What’s next? After you’ve accomplished the big goal or desire you set out for, there always has to be something next you set your sights on. Why? What’s worse than spending a few years in pursuit of a big goal you’ve thought you always wanted, one day accomplishing it, and then not feeling fulfilled at its fulfillment? It can be ironically emptying. You thought this was THE thing you wanted, got it, and then it turned on you. There always has to be another pursuit, another big goal, another journey. Perhaps the original goal accomplishment felt empty because it was never about the destination in the first place. The journey keeps us aggressive, on the hunt, prepared, disciplined, and at work. The destination allows us to relax, kick back, enjoy ourselves, slack off of our normal routine and discipline, and, well, relax some more. We’re off. Many of us are not used to being off. Being off throws us off kilter. After working so hard to get something we thought we wanted and we achieve it and we get to relax a little, it feels weird, unnatural. It feels better to be aggressive, on the hunt, prepared and disciplined. Some may complain or brag about how hard they’re working but it keeps you sharp and on point. Pursuit of big goals places you on the journey to be sharp and on point and ready to serve, which is why you should always know what’s next. What’s the next big project to get after? You’re about to complete a big book project. Now, what do you do? A big product launch is coming to a close in the next few weeks. What do you have planned? What now? There must always be something or else we stagnate. We feel stymied. Riding off into the sunset is a false fantasy for high performers. There has to be something new, something larger to pursue, something you want to wake up and get after.
There always has to be something else next. A new goal. A new pursuit. Something that engages you and drives you. Without this, we’re adrift, unsure of what to do next. We have to know what’s next. What’s the next project to focus on? Where do we see ourselves going? What’s the next accomplishment to get after? By getting clear about what it is we want, we focus and hone in on our time and how we spend it, cutting out the extraneous and the unnecessary.
This is the problem with retirement: there is typically no journey upon its arrival. You’re on your own, playing bad golf with other retirees at the country club, talking about how things used to be. Is that bad in and of itself? No, but the lack of daily challenges and pursuit of new goals is pernicious. It sneaks up on people, leaving them wondering what went wrong. Isn’t this what they wanted? Isn’t this what they worked so hard to achieve? Isn’t this supposed to beat working? The work journey (or journeys) end in retirement unless you make work a priority during these years or enjoy a hybrid work/retirement lifestyle. There has to be something more. There has to be more contribution. There has to be emotional connection. There has to be something you do that intellectually engages you. Without this, you flail emotionally, unhappy and unsure of its causes.
The happiness and most engaged people aged 65+ are those who are still working, still connecting, still on a journey of their own making. Look at the world of finance. Many of them are well into their 70s and 80s and are still going strong at work. Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Carl Ichan, George Soros, T. Boone Pickens, all of these guys are still at it professionally and engaged in their work. Retirement isn’t even an option for them, though it was financially long ago. They’re still at the top of their games, actively playing daily. They don’t show any signs of slowing down. They realize the importance of active work engagement and pursuit of what you love. In fact, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Their work keeps them young and sharp. How many of us can say this? They have a retirement plan alright: don’t stop working. Find something you love to do and don’t stop doing it.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of pursuing something that matters the most to you, something that engages you intellectually and emotionally, and catalyzes your drive. What excites you and incites you to get out of bed in the morning? What pushes you in the direction of your goals? What makes you competitive and aggressive in its pursuit? While these properties can change over time, they likely won’t much. What once drove us in heavy competition will likely drive us again. What we once felt was a worthwhile pursuit will likely still make us feel that way again tomorrow. Passions don’t really die but they do wallow when we opt out of them or otherwise ignore them or claim to be over them. We’re not over them. We’re B.S.ing ourselves. It is our duty to engage and re-engaged these dormant passions we’ve left behind. We not only owe it to ourselves, but we owe it to others as well. This is why hanging up your spurs in retirement is such a bad idea. Unless you have an intellectually engaging plan and new goals to pursue, you’re actively disengaging from contribution. And this will stymie you and make you miserable when you thought you had it all figured out. Even the Big Island to Yourself goal — yes, having an island all to yourself and your family — isn’t engaging enough to retire on. The big island can be a lonely place. What’s beyond the island?
All of us have to feel a sense of contribution in our work. Does what we’re doing professionally make a difference to others’ lives? Do we get much feedback on how we’re doing? Do we get to create and share regularly? Are we solving problems and adding value? How is our emotional engagement with our daily work? Are we whistling while we work like Buffett or are we dour and drag ourselves into the office reluctantly each day? What level of importance do we view our role? How big of a hole would we leave if we weren’t there? Here’s a great gauge on lasting impact upon colleagues: would people miss us if we’d been gone for 6 months? 12 months? Even longer?