While most of the commentary these days regarding retirement is about the math and “science” of cash flow and portfolio management, there is also an art to retiring well. Making a graceful transition from the vocation that marks your life into whatever follows helps form your legacy—for better and worse.
Led Zeppelin was the best rock band of all time—at least in their time, and for many of us, still. Jimmy Page was the musical mastermind behind this super-group of savants, but it’s hard to imagine that they could’ve reached legendary status without Robert Plant. Every generation since has attempted to replicate Plant’s voice and stage presence. Although the band’s retirement was unplanned after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980, Plant and Page’s work since is a fascinating case study in retirement.
Retire like Robert Plant…not like Jimmy Page
Robert Plant has explored, experimented and remade himself several times since retiring from Led Zeppelin. As I write, I’m listening to one of my favorite albums, Raising Sand, a Grammy-award winning collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, a legend herself in the realm of bluegrass.
Maybe since it was his baby, Jimmy Page has struggled to ever let go of Zeppelin, a fact that was evident in his 2012 Rolling Stone interview. He’s struggled to retire well. He seems to have lived between a handful of attempted (and certifiably mediocre) Led Zeppelin reunion gigs, and implies Robert Plant is at fault for resisting a full-out remarriage.
It’s not easy to retire from the best gig you’ve ever had, but unwillingness to acknowledge that it’s over can be even more painful. Loosening your grip on the past, however, can free you up for a fulfilling and rewarding second act.
Retire like Michael Strahan…not like Brett Favre
I had to recuse myself from using my beloved Ravens’ Ray Lewis as the favorable example in this gridiron comparison to preserve objectivity, but objectively speaking, Michael Strahan’s exit from the winning New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII may indeed be a better example of one of the very few NFL players who managed to truly go out on top. Strahan capitalized on the Giant’s surprise win over the New England Patriots to position himself for a second and third career that now pits him against the less-than-menacing Kelly Ripa.
Brett Favre, on the other hand, who was the most exciting quarterback of a generation, couldn’t let go. He leads the NFL in retirement threats, retirements and comebacks, finally ending his career in a concussive fog as a Minnesota Viking. Favre wisely turned down a request from the St. Louis Rams just this week to replace injured Sam Bradford, citing his many concussions and subsequent memory loss. He can only hope to forget the sexting scandal that marred his good-old-boy reputation at the end of his career.
When you excel at your craft and you’re competitive, it’s hard to let go, but holding on too long can destroy your reputation, damage your legacy and hamstring the team you leave behind.
Retire like Sallie Krawcheck…not like John Thain
Sallie Krawcheck’s retirement was involuntary—she was fired from her position at Bank of America—but she still managed to do it gracefully. Krawcheck is the former lots-of-things Wall Street, having been at the helm of major divisions at Citi and more recently Bank of America, as the head of Global Wealth and Investment Management (including Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust). But she doesn’t talk or act like most Wall Street execs, and not just because she’s a woman. She’s taken surprisingly principled stances on conflicts of interest, like the “cross-selling” mandate pushing Merrill brokers to sell banking products, and the touchy topic of regulatory reform within the industry. While maintaining her principles may have led (in part) to her forced departure from Wall Street, in retirement her striking combination of competency and transparency have earned her respect that few of her scandal-ridden colleagues enjoy.
John Thain has handled himself, well, differently. He’s the former Merrill Lynch head who infamously gave his office a $1.22 million dollar upgrade and paid out billions in bonuses to country club cronies as the American financial system came crashing down. Even the financial industry couldn’t stomach him and he was “tossed out on his ear” by then CEO of Bank of America, Ken Lewis. Thain is Wall Street excess personified and an easy target for the 99%, but don’t feel too bad for him; while he may have traded a $35,000 in-office toilet for “plastic and Formica,” he’s back on the scene with the $2 billion bailout beneficiary, CIT.
It’s much better to make a graceful early departure than to be thrown out in disgrace.
Three Keys To A Successful Retirement
What retirement lessons do Robert Plant, Michael Strahan and Sallie Krawchek teach us? Three keys to a successful retirement are to know when to leave, leave well and retire to something meaningful. You don’t have to be a rock star, a professional athlete or Wall Street royalty to model and benefit from these practices.
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