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Ex-ExxonMobil Exec on How to Transition into Retirement

Author Bill Innes did a Q&A with Workforce Editorial Director Rick Bell on how executives can transition from intense careers after retiring from their high-power position.

Bill Innes, co-author of “Your Next Season: Advice for Executives Transitioning from Intense Careers to Fulfilling Next Seasons.”

Bill Innes spent the bulk of his career with Fortune 100 firm ExxonMobil, retiring as president of ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co. He recently co-authored “Your Next Season: Advice for Executives Transitioning from Intense Careers to Fulfilling Next Seasons,” with Leslie W. Braksick, offering keen insight to life beyond the boardroom. Workforce Editorial Director Rick Bell caught up with Innes via email to discover what winds are blowing through these changing seasons.

Workforce: Just what do you mean by “Your Next Season?”

Bill Innes: As the biblical quotation says, “for everything there is a season.” The idea of your next season is to suggest that the period after retirement is one that naturally has a different place in the span of a lifetime. It is a time when satisfaction and success can be defined differently; and unless it is approached differently, you may miss the joy and fulfillment of a wonderful opportunity. Seasons are inexact in their timing; there are patterns we expect with seasons, but always include surprises and weather that was unanticipated. Corporate transitions are similar. We prepare; we plant; we fertilize and we water, and yet what we expect may not be realized.

WF: What constitutes a successful next season?

Innes: The attributes of success in your next season are similar to other stages in life — a sense of purpose, self-fulfillment and self worth. What is different is that the field in which it can be found is wonderfully unconstrained — you don’t have to earn a living, you don’t have to lead the parade unless you want to, you can work to your own schedule, you don’t even have to be knowledgeable! What is the same is that you will be most successful if you are thoughtful and deliberate about the decisions about where to spend your time.

WF: Do people struggles with this transition?

Innes: Many people struggle with this transition. In many ways the more successful they are in their primary career, the more difficulty they may have in imagining another focus for their life that will be as fulfilling. It takes time and deep reflection to accept that a very satisfying stage in life has come to a conclusion, to let it go and to believe that another door is opening with possibilities that may be just as fulfilling. Tragically, some never succeed in making the transition. We have, however, found that those who prepare well for the transition, struggle less. This is why we wrote the book.

WF: You talk about “essentials for the journey.” What are they?

Innes: Essentials for the journey — like any transition these include a thoughtful and deliberate approach, knowledge of oneself, willingness to listen and awareness of the needs of others. In this particular transition at this time in life, health, openness to a newly defined purpose and companionship are particularly important. Your health defines so much of what you can take on. Openness to a newly defined purpose is essential to breaking the constraints of your work life and role; and companionship makes the leap into something new less daunting.

WF: Is “Next Season” applicable to anyone contemplating life after the workplace, or just corporate executives?

Innes: Your next Season is applicable to anyone contemplating life after the workplace, although the challenge for executives in situations where their work demands leave little energy or opportunity to develop other interests is particularly difficult. In every case the end of commitment to the workplace is one of life’s major changes.

WF: Who is this book aimed at?

Innes: This book is aimed in the first place at those who are approaching the transition to their next season. It may also be helpful for HR professionals who are important in helping executives prepare for this transition. More broadly we hope that this book may stimulate people to think about the nature of this change and how corporations may facilitate a productive environment pre and post retirement.

WF: When I hear corporate executives, I think old white guys. Are there takeaways here for women executives? Minority corporate leaders?

Innes: Several of the executives quoted in the book are either women or minorities. However the challenges would seem to apply to all executives. I think that any difference would be more a reflection of their position as individuals rather than their gender or race.

WF: Are there takeaways here for Gen Xers and millennials?

Innes: Nothing specific except, it’s coming! We see Gen X’ers and millenials doing a better job in general of ensuring balance in their lives. I am part of a “live to work” generation; they seem to be more of a “work to live” generation. Somewhere in the middle is probably right.

Rick Bell is editorial director at Workforce. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.