June 28, 2016

Enhancing Our View of Seniority

Rosemary Byrne

Editor’s note: Portions of this article have been reprinted with permission from The Senior Lawyer Newsletter of the New York State Bar Association.

Recently I decided to tackle one of the items on my seniority bucket list – expanding my knowledge of photography. I wanted to explore making better use of, or upgrading, my camera (currently a simple but good point-and-shoot) and to learn more about the photo potential of my iPhone and iPad. As a frequent traveler I knew I could enhance my travel experience if I had better tools with which to capture the memories of my trips. Thus began the photo learning journey – the exploration of zoom and panorama, micro and macro lenses, exposure, focus, light, perspective and the basics of capturing a moment or producing a mini video.

My photography is still a work in progress. Yet, as a part of this learning adventure and as a senior life planner I’ve been struck by the similarities between planning for seniority and taking better photos -- how much of our seniority is impacted by our focus, our perspective and the lenses we use to view it. I’ve now learned some of the basic ingredients of taking better travel photos. Perhaps by considering some basic photography tools and viewing our seniority as though we were looking through the lens of a camera we can all create better pictures of the life we want as we age.

First, a word about definitions. As a young lawyer I learned that "words matter." While I sometimes use the word "retirement" in describing my current career as a senior life planner because "retirement coach" is a more widely accepted and understood phrase and a more useful term for search engines, I generally strive to avoid it. In my lexicon "retirement" is a limiting phrase that simply describes what one no longer does, i.e., work full time in the position or career in which one spent most of his/her adult work life. Instead, I prefer "seniority." It provides a broader perspective – a panoramic picture - of a period of our lives, not a zoom lens image of a single career decision. Others may call it the "third age," the "encore years" or as the ABA does, the "second season of service."

Whatever your preference, the net effect of using these more expansive terms is to switch the focus of our planning, conversations and thoughts from the macro work-related view of retirement to a more comprehensive panoramic life perspective. It underscores the array of possibilities and opportunities even for those attorneys who insist they will never retire and therefore have no need to consider or plan for their senior years.

So, as you contemplate "second season of service" I (respectfully) suggest you view it as a span of time (which for many of us could be 35 or more years) and consider a more comprehensive definition to describe it. I use seniority and define it as "a stage of life after mid-life (and before the afterlife) that incorporates work, life and leisure in whatever balance we choose based upon our physical, emotional, intellectual and financial needs and abilities."

As part of my seniority I opted to work less as an attorney and to pursue an encore career as a life coach. I work with baby boomer (and beyond) clients to explore and create a view of their seniority -- what they want to do, who they want to be and what they will need as they age. Together we develop a plan to achieve those objectives. Of course, just as there is no perfect photo, there is no "one size fits all" seniority or single game changing strategy for a successful senior life. There are, however, common and basic components which, in varying degrees, we are all likely to need. Hopefully, these key ingredients for success can be helpful in composing the best pictures of your seniority.

  • Attitude - In senior life planning, as in so many things, "attitude is everything." It is the lens through which we view seniority. Psychologists and behavioral scientists suggest that our thoughts and attitudes shape our behavior and determine how we will perceive and address the challenges, choices and options we face. Viewing seniority with the light and perspective of optimism and resilience will improve our reactions, judgments, and choices and enhance the possibility that we will see this period as an exciting time of opportunity, fulfillment, change and adventure. A less robust attitude may keep us in a job or position which we don’t enjoy simply because we can’t imagine a different life. A more positive approach will enhance thinking creatively about what we’ve always wanted to do, what we’ve put off doing, and what we will regret not having done, hopefully get us started doing those things!

 

Once we look at seniority with an attitude of optimism and resilience, we can give thought to more pragmatic and concrete considerations and needs.

