Retirement Revisited: Preparing Differently

Catherine Nichiols, J.D.

Nov 3, 2023

Ahhhh, retirement! Many people dream of reading in a hammock, making travel plans, playing golf or tending to their garden. They envision bold adventures or relaxing days.  Who doesn’t dream of such leisure and freedom in the distant or not so distant future?

Well, to be honest, me. I hold the unique distinction of having tried and failed at retirement. Some 15 years ago, I chose to retire early from my job as corporate counsel. Thanks to a bundle of stock options that vested, I was newly financially comfortable. So, at the age of 45, I retired.

The First Attempt at Retirement

For almost 18 months, I tried to enjoy retirement, but, frankly, I was lost. While it was my choice to retire, I didn’t have a plan nor any idea what I wanted this early retirement to look like. My kids, teens at the time, weren’t exactly jazzed to have me lurking around the house, eager for conversation and quality family time. When I was offered the opportunity to join TCI as our first Chief Operations Officer and Chief Compliance Officer, I leaped at the chance. And my kids, you guessed it, cheered my return to the workplace.

My first career was what I expected: practicing law as in-house counsel, solving problems, negotiating and strategizing in a regulatory environment. Joining TCI and starting my second career was like riding a rocket: exciting, exhilarating and a bit scary. I joined TCI in 2008, just as the industry was thrown into turmoil, like many other industries, by a global financial meltdown. Navigating through that was a challenge, but at TCI, we link arms and lean into the wind, together. Bob Swift, John Stephens, Doug Nelson and Ken Riebe had a vision for what TCI could be and weren’t going to let any challenge destroy that. In that environment, I thrived in my new career, taking on more responsibilities as the company grew, assuming the role of President in 2015.

Being Prepared for Retiring the Second Time

Now, having recently celebrated my 65th birthday, I’m planning to retire again. Only this time, I’ve been planning for this transition for the last year, and I’m calling it, “Retirement 2.0.” I aspire to embrace a more thoughtful, more purposeful transition into this new chapter. This time, I am prepared for all the changes I am about to undertake. I feel more confident about the road ahead; I have a map.

To be sure, things are a lot different now than when I was 50. I’m older, wiser and know myself better. That’s one of the great gifts of having failed at something. You know what doesn’t work for you. The landscape of my life is different, too. My husband and I are on our own, with our children now young adults and our daughter and son-in-law having two children of their own. I’m eager to spend more time with my husband, kids, grandchildren and my dad, who is 92.

Many months ago, I started a soul-searching journey of what a meaningful retirement might look like for me. That’s harder and more emotional work than it might sound. I first had to confront the painful reality that a large portion of my identity was tied to my career and my professional role. Who was I if not the President of TCI? Who would I be without that title and the responsibilities?

Secondly, I had to articulate what exactly did I want out of retirement? I wanted purpose, vigor, belonging and new challenges. Achieving all of that in the right balance would be my recipe for contentment, which I believe is a satisfying and worthy goal. Retirement is a significant chapter in our lives. Life expectancy for a 65-year-old today is typically 84 for men and 87 for women, according to a recent study by the Society of Actuaries, and longevity runs in my family. If I’m fortunate, I’ll have two decades or more of retirement, so identifying what I want, contentment and how to achieve that is an important task.

Several tools have helped me in this process. One of them, journaling, has been most helpful. I’ve always kept a journal, off and on over the years, but I’ve been diligent with it these last ten months. Writing helps me sort my thoughts, dreams and opportunities. I also talked with friends and colleagues who recently retired and gained insight from their experiences. I worked with a life coach, who helped me hone my vision of my retirement.

Community is a Key Part of Success

In life and retirement, I know that being part of a community will be important to me. I was fortunate to have that for 15 years at TCI, a powerful sense of belonging to a group with shared goals and values. I’ve learned, grown and celebrated with colleagues, who’ve become friends. As I progress toward retirement, I’ve been very intentional about creating a new community of friends with whom I can also learn, grow and celebrate in this stage of life.

Cultivating new friendships takes time, but research shows that strong relationships are the best predictor of longevity, health and, ultimately, contentment in retirement. So, a few months ago, I took action. I’m a planner, and I reached out to friends and planned activities: I signed up for a cooking class with two friends. I took up tennis and asked my new tennis friends to brunch, I connected with friends at a golf clinic and we play golf together and enjoy happy hour afterwards. Here’s the thing: You have to be intentional to make friends post-retirement. I have been so fortunate to work with colleagues who became friends, and it was proximity, problem solving and celebration of successes that built those relationships. Now, I have to reach out with intention to build new connections.

Preparing for Retirement 2.0 has been a journey of revelation and self-acceptance. I have intentionally let go of one identity and am exploring a new one while building new connections through new activities. Looking back now, I probably wouldn’t say that I failed at retirement in 2006. I learned from that experience, and learning never means failure.

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