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New Book: Using a Portfolio to Navigate Life After 50


And then the knowledge comes to me that I have the space within me for a second, timeless, larger life. – R. M. Rilke

More and more people bowing out of long careers are doing anything but retiring.

According to a recent report by Statistics Canada, New Frontiers of Research on Retirement, 2006, retirement today is a transition phase between full-time work and active retirement, or what the British call "the forth age." And those hitting retirement age are planning to make the most of this extraordinary life stage.

Creating a Life Portfolio

One way to do this is to adopt a life-planning model called a life portfolio, according to David Corbett. Corbett is founder of New Directions, a Boston firm which coaches older workers on making the transition from working to life after a career.

Like a collection of stocks and bonds, a life portfolio is an integrated mix of personal holdings or assets. In the life portfolio, the assets are your unique gifts, values, passions and pursuits.

Building a life portfolio is all about developing a mind-set and making choices. Simply put, a life portfolio is a strategic plan with short and long-term goals to steer you in the right direction and help keep you on track.

"And be prepared to push the envelope," writes Corbett. "Your portfolio stage in life may last 30 years."

In Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose and Passion after 50 (Jossey-Bass), Corbett makes a convincing argument for the portfolio concept, suggesting people can refocus later in life on the preferred skills and meaningful pursuits that suit them best.

In 16 clearly written chapters, Corbett provides guidelines for designing the life portfolio, using personal stories, exercises and inspiring quotes.

Five Pathways

Retirement is different for each person. So getting started can sometimes be a challenge.

Corbett offers these suggestions:

1. Work on your terms for pay or passion: You may have spent your career working for others, but now you are the boss. Review your accomplishments. Think back to your childhood. What activities captivated you for hours without the need of anyone else around? Are there some of these interests you want to revisit? What have you always wanted to do but never allowed yourself to do because it was too expensive, reckless, or likely to be frowned on by others? Finally, you are free to pursue your dream.

2. Learn for the love of it: Maybe the first time round you missed the opportunity to get a degree, or you had to put your love of the theatre or woodworking on hold, while you were getting established in your career and rising through the ranks. Well, now you have the time. You can get that degree, join an amateur theatre group or take a course in cabinetmaking. And you don’t have to wait for vacation time to do it. Caring for the soul can also be an important quest at midlife. This may mean bringing some kind of regular discipline into your daily life, perhaps meditation or yoga.

3. Invest in yourself: If you’ve always wanted to take more time for yourself, you finally can. Now is the time when you can finally indulge yourself whether you want to spend more time in the outdoors, improve your golf game, attend more concerts, or dig into your family’s history.

4. Connect with family and friends: Sure, you’ve always loved your family and valued your friendships, but relationships are complicated. They require time, and time may have been in short supply when you were busy with your career. If you have grandchildren there will be more time to visit now, time to get active and bake cookies, build model airplanes, or participate in a service project together. The good news is that it’s never too late to create nourishing relationships.

5. Give back: "I am what survives of me," wrote the pioneering psychologist Erik Erikson. Now, you may have time to reach out to a specific group in your community, such as in education, art or culture. Perhaps serve as a guide, mentor or coach for young adults? Do you want to contribute money to your house of worship, start a scholarship in memory of a loved one, or establish a foundation for a cause that matters to you?