By Ed Hart, Director, Center for Family Business, Cal State Fullerton Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, and President, Hart Professional Services

A colleague here at the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at Cal State Fullerton is retiring in the next couple of weeks. The other day, she popped into our office, and in our conversation, I asked the question that everyone gets asked when they are about to retire, and that is

“So what are you going to do once you retire?”

I loved her response, and it is the reason I felt inspired to write this. Sure, her response might have been sarcastic, but as we talked about it, it was more profound than she realized. It is the answer I hope to give when that time comes for me.

Her answer was simple, and it contained just three words.   She has planned this out for quite some time, and has been preparing for years for this time in her life.   She has the next chapter in her life all mapped out and, in fact, she already started writing that chapter, most likely, years ago.

Her answer taught me a lot. It helped me realize the reason why so many CEOs, family business owners, and other leaders hesitate to retire, and have trouble giving up control in their jobs, of their companies, or departments.

“What am I going to do with myself”

is a question that many ask themselves, or give as their answer when they get asked the question above. I hear this regularly as I work and consult with CEOs who are closing in on that “magic number”, whatever that number may be. They have worked so hard, put so much time, effort and energy into their business or job that they just have not prepared or planned for their eventual free time in retirement. Quite honestly, they are afraid of not being busy, of not adding value or contributing, or not having the type of purpose that they had while in their career.

Others have become strangers in their homes, and their spouses dread the day when retirement approaches because of the routine and free time that might be sacrificed when the other is home every day. It is a centuries-old joke that the wife wants the husband “out of the house” when he retires, so he ends up at the country club every day, or fishing, or sitting at the local coffee shop reading the paper and doing crossword puzzles.   Not that golf, fishing, or crossword puzzles are bad (I plan to do a lot of the former, and perhaps some of the other two, when my day comes), but many take up or return to these hobbies because they don’t know what else to do. Then their relationships with loved ones often deteriorate, and they feel less and less valued and important.

Okay, you’ve waited long enough for my colleague’s somewhat sarcastic, yet profound, three word response. Again, the question I asked was “So what are you going to do once you retire?”

Her response?

“Not come here.”

I laughed, at first, but then realized that this can be extremely powerful when we think about it.

In other words, she will continue to do the things she is already doing in her free time – visiting grandkids, traveling, gardening, spending time with her spouse, her friends, writing, working on little side businesses, etc. I don’t know if she does most of these things, but I do, and hope to do them a lot more when I retire.

The “a-ha” that came to me from this simple answer was that we all (regardless of our age, or target retirement date) need to be doing things now on the weekend, at night, in our spare time, that we hope to do more of when we retire.

Spend time with your spouse now.   Visit your kids and grandkids now. Golf now. Travel now. Read more now. See more movies now. Plant that garden now.   Learn to play the piano now.   Have lunch with your friends now.   Go to a ballgame now. Even if you work 60 hours a week (many say they do – most don’t), and sleep 8 hours a night (not many of us get that much sleep), that still leaves you with 52 hours a week when you are not working or sleeping.   If you commute one hour each way to and from work, then you still have 42 hours left.   You can easily fit some of these things into 42 hours a week!

Retire Now, So to Speak

The point is this.   Begin doing the things today that you would like to do more once you retire. You will find that retirement will be more fulfilling. Your spouse will be more excited to spend time with you if you are already spending some of those 42 hours each week together. Your grandkids won’t wonder who that stranger that smells funny is when you go visit after missing their first 10 (or more) birthdays.   Your golf game will thank you, and you will win some money from your friends if you have been playing before retirement and they haven’t. And we all know retirement income is at a premium, so why not take some of your friends’ hard-earned cash on the golf course because you have been playing over the years and they haven’t! J

The only thing that should change when you retire is that you will “not come here”.   This will give you more time to do the things you already are doing when you are not “here” at work.

Seems simple. It isn’t.

So here is your mission, should you choose to accept it.

Find one thing that you miss doing, or plan to put off until retirement, and start doing it today.   Your future self, and your loved ones, will thank you.   Also, your employees will thank you now because leaders with balance in their lives are happier, more effective, and have proven to be stronger, better, and more fair leaders and bosses.   Their companies are thriving, as well.

If you have any stories or examples of what you do now that you plan to do more when you retire, or questions about how to prepare your company, your family, or your employees for taking over when you retire, call me at 657-278-7431, or send me an email at Visit for more information about the Center for Family Business, and how we have been assisting family leaders since 1995.