A successful retirement experience takes more than money.  As you plan for your life in retirement, your current skills, interests, values, and preferences should be given thoughtful consideration.  These characteristics will be the personal assets that you take with you into retirement to make it a successful and satisfying chapter of your life.


Think of your skills as a portfolio of abilities that you can build on throughout your lifetime.  Here are several examples:  ability to communicate effectively, ability to solve problems in creative ways, ability to visualize interior or landscape designs, ability to understand and work well with animals, ability to be an empathetic listener, ability to repair almost anything mechanical, ability to be an inspirational leader, and so on.

Your skills can be very diverse, but represent the strengths that you can draw on for creating your own personal success and for contributing to the well-being of your family, workplace, and community.  In addition, skills represent abilities for which you have a natural aptitude or have developed through training and experience.


Interests are subjects or activities that draw or attract you.  The range of possible interests is limitless and as unique as the individuals who possess them:  art, politics, gardening, fishing, social service, spirituality, astronomy, photography, collecting, hiking, jazz, travel, computers, entrepreneurship, wood working, investing, sailing, writing, etc.

These examples represent broad categories of interests, but within each category are endless possibilities of specific and focused interests.  Some of us are generalists and some of us are specialists.  For example, one person may have an avid interest in the broad topic of history, while another person may focus more specifically on the history of the American Civil War.  Your interests are what you really enjoy and find intriguing.


Values are principles or standards we consider important or desirable.  When describing values, we often think in terms of attributes such as “honesty,” “loyalty,” or “altruism.”  We also tend to think of values in terms of what we hold most dear to us such as “my family,” “my faith,” or “my health.”  However, values are also those intangibles that keep us motivated.  Motivators vary from person to person, but examples include wealth, recognition, achievement, knowledge, creativity, challenge, adventure, harmony, and independence.  Our values are what subconsciously and consciously guide the choices we make.


Many individuals begin to recognize patterns as they identify their skills, interests, and values. These patterns can be described as preferences—that which a person is inclined to, is most comfortable with, or most likely to choose.  Preferences can usually be divided into four categories:  People, Data, Things, and Ideas.  This system is adapted from the work of John Holland:

People—Helping, serving, care taking, selling, teaching, counseling, managing, advising, or in other ways working with and being around people.

Data—Researching, budgeting, forecasting, editing, computing, analyzing, balancing, or in other ways working with data.

Things—Constructing, building, planting, operating, assembling, maintaining, repairing, drafting, or in other ways working with “things” such as plants, machines, equipment, or mediums for arts and crafts.

Ideas—Creating, theorizing, inventing, exploring, planning, questioning, designing, problem solving, or in other ways working with ideas and innovations.

Exploring your retirement potential is actually a process of self-assessment that requires introspection and analysis.  In addition, this process will help to strengthen your identity apart from the world of work.  In the book Comfort Zones, authors Elwood Chapman and Marion Haynes wrote:

“What you do for a living is often the topic of casual conversations.  Facing your identity, beyond your career, will be one of the major challenges you face in retirement. How will you answer the question, ‘What do you do?’ after you retire?”

Dr. Phyllis Moen, director of the Cornell Retirement and Well-Being Study believes that “I’m retired” is really a non-answer when replying to the “what do you do?” question.  Instead, she recommends that each retiree should respond with a description of his or her meaningful and productive activities.

Because of increasing longevity and healthier and more active retirement lifestyles, many individuals are viewing retirement as an opportunity to switch careers, start a business, return to school, or get involved in a good cause.  Others use retirement to return to a favorite activity or pursuit they felt they had to set aside many years ago.

In summary, taking stock of and evaluating your skills, interests, values, and preferences will form a solid foundation for planning your future. Combining the information of “who I am” with “what I want” will help you to form your own unique definition and vision of a rewarding and fulfilling life in retirement.

Reprinted by permission of Money Quotient, NP

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