If you’re planning to retire at some point, take a close look at your personal and professional networks. The folks who are your contacts now will take on new importance to you as you approach and enter retirement. You might think about networking in terms of advancing your career by generating business or moving into leadership. But your network is also one of your most valuable assets when you wind down your career and move on to the next stage of your life.
How valuable is your network?
A strong network consists of relationships that are honest, sincere, and of value to both parties. You can have thousands of connections on LinkedIn, Facebook or other social media, but the value of that network depends on the quality of those connections. When you are retiring, a few meaningful relationships may be more valuable than dozens of professional contacts.
A high-value network needs to be very diverse, especially when you are trying to find information, ideas or introductions. The greater the variety and differences among your contacts, the more potential there is for finding what you need for your retirement search and planning. If you only look to people with whom you share similar knowledge, experience, interests, activities, and connections, your network will simply reinforce what you already know, have and do. But if you can reach out beyond that group, to people who are different in many ways, their perspectives, contacts and resources can greatly expand your own.
High-value networks are also a source of personal support. Some of your contacts are close friends, social acquaintances, or business contacts with whom you also have a more personal connection. When you retire, these people can provide emotional support, companionship or just buddies to talk to or do things with.
Why is networking important when you retire?
When you are trying to plan what you will do in the future, your contacts can be important sources of information, ideas and leads; advice and mentoring; and social, intellectual and physical engagement.
1. Information, ideas and leads.
What will you do when you retire? If you don’t know, your network is a great place to look for possibilities. A call to someone in a field that sounds intriguing can be quicker, more helpful and more stimulating than browsing through books or spending hours combing the internet.
In addition to providing information, your conversations will expand your thinking and spark new ideas. They might give you leads, referrals or introductions that bring you new and unexpected opportunities. And even if the people you call are not knowledgeable or involved, they may know other people who are and to whom they can introduce you.
2. Advice and mentoring.
You may have been a mentor to others throughout your career, but now you’re entering a totally new stage of life when you can benefit from having one or more mentors.
Advice from people who are in the same retirement stage you are in, or who have already retired, can help you develop plans and strategies and prepare for the challenges of retirement. As they share their stories and insights, you might be inspired to go in directions you hadn’t thought about.
One of the risks of retirement is a loss of social, intellectual and physical engagement. Social interactions may weaken as the daily interactions of the workplace with clients and colleagues slow and then vanish. You no longer have the mental stimulation of work, which can lead to boredom.
The absence of regular work routines and deadlines can make it an effort to get your body moving and easy to be lazy. Yet social, mental and physical activities are essential to maintain good emotional and physical well-being when you retire. Nurturing and expanding your network of friends and acquaintances improves your chances of remaining active, engaged and connected.
How To Increase Your Network’s Retirement Value
It is never too soon to start using your network to help you design your retirement. Here are a few suggestions for doing that:
1. Figure out:
- (1) what you want to know or do
- (2) who you know who might be able to help you
- (3) who they might know who can help you if they can’t
Think very broadly. Let’s say you are a lawyer who plans to stop practicing law but wants to apply your expertise in a new way. Think of a project you worked on and really enjoyed. Who else was involved? What fields were they in? Could any of them use your legal skills in some way, perhaps as an advisor or project manager? The best way to find out is to reach out to them.
2. Be curious.
When you reach out for such information, you’re not inquiring as an expert. Instead of answering questions as you have done during your career, you are seeking answers. You are looking for guidance to help you design your new, as-yet undefined future.
Begin with an open mind. Before you call, consider what you need and want to learn. Have your questions ready, then listen and learn. For example, do you want to know how they got their part-time job? How they dealt with the lack of daily structure when they retired? Whether they are interested in forming a string quartet with you now that you will have the time to play? If they know someone who can help you set up the computer system in your new home office?
3. Call people.
Identify the people you want to be in touch with when you retire. Call one of them a day. It takes just a few minutes to say hello, ask how they are and what they’re doing, and to let them know what you are considering or exploring. These occasional calls will reinforce your current connections and refresh relationships that may have languished.
4. Remember that networking is mutual.
When you seek help from your contacts, look for ways you can benefit them as well. At the very least, thank them for their help and for any introductions they make, and let them know what happens when you follow through. You might also introduce them to other people in your network who share their interests or can meet their needs.
Designing your retirement involves exploring the many possibilities that will make up your future life. One way to make that exploration easier and more fruitful is to utilize the network you have built up during your career. That network may be more extensive and valuable than you know, so start soon to enjoy the value of those relationships.
By Ida O. Abbott, JD
Ida O. Abbott, JD, President of Ida Abbott Consulting and author of Retirement by Design (Ulysses Press 2020), has been a leader in the field of talent management for over four decades. She specializes in helping firms improve retirement processes and serves as a retirement mentor and coach. See www.IdaAbbott.com.