Executive Suite: Retiring? Ask yourself three questions

Mimi Browning

Many years ago, a wise and trusted member of the Army IT community told me that you are ready to leave the government when you can comfortably answer these three questions:
  • When do I want to leave?

  • Where do I want to live?

  • What do I want to do?

Over the next five years, many people will leave government service for new ventures. Traditional transition courses focus mainly on benefit and annuity decisions and how to get a job. Rarely do workers discuss the personal decision dynamics involved in answering the three questions. As someone who has recently left government service, I want to share some insights.

Follow your instincts to time your departure. Close to the time when you can retire, your gut will tell you (within a year's accuracy) when you want to leave. Choose your departure date and craft a memorable exit strategy. Such a strategy should consider the best time to maximize your benefits, throw a retirement party (not two days before the end of the fiscal year), and immortalize your reputation after retirement (don't retire the same day as your boss or leave before you have finished important work).

Reward yourself. After years of dedicated service, you deserve a break. Take time off to unwind, recharge your batteries and start fresh into new ventures. This in-between time will also sharpen your focus on what to do next.

Be skeptical about uprooting to an exotic locale. Most people seek to move to faraway places because they are fed up with their current environment, envision a cheap place to live or want to do something entirely not in character'return to a home base. If you have done the research and can't wait to return to your family home or adjust to life in a Mediterranean village, then do it. If not, stay put until you have enough facts.

Determine what is important to you for the next five years (beyond that is just too hard). Have fun? Make money? Work part time and travel? It doesn't matter. You've successfully completed a government career and have a foundational annuity. So do something you genuinely like and are good at.

If you are not sure what you want to do, consider bridge ventures to explore interests and opportunities.

Where you were in the government hierarchy may determine how easy the transition is. People in midlevel jobs move more easily to private-sector jobs because their skills are directly marketable.

Also, their egos are better tuned to reality. Senior civilian and military executives may have a rough time as they are courted mainly for their contacts and access, somewhat for their knowledge and experience base, and definitely not for their high-maintenance lifestyle.

Keep your current network and build a new one. Part of your value is your contacts and access, but these need to be refreshed. Continue to reach out to your former colleagues and cultivate new friends and colleagues.

Mimi Browning is a former Army executive who is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. Contact her at [email protected].

About the Author

Browning is a former Army senior executives and former Booz Allen Hamilton principal who now leads Browning Consultants.


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