Life after the executive suite: Where do you go from here?

You’re at a career inflection point. As a former CEO or business owner, you’ve logged a lifetime of experiences and successes. Perhaps you’ve sold your company, retired or left your previous position.

Now, you are in transition, contemplating where to go next. Should you jump back into the executive game? Try your hand at consulting? Volunteer for a humanitarian cause? Or maybe take time o to smell the roses?

What do you want the next 10 years of your life to look like?

“Want to” versus “have to”

If you are grappling with these or similar questions, congratulations! You are among the fortunate few who have the opportunity to figure out what you want to do next, versus what you have to do next.

As an executive in transition, this may be an unfamiliar place for you. You’re no longer climbing the same ladder of success. You’ve already proved yourself and achieved a measure of financial security. You’ve run and grown companies. You’ve worked long hours, perhaps with significant sacrifices in your personal and family life. You’ve been there and done that.

Ready for a new challenge

What you really want at this stage of life depends on many factors, including your personal and family situation, your interests and your values. Some in your situation will choose to travel, play, spend time with their loved ones, and relish the freedom from additional responsibilities and worries.

There are others who aren’t ready to retire but don’t want to jump back into the CEO game. I call them evergreens, because they always want to keep growing. These are people who want to continue learning, challenging themselves and contributing their talents.

Many evergreens who have spent years running businesses may not know exactly what to do with their trove of talents and all that evergreen energy. There is no map for this point in their journey.

The gift of clarity

Faced with these circumstances, many former executives reflexively revert to what CEOs do best: make decisions and take action. They immediately evaluate new opportunities or pursue consulting assignments. In rushing down this path, many miss the greater opportunity to look deeply at what they really want, define their values and discover their purpose. This process of self-examination could ultimately lead to something more exciting and personally satisfying.

If you’re an evergreen, you deserve to give yourself the gift of clarity before you embark on the next leg of your journey. Take some time to reflect on these questions:

• What do you really want?
• What is most important to you in your ideal next opportunity

Define your values

Notice that I did not ask, “What do you want to do next?”That’s jumping the gun. These questions are about defining your personal values — the overarching drivers and priorities that are most important to how you live, work, define yourself and attain happiness. Some examples of these values might be:

• Make a difference in my community
• Use my experience to benefit others
• Have fun

To contemplate your values, you need time and space. Slow down. Get out of action mode (this may be di cult for some hard-charging people). It’s time to reflect. Consider going somewhere quiet, sitting with a pen and paper, and brainstorming the important questions. Chances are, your answers will be quite different than when you were younger.

Over the past 18 years of coaching business leaders and professionals, I’ve worked with a multitude of clients on career transitions. I’ve found that most leaders at this crossroad are motivated by different desires than they were earlier in their lives. Even the questions that they contemplate are different.

See for yourself. Take the time to consider the following eight questions and don’t shy away from honest, bold, pie- in-the-sky answers:

1. After working so hard for so many years, what do I want the next phase of my life look like?
2. What would give me a greater sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment?
3. What do I have to give back?
4. How can I leverage my decades of experience, knowledge and acquired wisdom?
5. How can I continue learning and growing?
6. How can I earn money without jumping back on the treadmill?
7. What can I do that will allow me the time I want for my family and myself?
8. How can I lead a life of significance, make a difference and leave a legacy?

Your personal compass

You’ve already been the captain of a ship. The course you navigated followed the company’s vision, goals and mission. Your challenge going forward is to captain your own ship, navigating the uncharted waters of what’s next for you at this stage of your career and life.
By getting clarity on what’s really important to you, you may open up a new set of possibilities and find a new direction — one that’s right for you and one where you can contribute your talents, experience, energy and passion. Your best years may still be ahead!

Download these questions and additional prompts to help you plan and chart your next course


By Phil Glosserman, Vistage Chair

Vistage Worldwide is an organization designed exclusively for high-integrity CEOs and executive leaders who are looking to drive better decisions and better results for their companies. Our members — 21,000 strong in 20 countries — gather in trusted, confidential peer advisory boards where they tackle their toughest challenges and biggest opportunities. CEOs who joined Vistage in the past ve years grew their companies 2.2 times faster than average small and midsize U.S. companies, according to a 2017 analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data.