Some things in life are easier not to think about, like death, taxes or facing a major transition such as retirement. Fortunately, my son, a financial advisor and business owner, had one of those “Mom, let’s sit down and talk about your finances” discussions with me several years ago.

At the time I felt like a young, 54-year-old child getting the sage advice we parents are supposed to dole out. Naturally, I got good advice, and that discussion helped me get my retirement finances in order.

I set goals for myself and put a plan into action so I’d be financially ready to retire from teaching (now just 14 short months away).

 
 

Transitions: When Goal-Setting Isn’t Enough

Goals can be useful for both short- and long-term plans. My financial plan for retirement was a long-term goal. Short term goals could include anything from trying to lose ten pounds before the holidays to raising money through crowdfunding to help victims of a natural disaster.

I don’t deny that setting long- and short-term goals is important. They keep us motivated and help us focus on what we want to accomplish.

I’ve always been a big fan of goal-setting. However, as valuable as they are, I don’t believe goals alone are always sufficient for living our best lives when we are facing any kind of major life transition.

Retirement is a major transition, but it likely won’t be the first or last one for any of us. Many of us will lose a partner or spouse, experience changes in our health or mobility, start an encore business, or take on new responsibilities that we hadn’t planned to assume, such as raising grandchildren.

These transitions usually require a bit of reinventing and a whole lot of adjusting that no amount of goal setting can completely address.

Beyond Goal-Setting

William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004), explains that after something ends, we have to deal with what he calls “the neutral zone” – a place of uncertainty before something new begins.

It is in this period of uncertainty that we have a rich opportunity to think about how we want to begin the next chapter of our lives.

Regardless of the type of transition we may face, we can view it as a new chance to reinvent our lives. To do this, we need to start by having a clear picture of what we want the next chapter of our lives to look like. Then we can develop a transition plan to help that vision become a reality.

This approach is more like aligning our lives with a vision than setting goals and achieving them. I like to think of this process as behavioral orthodontics. In essence, that’s what it involves – gradual behavioral alignment based on a vision we want to sustain.

Picture Your Next Best Chapter

Unlike goal-setting, creating a clear vision for our lives doesn’t necessarily involve a linear process. In fact, identifying a clear vision for our future often involves our intuitive, creative abilities. Having a vision means we “see” the next best life we really want for ourselves.

As I noted in my Live Your Best Life at Any Age TEDx talk, creating a vision for ourselves involves work. As I also explained, there are a number of tools available that can help us “see” our best selves in the future.

One of my preferred ways of crystalizing my next best life is to do some reflective journaling. This involves regular journaling about experiences, passions and unfulfilled dreams. When using this approach, I regularly review my journals and look for themes.


I ask myself questions like, “What is really, really important to me?” “What do I love doing more than anything?” “What talents or skills do I have that need to be shared with others?”


Another personal favorite I use is to identify role models of people whose lives speak to me. Some of my role models, like Susan B. Anthony, are from history. Others are contemporary. I find that I’m especially drawn to strong women who are willing to speak up for those who do not have a voice.

While it does take a lot of work, having a clear picture of the next life you really want is incredibly empowering. Because I have a clear picture or vision for my next life, I feel more than ready to start transitioning into the new 3.0 version of me.

Create a Sustainable Transition Plan

Once we have a clear picture of our next best life, we can take that vision and break it down into measurable components. The vision I have for my next best life is this: I invest in others to help them be their best. To me, one of the components of investing in others is to share empowerment strategies with groups of people.

Rather than setting a goal of giving a certain number of presentations once I retire, I have committed myself to giving at least some presentations before I retire. If I give a presentation beyond the classroom every six months, I’m doing something.

If I give a presentation every four months, I’m starting to make progress. If I give a presentation every quarter, I’m starting to live the life I’m going to want once I retire. In the last six months, I’ve averaged a presentation every two-three months. I’m becoming who I want to be.

When I’m no longer teaching, my intention is to speak about empowerment strategies one to two times a month. Because I’m already practicing these behaviors, it will be natural for me to gradually increase my speaking frequency after I retire.

Your Next Best Life

What do you see for your next best life? If you are too busy taking care of the day-to-day business of living, I challenge you to stop, take time and ask yourself, “What do I really, really want my life to look like in the near and not-so-near future?”

By taking time for yourself now, you can live your best life at any age.

I’ve shared some of my dreams. What are yours? Are you already living your dream? What do you see for yourself in the future? What insights are you willing to share about dealing with transitions and living your next best life? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Paula UsreyIn 2004, after becoming a grandmother, Paula Usrey started an encore career as an associate professor of communication. She is also a speaker and workshop facilitator. Her topics include communication and personal life planning. In July 2017, she gave her first TEDx Talk: Your Best Life at Any Age.

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