Lewis: What do you do?
My wife and I decided to leave California last year and move back to Colorado, which is where I am originally from. For the previous two decades, I had been the CEO of several technology companies and worked for a couple of private equity firms while my wife was a tech marketing executive and ran a home flipping company. There were ups and downs but, overall, it was a great run.
Soon after returning to the Vail Valley, I was asked by a friendly neighbor, “What do you do?” While probably one of the most common questions on the planet, it floored me. I answered, “I’m retired.” The conversation continued but left me feeling totally depressed. I was only 59 years old and it struck me — was I going to use the moniker “retired” for the next 30 years to describe myself?
There are all types of retirees these days. When we first moved back here, I tried the idea of permanent vacation mode, but it wasn’t for me. I like to ski, golf, hike and fish but the idea that recreation would become my whole life just did not appeal to me. The idea of a 30-year “vacation” is not for me. I quickly discovered that many of us at this point in our lives still need passion and purpose in our lives beyond recreational activities. With that in mind, I went back to work.
I published my first novel called “Snowcapped” this summer. It is a mystery/thriller set here in the Vail Valley. I had never been a writer before, so I took a few classes online and dove in. It was a great experience and I am working on the sequel now (called “Whitecapped”). I also write this weekly column, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and started a small real estate investment firm. With all of these activities, I now only have time for the occasional fishing or golf outing which suits me just fine.
As I have built this 2.0 version of my life, I realized that, with a large number of us entering the retirement phase of our lives, the key is not just financial planning but also the need to plan for your next adventure. Having enough money to retire is necessary but insufficient. It’s really having a purpose that keeps us going.
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“Retirement” is a misnomer. Retire literally means to withdraw or go away and most of us have no desire to do either. What really happens is that, if we are fortunate, we reach a stage in life where we no longer have to work from an economic standpoint and we get to be more selective about how we invest our time.
Social Security was started in 1935 for those 65 and older. At that time, the average lifespan was about 62 years, so just getting to retirement age was an accomplishment. Today, the average life expectancy is approaching 80, so many can expect to live a quarter or more of their lives above the “retirement” age. As the Baby Boomers continue to age, as a society, we should consider how to leverage this growing demographic for the maximum benefit. While eschewed by the youth-obsessed culture in Silicon Valley, the retirees I know are vibrant, educated, intelligent, energetic, problem solvers that still have lots to offer.
If you are fortunate enough to reach a stage in life where you no longer need to work for money, consider this a great opportunity — it’s a chance to do what you want rather than what you need to do. After being in one field for more than 35 years, it was daunting and even scary to figure out what to do next. I loved my career and, for a while, thought I had made a huge mistake leaving my chosen career behind, but today I am happy I did.
My only regret is that, while we planned financially for retirement, we should have spent more time thinking about how to create an interesting, fulfilling, purposeful life. While I ultimately found my new passions and pursuits, with some forethought I could have set goals and aspirations and avoided the rollercoaster ride entering this next phase of my life.
Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology last year and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.