What Do You Want To Do?

I’ve written several posts recently that speak to transitions in one’s professional life – including the transition to full- or partial-retirement. My latest guidepost in this line of inquiry is Dorothy Cantor’s book, What Do You Want to Do When You Grow Up: Starting the Next Chapter of Your Life. Ms. Cantor comes to this subject as a counselor who has worked with lots of folks in their forties through mid-sixties, and her book provides ample case studies to illustrate her main points.

 what do i want to doThe book starts by identifying the six dimensions of adult well-being: (i) self-acceptance – i.e., being at peace within oneself and one’s life journey; (ii) positive relations with other people; (iii) autonomy – i.e., thinking and acting based on one’s own sensibilities and moral compass, not in response to peer pressure; (iv) environmental mastery – i.e., competence in managing one’s life; (v) purpose in life; and, (vi) personal growth – i.e., changing in ways that reflect greater self-knowledge and effectiveness. The author believes most older adults fare well in the first four dimensions but may falter in the latter two once they leave the workforce.

The book guides the reader through a series of exercises to provide clues to fruitful avenues of exploration in the future. Key questions include:

  • What captivated your attention and colored your daily life from childhood through your school years?
  • What became your strongest, most useful asset(s) in adulthood? What did you enjoy? What did you love? Hate? Where did you display mastery? Less than stellar competency?
  • What good things came out of your professional life? (List 15 or more.)
  • What gets your juices flowing these days?

As you reflect on your responses, possibilities for future action may start to emerge. These opportunities can be evaluated through the dual vantage points of Motivators (i.e., what I want and what I need) and Activators (i.e., how I’ll get there):

The Motivators (Wants/Needs)

The Activators

Identity: Complete the phrase “I am a _______” with as many descriptors as resonate for you.

Intellectual activity to stimulate the mind

Physical activity to sustain health

Spiritual attention to the extent that it provides personal sustenance


Family attachments

Applause and recognition to the extent that external rewards matter

Generative efforts to pass along one’s knowledge, experience, skills, and talents

Preferred level of activity

Risk tolerance

Making choices that are true to oneself

Initiating action (a.k.a., being a self-starter)

Setting reasonable goals (challenging yet attainable)

Proceeding independently

Overcoming obstacles

Changing courses as the need arises

Striking a balance between work and play, solitary and communal efforts, family and friends, etc.

Following through

Experiencing a sense of achievement

Finding pleasure in one’s endeavors

However much planning one might undertake in advance of retirement, the author identifies three distinct phases of activity:

  1. The Honeymoon during which the individual simply revels in the break from routine that has been followed for years on end. It might include taking all those trips for which one never previously had time. It might include taking care of all those household projects that have been languishing on a “To Do List.” And it might include a lot of lazing around and simply enjoying life!
  2. Testing New Waters during which the individual explores new terrain. Be curious. Gather information. Find people with whom to play or get assistance. Proceed by trial and error. Find a role model or mentor to encourage and inform you along the way. Follow your heart. And don’t berate yourself if an activity doesn’t turn out to be your cup of tea.
  3. The Second Wind during which you learn to set your expectations and efforts to sustainable levels as you move forward. Let the goals be “to try new things” without worrying much about success. You don’t have to be great at everything you enjoy. Be content with “good enough” if that’s where things wind up. Combat resistance to large endeavors by taking small steps toward the larger goal. Just do it!

The author’s final piece of advice: “As you write the best story for the rest of your life, designing days that keep you growing and infuse you with an excellent sense of well-being, never forget to look for the fun in it all.”