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Sonoma County Gazette

The 3rd Act
Psyching Yourself Up for Retirement

Feb 15, 2018


By Patricia Cavanaugh, MA, MFT and Ellie Klevins, MS

So, you’ve cut the cake, cashed your last paycheck, taken a trip (by the way, this is no longer called a vacation), tackled the closets and maybe even the garage. So now what? What does it really take to have a “happy retirement”? Our experience working with hundreds of clients as they transition to their “3rd act” tells us that much like having a solid financial plan, you need a “life plan” to guide the next 20++ years of your life. The clock is ticking, so let’s create a plan for a life well-lived.

We’re living longer, healthier and with more time ahead than any previous generation. Today’s Baby Boomers are pioneers in reinventing what it now means to be retired. After exiting from demanding and often stressful 40+ work weeks, raising a family, and trying to make time to get the gym, your schedule is now wide open! This can be liberating and frightening at the same time. One of our clients said it feels like “free fall”. We say it’s the perfect time to create an inspiring plan for your future.

We have spent our lives up to this point with some pretty clear markers for happiness and success. Get good grades! Find the right life partner! Grow your career! Start a family! Buy a house, pay the bills, and on and on. As you approach your 3rd act, you may find you actually have a choice about what you want to do with your one wild and precious life. We offer you this framework for creating a happy retirement:

Let Go of the Past

Ask yourself, “What do I want to leave behind?” One of our clients is an attorney and was asked by a non-profit organization she was passionate about to be a Board Member. She ended up spending a lot of time traveling to and attending long (and boring) meetings just like she did when she was working. The irony was, now she wasn’t even being paid for her time! It was so easy for her to slip back into familiar patterns.

Play to your Strengths

Finding a sense of accomplishment outside the workplace can be challenging. Many find using their strengths and skills in service to others brings their life new meaning and purpose. A former corporate executive now finds great satisfaction in teaching leadership skills to young people.

Savor the Present Moment

Including simple pleasures in your day, being grateful and staying “in the moment” can reduce stress and increase your happiness. Now is the time to have that second cup of coffee, read the entire newspaper, take a leisurely walk with the dog, and read a book to a child. A slower pace and less demands on your time give you freedom, you just have to remember to enjoy it.

Deepen and Create New Relationships

By far the most important key to a successful and rich 3rd act is to grow and maintain positive relationships. Multiple studies on aging reach a similar conclusion: On-going positive relationships are the best indicator for successful aging.

Most people focus on the financial side of retirement planning and no doubt that is important. But taking the time to create a life plan for your future will further insure you are making the most of the time ahead and help create a happy and fulfilling 3rd Act.


The 3rd Act provides lifestyle guidance and support for people who want to make the most of the time ahead. Since 2008, we have helped hundreds of people inside organizations, at our public workshops and retreats, and through individual and couples coaching to create inspiring life plans, manage change and transition, and live a happy and fulfilling 3rd act.



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