Help wanted: Support groups for the newly retired

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I love Norm Brodsky's long-running "Street Smarts" column in Inc. It got even better for me a couple of years ago, when he turned it into a diary chronicling the sale of his business. Having sold one myself, I couldn't wait to see what was in store.

Brodsky didn't disappoint. The ups, the downs. The starts, stops and re-starts of getting a deal done. The thrill of the payout. All in this refreshingly blunt, first-person way that somehow made it OK for Brodksy to brag, because he'd tell you he was doing just that.

I just finished his May column, where Brodsky wears on his sleeve his struggles six months after the sale -- struggles that have zero to do with money. He doesn't sound at all like the same, master-of-his-domain kind of guy. I'm writing this somewhat spooked, because he wrote about precisely what I experienced after my sale: the misery, the weight of trying to figure out what to do next.


"I don't have a clear idea of what I'm doing or where I'm going anymore," he writes. Been there, felt that.

Earlier on: "I'm not bored....I'm unsettled." Check. Felt it to my core.

To wit: "I'm still getting paid – but the money is a consulting fee, not a salary. That's a big adjustment, and I haven't finished making it." Norm, you're preaching to the choir.

You don't need to be a successful entrepreneur to feel what Brodsky is feeling. It hits new retirees every day, this problem of transitioning from your longtime work to something else.

While he may feel out to sea, Brodsky is luckier than most, simply because he's aware he's in the middle of a big life change. He is starting to understand how his career structured his time and gave him a sense of worth beyond his paychecks. And how his identity became so entwined with the leadership of his business. His awareness will lead to action. (His very writing about it is proof.)

The trick: recognizing retirement for the major transition that is before you get there, and having the self awareness and plans in place to get through it.

Retirement is a major life transition, on par with marriage, the birth of a first child, divorce, even the passing of a loved one. But each of those life changes comes with a support network. Engagement ring, registry, bridal shower – you drowned in advice, but were glad you got it. Your mother-in-law never looked so good, sleeping on the couch, changing those 4 a.m. diapers. A close relative passes on, you're surrounded by those who love and care about you.

Retirement, on the other hand, is a solo passage. When was the last time you heard of someone moving in with a brand new retiree for a few weeks, helping him or her "get through the early stuff." Say yes, and I have a nice polygraph for you.

There's no quick fix for a rudderless, early-stage retiree, as Brodsky has found. But I have every confidence he'll emerge stronger and renewed, and I'd bet deeply engaged in something he doesn't even know is out there right now. He's aware, and that's step one.

Michael Burnham is CEO of My Next Phase, a consulting firm offering non-financial retirement planning products and services (www.mynextphase.com).


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