You have been financially planning for retirement for years, consulting with advisors, estimating your expenses, and adjusting your portfolio. Now with retirement on the horizon another pressing question begins to rise to the forefront of your mind. “What am I going to be DOING in retirement?”

Career Coach, Lauren Murphy, works with Harvard Business School alumni who are at this inflection point in their careers. In her coaching conversations, she helps alumni craft their retirement with intention and create a plan that works for their unique wants and needs.

“It’s all about planning and being deliberate,” said Murphy. “Many alumni want to stay engaged in meaningful work into retirement. Finding the right arrangement takes curiosity, both about yourself and potential opportunities, and forethought to build in flexibility so that you can make changes along the way.”

For Murphy, planning breaks down into three important stages: Self-assessment, information gathering, and executing and revising.


Understanding yourself is critical to the process of crafting your retirement plan because your retirement will be uniquely yours. Retirement will look different for everyone which is exciting but can also be intimidating if you don’t know what you want. Murphy outlines exactly what to assess and why.


Start with a self-assessment of your personality and an understanding that you will carry your personality with you into retirement.

“If you’re an extrovert, you won’t suddenly become an introvert once you retire,” Murphy said. “Be honest about your personality type and what kind of engagements you want with people.”


Next, evaluate what you want and need from a retirement lifestyle.

Murphy asks alumni “Do you want lots of flexibility, the ability to travel, time to see friends and family? Do you want to live somewhere new, give back to your community, or donate to organizations?”

Being thoughtful about what you want your life to look like in retirement will determine your next steps.


As we all managed through COVID-19 travel restrictions of the past year, Murphy has seen family and location questions going hand and in hand in the assessment process. Retirement offers an opportunity to reassess where you want to locate yourself to be near family or organize frequent visits.

Murphy advises alumni with adult children, “It’s also about understanding what your adult children want. How close is the relationship? How frequently would you like to visit each other? These can be difficult but important conversations.”


The next step in retirement planning is getting yourself in information gathering mode.

“Do some research about what you can craft in your next stage of life,” Murphy advised. The world isn’t going to come to you. You need to go out there and make it happen.”


Start the information gathering phase with researching new opportunities to engage in your professional life.

For example, you may want to work with a nonprofit organization. Research different organizations that would appeal to you based on your interest areas. Or, if you would like to continue engaging in your existing work, research opportunities to do contract work, work part-time, or build your own business.

Research new hobbies and geographies as well. “With a better understanding of what your needs are, researching helps you to learn how you can get those needs met,” said Murphy.

Informational Interviews

Online research can provide a lot of valuable information, but direct conversations provide even further clarity and direction.

“You may find you have an interest in exploring a professional area you haven’t had time to investigate,” Murphy noted. “There are lots of ways to supplement your experience with additional training. To learn more, ask questions of those who have been there.”

The same process applies to volunteer work as well. “Call the Executive Director of a charity you want to engage with and ask if there are opportunities to volunteer or donate,” she advised. “Informational interviews can be the hardest part for alumni who haven’t searched for a new role in many years. However, you have to put yourself out there to make it happen.”

Execute and Review

Now that you’ve moved from planning retirement to living it, keep in mind that your plan may not feel right once you start executing it. It’s important to be willing to try different approaches.

Murphy finds alumni face two common scenarios. “You may not have adequately assessed how comfortable you would be with a slower pace. Or, you may find that you’ve packed too many activities in and want to scale back. That’s why it is important to build flexibility into your plan.”

The good news is there are an increasing number of ways to engage professionally into retirement with flexible freelance and contract work. “Many more companies are using freelancers and contractors to lower overhead costs,” Murphy said. “There is an opportunity to reach out to your previous organization or a new one and explain how you can add value at a reduced workload.”

For those who find they want to scale further back or make another change, there is more good news. You can do exactly that! Continuing to assess what you want and need is a process. By staying honest with yourself and remaining curious and flexible you can craft a retirement plan that works for you personally and professionally.

For support as you think about your retirement plan, connect with an HBS Career Coach.