  • Money – Not surprisingly, this usually tops the list. You need enough to satisfy the seniority plan you design; it may be less than you think! Start planning by tracking your expenses for several months, or even a year, before you think you might transition. This will help clarify your senior life options.
  • Good health and fitness - Treasure them if you have them; strive to achieve them, if you don’t. Smoking and excess weight are life and lifestyle threatening. Physical activity, even moderate walking 3 or 4 times a week, is crucial to maintaining longevity, and physical, psychological and intellectual good health. Indeed, many believe that exercise is the "new fountain of youth." Start now to include time for it in your life.
  • A strong social network of family and friends - These relationships are crucial to our seniority and they tend to wither unless they are nurtured. Expand and maintain your circle of friends, family and acquaintances as you age.
  • Activities that provide structure – Work and work-related activities typically consume sixty or seventy hours a week and provide the structure for our days. They involve scores of habits and behavior patterns that disappear if we choose (or are forced) to work part-time or not at all. Give thought to pursuing activities that occur on a regular basis to provide some much-needed structure.
  • Intellectual stimulation – The need for challenging intellectual activities doesn’t end because one decides not to work or to work in a less intellectually stimulating or challenging environment. Think of the brain as a muscle. Like any other muscle it atrophies if it is not used and can be strengthened if it is. Look for opportunities to exercise your intellect.
  • A means to maintain a sense of identity and self-worth – Many of us derive our persona and sense of accomplishment from our professional activities. It is critical to determine how we will define ourselves, particularly if we cease working in our prior position or in any position at all. Those who "live to work" and largely define themselves by their work will need to develop other outlets for self-actualization. Volunteerism or a new entrepreneurial venture may be useful options. Explore those alternatives before you downsize your firm or practice.
  • A well planned home environment and location – In consultation with your spouse or partner, determine whether and to what extent you want to relocate. Consider the cost of living, proximity to family and friends, the availability of medical facilities and leisure activities and your climate preferences.
  • Good insurance – Know your retiree medical and health benefits, as well as your Medicare options. Weigh the value and costs of long term care insurance.
  • A Vision For The Future You Want And The Flexibility To Adapt And Modify It – Senior life, whether or not it involves traditional retirement, is a very personal journey that can be challenging, daunting, frightening and exciting. It can take many paths and directions. It is virtually impossible to plan for all the contingencies of our seniority. Variables such as health, the economy, and our family situation may, and likely will, change. One thing is virtually certain, however, if you start with a plan, if you know what you want and need and value in senior life, you will have a good foundation upon which to apply the flexibility needed to modify the plan as circumstances require.
  • The Confidence To Use Your Resources To Pursue The Life You Want - We return to money. Making and saving money are often far easier than spending it, and spending in seniority is particularly difficult. Regardless of how successful your financial planning may have been, it is important to use and enjoy what you have. Remember why you engaged in wealth building in the first place. Most likely, you worked more than ninety thousand hours in your legal career and diligently saved to enable you to enjoy life as a senior. Use what you have spent a lifetime acquiring to manage your senior life in the most satisfying and fulfilling way your resources allow.

In sum, the definitions and measures of success in seniority are unique to each of us. We all have our own picture of what we will want to do and what we may be physically, financially, intellectually and emotionally able to do as we age. For each of us, however, the process starts with attitude and focus - thinking about and recognizing the inevitability of change and the need to perceive and weigh our options with optimism and plan accordingly. Ideally, we will each bring our picture to life and achieve a seniority with the work/life/leisure balance we desire and the financial and social support to maintain it.

The reprinted portions are published here with permission from: The Senior Lawyer, Fall 2015, Vol. 7, No. 2, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, New York 12207.

Rosemary Byrne

Rosemary C. Byrne of Step-by-Step Coaching LLC is a corporate attorney and former litigator, with an encore career as an NYU trained and certified Life Coach and certified Retirement Coach. She is a frequent speaker on senior life planning and transition, Vice Chair of the NYSBA Senior Lawyers Section and co-chair of its Financial & Quality of Life Planning Committee.  A co-author of  No Winner Ever Got There Without A Coach, her On Seniority column appears in the NYSBA’s Senior Lawyer magazine