several organizations committed to a purpose or cause that excites you.

Choose Your Appropriate Role.

What will you do? Will you serve on the front line, be on the board of directors, write checks, or support offstage? A retired CEO of three successful startups uses his cooking skills to create delicious meals at an inner-city mission. He’s contributing to an organization he cares about, using skills developed over decades to fill an important role for them.

Your retirement may have already happened, or it might be a generation away. It’s never too late or too early to start thinking about how you can expand your significance after full time work.

Guess what? Transition offers you many choices. Few people do the hard work of thinking and choosing deliberately. Too many people drift from one vaguely good activity to another. Whether you believe in God or think the universe will reward good karma, there is reason to apply your unique strengths where they might produce the best contribution.

Let’s make our transition with excellence and intentionality. Within a decade I’ll shift from full time brokerage. I aim to have a well thought out plan by then.

People who finish well discover their unique calling. They use their gifts, relationships, and skills to benefit others. What are your thoughts?


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.

Click here and find out how Terry and his team can help you make the most important financial decision of your next decade.