Mechanical engineer Joe Szuba of Dearborn, Mich., was elated when his early-retirement package came through. A 35-year veteran of the Ford Motor Co. who supervised a rapid-tooling project at the company's scientific-research laboratory, he cleared out his desk on a Friday afternoon. Two days later he was at his new job--as a consultant for Koppy Corp., an automotive-equipment firm he had worked with during his Ford years--to help carry out a previously shelved Ford project. "It made sense to me," he says. Since "retiring," Szuba, now 61, has incorporated his own consulting company, gained two other clients and filed for five new patents. "A retiree can't afford to think like a retiree," he says.
Well, that's one theory. Another is that a retiree should capitalize on retirement's freedom by taking a flyer on something that might never have been possible during the pursuit of a career. New Yorker Judy Rosenblum tried that path. After retiring at 55 from teaching elementary school in Cedarhurst, N.Y., she decided to go to art school. "It was an unknown for me," she says. "I never in my life thought I could paint. It was like magic." She found that she could exhibit and sell her paintings. Buoyed by this success, she took courses to learn how to play bridge. Then, building on her teaching expertise, she enrolled in a class on how to teach the game, which she now does during her winters in Florida and aboard cruise ships that have taken her and her husband to Hawaii, Europe and the Caribbean. Says Rosenblum, 72: "Don't ever be afraid to try something new, because you never can tell where it's going to lead you."
Szuba and Rosenblum illustrate two answers to a crucial question about retirement: Should you spend your golden years doing what you have always done or maybe take one last shot at turning a longtime dream into reality? Which way you answer the question is less important than the fact that you ask it, say Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners, authors of Don't Retire, Rewire! (Alpha Books). When the pair, who previously owned a New York City-based executive-search and transition-coaching firm, asked pre-retirees about their vision for the future, the responses ranged from "none" and "none, but it'll evolve" to vague statements like "reading" or "playing with my grandchildren." To the basic question "Do you have a plan?" most respondents said no.
Before current or future retirees can formulate an agenda, they need to figure out what gives them satisfaction and pleasure in the first place, say Sedlar and Miners. The authors explain that knowing your "drivers"--they identify 30 of them, such as the need to be creative, powerful or part of the action--helps you select activities that best align with your needs. Sedlar encourages people to give themselves directives such as "I owe it to myself to know, and finally have the guts to say, that a certain driver is important to me" and "If I've had power and been a leader and I like it, dammit, that's not going to go away."