John S. McClenahen retired from IndustryWeek in 2006 and remains an interested observer of global manufacturing.

The Virtues of an Unplanned Retirement

Oct. 10, 2013
Retirement planning advice.


The prospect of life after the office is rewarding, really scary, or something many managers in manufacturing would rather not think about.

Or maybe it’s a complex combination of all three.

Indeed, the size and scope of today’s retirement “industry” threatens to overwhelm even the most organized of managers. There are the helpful folks close to you in HR, more retirement seminars than you could ever attend, and packages of retirement travel just awaiting down payments. There are folks who invite you to let them handle your money even before you retire. There are promoters of retirement communities who invite you to at least drop by for a visit. There are people ready to sign you up for retirement healthcare and advise you on retirement health insurance. There are self-help books, some of which may contribute financially to their authors’ retirement more than to yours. Retirement planning specials beg for your attention during PBS pledge weeks. Add to this list friends and relatives who believe they know what’s best for you in retirement . . . . Well, you may be excused for feeling anxious.

I probably don’t know you, and I will not presume to tell you what to do in your retirement. Your retirement is yours to plan, and it’s for you to make choices, aided by whatever professional or friendly advice you choose to accept.

Nevertheless, based on my experience, may I strongly suggest you do not try to plan prospectively each and every aspect of your retirement?

If you are as I was, you have not retired before. Despite some years of thought and years of serious financial planning, there was a lot to retirement I didn’t appreciate until I was at least a couple of years into retirement. For instance, finishing an advanced degree did not have the same appeal or urgency I had once felt. And having traveled much of the Americas, Europe, and Asia multiple times in my nearly 40-year career, catching a flight across oceans or boarding a ship to faraway places was not a priority.

Early in retirement, however, I began going through bits of writing I had tossed into folders for a couple of decades. Some of the phrases and paragraphs, and even a short story, seemed worth more than just a look. There were a couple of academic papers on nineteenth-century American history that seemed to have promise for publication. At the same time, my passion for photography was being rekindled, and I again started taking large numbers of photographs, mostly of nature, and produced among others, black-and-white prints of America’s desert southwest. Opening those folders shortly after I retired and opening a camera lens again many hundreds of times were not expected, certainly not planned for. Nor have been three published books of poems and several books of photographs. Yet, for me, welcoming the unexpected, the unplanned, in my retirement has proven to be as vital as the financial planning that I needed to do before retirement.

This is another of a series of occasional essays by John S. McClenahen, who retired from IndustryWeek in 2006. An award-winning writer and photographer, his books include An Unexpected Poet, published in March 2013.              

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