Business Columns & Blogs

Diane Stafford: How to find meaning after retirement

This is mainly a guy thing, but it affects women, too. They retire, perhaps earlier than expected, and haven’t a clue about how to go about living the rest of their lives.

Mickie Schroeder and Jeff Jans took early retirements in April 2008, got married in May 2008 and by September 2008 were sitting on their deck wondering what’s next. They were in their mid 50s and didn’t plan to retire in the traditional sense. They weren’t ready.

From their own searching, they created a business called BOOMERangs … Circle Back to Your Dreams, in which they counsel others who need to find something fulfilling to replace their job-related identity.

“You need to rediscover who you are without your profession hanging over you,” Jans says. “We’ve found that’s especially hard for men, to separate their identity from what they did.”

Schroeder, whose mother is 95, expects to fill many future years with activity. But she didn’t want it to be mindless busywork or endless leisure. When she and Jans looked for “what’s next,” they settled on developing a program to help others answer the question.

Their business model counsels retirees and near-retirees through three phases, described as “take a break from your career,” “take a productive pause” and “make a fresh start.” The steps are useful for financial advisers, career and life coaches, or even for individuals to think through their futures.

In the first phase, we “look at people’s perceptions of retirement, try to help them let go of their work identity and figure out who they really are,” Schroeder says.

In the second phase, they administer assessments and do activities to help their clients identify what they’re good at, what they’ve tried to do in the past and liked, and what they’ve never tried but are interested in and come up with “both wild and feasible possibilities,” Schroeder says.

Working with a retired nuclear engineer, they meshed his seemingly disparate interests in horses and children with disabilities with volunteer work at a ranch that provides equestrian services for such children. He since has set up a trust fund to buy hay for the ranch – activities that provided meaning to otherwise directionless days.

In the third phase, Schroeder and Jans say, they serve as “a safety net” to support people as they try new things.

“We don’t find a job for them, but we support them as they do their own exploration,” Schroeder says.

They say that since beginning their new work lives, they’ve found the people most in need of thoughtful assistance are those who retired in their 50s and early 60s and still need major outlets – perhaps for money, perhaps not.

“We also find with couples, when one retires and the other doesn’t, the husbands particularly drive their (working) wives crazy,” Schroeder says. “They start reorganizing the spice rack! We’ve found that they may have talked about the financial aspects of retirement, but not so much about how to spend their time.”

Jans says that’s time for “purposeful thinking.”

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star:, 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford,