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How a Coach Can Help You Find Meaning and Purpose in Retirement How a Coach Can Help You Find Meaning and Purpose in Retirement
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How a Coach Can Help You Find Meaning and Purpose in Retirement

Insights & Ideas Team •  May 19, 2016 | Enjoying Retirement

When Kirk Dahl was getting ready to retire after 30 years as an emergency room physician in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, he was nervous about transitioning from a profession he called a “labor of love” to the uncharted territory of retirement.

“I have a lot of interests, and I was having trouble deciding how I was going to engineer this part of my life,” he said. “I wanted to continue to contribute to my profession in some way. I’m interested in biking and hiking. We like to travel to watch our sons play hockey. I had a half-dozen patent ideas. With so many irons in the fire, in what direction did I really want to go?”

His story is not uncommon. Pre-retirees spend a lot of time preparing financially for retirement, but they don’t always have a plan for how they’ll spend their time—or find purpose—once they reach retirement. Many, like Dahl, are turning to coaches to help them gain clarity and focus as they transition to life after their careers.

“When you get to the point where work can be phased out, you have a whole new set of options. But I was spinning my wheels,” said Dahl. “So instead of rushing around doing lots of little things, my hope was to get committed to fewer things but do them more intently and vigorously.”

Dahl hired personal coach Darcy Luoma to help him work through the ideas he had for retirement. “As coaches, our goal is to help people get from where they are to where they want to be,” said Luoma. “But we don’t tell them what to do. Instead, we listen, ask powerful questions and then help them develop an action plan with designed accountability to help them achieve their goals.”

The practice of personal coaching has exploded in recent years. In 1999, there were an estimated 2,100 personal coaches in practice worldwide, according to the International Coach Federation. Today, there are more than 47,500.1 And while coaches help people navigate through all types of life transitions, a growing number specialize in helping clients make the transition to retirement. It’s not surprising; many of today’s retirees will live longer, healthier lives than their predecessors and could spend 30 or more active years in retirement. Coaching can help them design strategies to fill the unstructured time in a way that’s meaningful.

“People are starting to realize they may be financially secure, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’re going to have the fulfilling retirement they’re hoping for,” said Rosalie Hoffmann, director of operations for Retirement Options. The company has certified more than 800 retirement coaches worldwide since its inception in 1989.2 "We’re expanding the definition of retirement planning to include non-financial aspects such as career and work, family and relationships, leisure, health and wellness.”

Often, retirement coaching will focus on helping clients fulfill a desire to “give back” through some type of work or volunteerism, according to Joanne Waldman, certified coach and Retirement Options director of training. “The founder of our company calls it ‘following your dream and finding your giftedness.’”

If you’re considering hiring a coach to help you transition to a more fulfilling retirement, do your homework first. Waldman and Hoffmann suggest taking five steps:

MedicareSimplified1. Insist on certification. The coaching industry is largely unregulated; anybody can call him- or herself a coach. The International Coach Federation is a leading professional association in the industry and offers a searchable online database of coaches who have achieved ICF certification. Retirement Options also offers an online listing of coaches it has certified.

2. Ask about the coach’s relevant experience. Has he specifically coached retirees? How many clients has she worked with?

3. Make sure there’s chemistry. Ask for an initial get-to-know-you session to see if you’re a good fit for one another. A reputable coach will offer this at no charge.

4. Ask if the coach has a proven process or tools to use when working with you.

5. Get (and check) references.

Once you choose a coach, be prepared to put forth the time and effort required to make the partnership successful. Coach-client engagements typically run about three to six months, with coaching sessions held weekly, biweekly or monthly, and there’s often homework between sessions.

Looking back on the time he spent working with his coach, Dahl says the experience gave him more clarity and focus as he began the transition to retirement. “Coaching helped me give myself ‘permission’ to cast aside some perceived obligations that no longer served much purpose,” said Dahl. “So now I can choose what I want to do and feel pretty comfortable with my decisions, including moving out of my comfort zone to try new things.”

1International Coach Foundation, ICF 2012 Global Coaching Study, retrieved 3-31-2015 from

2Retirement Options, retrieved 8-31-2015 from

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