Now where do you go?

Shell Shocked?
Five ways to take control of your future in 2011!

By Suzanne Armstrong

There’s nothing like an unexpected dose of economic chaos to rivet our attention to the future and the possible surprises it has yet to reveal in one way or another.

This has been particularly true for the zoomer crowd of late, with financial worries and harsh new realities forcing many of us to revisit our expectations and plans for the months and years ahead.

Feeling a bit shell shocked at the moment? You’re not alone but as an HR expert and life-planning coach, I can tell you that my message these days is as positive as ever. Why? Because the simple truth is that when our attention turns with a vengeance to the future as it has now, we unknowingly give ourselves new and very real opportunities to exert more control over our own destiny.

And if you believe some of the research, looking ahead with a sharper lens is something we should be doing more of anyway. Our organization, Life’s Next Steps, surveyed 900 boomer employees across Canada in the fall and our poll revealed that only 30% of older workers had any type of clearly defined “lifestyle plan” in place for their retirement years. This is even more dismaying in light of additional research on Boomers done in 2007 by several firms. For example, 84% of retirees expect to work after their official retirement from their long-term companies and fully 63% think they will never retire.

Think about that. Even though more than 80% expect to continue working in some capacity, just a third of zoomers say they have a clear idea of what they want retirement to actually look like. It’s noteworthy that our own survey took place just prior to the financial and economic spinout that has rocked North America in recent months, making the need to “think ahead” even more crucial.

My point? It’s simply this – that in the best of times or the worst of times, unless you have a clear destination in mind for your future, what chance do you have of getting anywhere that you’ll want to be? If the current maelstrom serves as a rude wakeup call of sorts for the two-thirds of you zoomers out there with no roadmap for how you’ll spend your time in the future, think of it as a good thing. You know who you are! And with that in mind, here is a timely guide to help you better shape the days and months and years ahead:

1. Assume nothing in times like this. Take the time, ask the questions, do the research needed to create a clearer understanding of the true impact the current economy is having on you and your future. You might be in better, or worse, shape than you even realize. Perhaps the probability of retiring with money in the bank has dropped to 80% from 90%. Or from 60% to 40%. Knowing where you stand today is the first step to shaping tomorrow.

2. Understand what you can do today to make a difference. What can you do to improve the picture that you are seeing? Could you be spending less? Could you be putting to work any skills or talents that you currently are not capitalizing on? Ask yourself what you could be doing today and tomorrow to add value to your own future.

3. Create a long-term plan that goes beyond the financial by mapping out how you will spend your TIME in the months and years ahead. Be realistic. Are you in a position of needing – or simply wanting – to stay on the job or in the workforce beyond retirement age? To what degree? How many days a week? How many months a year? Doing what exactly? Where, precisely? And with whom, perhaps? Can you answer these questions today with clarity? If not, it’s time to get some answers. Map out a specific life plan that shows exactly what your “retirement years” will look like from a time perspective.

4. If your objective is to stay in your current job rather than retire, sit down with your employer now and explore possibilities. Research tells us that employers today are not fully aware of their older workers’ goals and objectives concerning work. A recent HRPA study shows that 78% of employers polled had not surveyed older employees on their retirement plans! A survey we did last year showed that only 5.9% of employers – or about one in 20 – today offer any kind of lifestyle planning to zoomer employees. That means it’s up to you to take action on the employment front. Planning the future together with your employer gives you a much better chance of making it happen the way you want it to happen.

5. Reach out for help and stay positive. You might not feel it at times but you are never alone. Get increasingly connected and involved with your current social and professional networks to gain insights and information that could be critical to the planning process you are taking on for yourself. If this is a time when you are exploring options and looking for answers to questions about the future, the more people and experts you can interact with, the better your chances for success.

Suzanne Armstrong is president of Life’s Next Steps, a Toronto-based organization that is helping soon-to-be retirees plan for the future. You can contact her at [email protected] to learn more about their program.