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Make retirement the better part of your life

Mon Sep 20, 2004, 6:21 AM ET

By Bruce Rosenstein, USA TODAY

Bob Buford, 65, is not the retiring type.

Buford ran Friendship Cable, a company based in Tyler, Texas, which he sold in 1999. But the last thing on his mind was retirement: “harvesting a gold watch and going to leisure land.”

His passion now—Life II, he dubs it—is moving from success to “significance,” adding “value to the lives of others.”

Since 1984, he had been cultivating this other part of his life while running Friendship Cable. He turned to writing books (four in all now) and started a foundation, Leadership Network, which he says “encourages leadership development in innovative Christian organizations.” In 1990, he was one of the co-founders of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management (now the Leader to Leader Institute).

For Finishing Well: What People Who Really Live Do Differently!, Buford went on a nationwide odyssey, interviewing more than 100 people, all of them “code breakers.” Most worked in business, though he also talked with doctors, lawyers, musicians, a sculptor and a sports photographer. Ages ranged from mid-40s to, in the case of management guru Peter Drucker, 94. Not one had a conventional idea of retirement.

Drucker, Buford’s mentor for more than 20 years, is an extreme example of someone who has engaged in what the author calls “socially productive aging.” Until recently, Drucker kept a steady schedule of writing, consulting and teaching.

What Buford discovered:

box Find the right place: Jim Collins, 45, is the author of the business best seller Good to Great. Collins discovered he could do his best not by working for an established organization, but on his own as an “entrepreneurial professor.”

box Find your core: Buford defines this as “the mental, physical and emotional tools you've got to work with, as well as your experiences and deepest passions.”

box Find your calling: Frances Hesselbein, chair of the Leader to Leader Institute and former head of the Girl Scouts of America, believes “ethical, principled business leaders are called, just as clergy are called.”

box Reposition your life: Millard Fuller was a millionaire when he and his wife sold all they owned, gave the money to the poor and eventually started Habitat for Humanity in 1976. It has been a force for good in the lives of families for whom it builds homes and of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers each year who find meaning in their efforts.

It’s up to you to define a satisfying second half. Readers who saw the recent PBS series The Question of God will enjoy the interview with the man behind the show and book of the same name, Harvard professor Armand Nicholi Jr. He looks at God through the opposing views of C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud.

Nicholi says, “The people who feel best about themselves after retirement are those who get involved in some kind of work or activity where they can make a contribution to others, such as volunteer work, mentoring or teaching.”

Buford is deeply religious, and Finishing Well has a fairly pronounced Christian theme. But it is not the only theme, and many of the interviews are secular in nature. Buford’s message is relevant for business readers, no matter what their spiritual life looks like.

Aging baby boomers worried about Medicare and pension funds will not find financial advice in Finishing Well. But readers will come across good stories and may well discover that wisdom is an important part of anyone’s portfolio.

Copyright © 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Copyright © 2004 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

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