Dreaming of the Perfect Retirement?

June 1, 2008
With a little soul searching and planning, your retirement fantasy can become a fulfilling new reality.

When Gary Beardsley retired two years ago, he envisioned long days of golf course and traveling to exciting locales with his wife. After a few months, however, he realized that that type of retirement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “The first three or four months, I was elated to have time to do all the things I’d wanted to do while I was working,” says Beardsley, who owned Beardsley’s Auto Body & Paint in San Diego before selling it to Caliber Collision Centers in 2001. “But after about four months, I started getting antsy. You can only play so much golf and travel so much before you get bored.”

For entrepreneurs, like collision repair shop owners and operators, who work long, hard hours for years to build their businesses, transitioning to the retired life can be a challenge. Without realistic planning and expectations, fantasies of long afternoons lolling in the sunshine can give way to a reality of listlessness, boredom and depression. “I wanted to spend time with my wife and family and just take some time off from that fast-paced life,” Beardsley says. “But after awhile, you get irritable. You miss the competitive environment you find in the collision repair industry.”

Beardsley, who is 58, has decided to get back into the industry as a part-time consultant. He’ll keep his free time while gaining a sense of purpose as he makes the transition into full-time retirement. “You get a sense of worth and accomplishment through work, and as an owner you really feel that,” Beardsley says. “I missed that part of my personality and my life.”

Today’s retirement is a completely new concept, says Maurine Patten, owner of Patten Coaching & Consulting in St. Charles, Ill. Longer life spans, earlier age of retirement and expanded expectations are just some of the ways life after work is different now than it was for previous generations. “No one before them has gone through retirement the way they will,” says Patten of the Baby Boomers who are on the cusp of retirement. Patten says one of the most important trends among this generation is that people are phasing out of work instead of just quitting cold turkey. This helps them ease into the next stage of life.

“Men really struggle,” Patten says. “Especially hard-working entrepreneurial men. Their identity has been very much wrapped up in the organization they created. They have to have a new way of thinking about retirement, and of finding meaning and pleasure in it.”


Joe Sanders of Colleyville, Texas, started working in collision repair when he was in 11th grade. During the course of more than 40 years in the industry, he’s owned shops, sold equipment, done consulting, taught classes and served on the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) boards of directors. He’s been retired for three years “pretty much all the way.” He loves being retired now, he says, but it took some getting used to.

“The first year was difficult,” says Sanders, who semi-retired at 57 and did consulting work for about three years before retiring completely. “I still felt like, by nine o’clock in the morning I should be doing something. I was so used to getting up early.” Sanders started working on show cars, which is his passion. He built a garage off the side of his house and spent his first two-and-a-half years of retirement building a custom ’57 Chevy. Now he’s about to start on a ’55 Chevy Nomad.

“Some days I work in the garage for two hours, some days I work in the garage all day,” Sanders says. “The fun thing is that I don’t have to keep a schedule. As long as I’m healthy enough, I plan to build one car after another.”

Sanders credits good planning during his working life as one of the reasons his retirement has been as good as it has. He says surrounding himself with good people during his work life made it easy to sell his company and move on.

“One of the things I used to teach is that people need to structure their business in a way that allows them to step away so someone else can take care of it,” Sanders says. “Many people micromanage so much that if they even take a vacation, it’s hard on their business.”

Interacting with employees is what he misses most, says Sanders, who still drops in on his old shops to chat with employees and customers. This is a common part of the retirement grieving process, says Mike Galeucia, manager of the exit and succession planning group for MacDonald Page & Co. LLC. MacDonald Page, headquartered in South Portland, Maine, is a certified public accountant firm that advises companies in the automotive industry.

We find that when word gets out that someone is retiring, they’ll get two hundred telephone calls congratulating them. And then the phone stops ringing,” Galeucia says. “That’s when people really start to panic. They feel remorse, or think they made a mistake in retiring.”
Galeucia says it’s important to emotionally prepare for a four- to six-month grieving process after they retire. People have to embrace a significant change in their identity, he says. “For our clients, what they do becomes who they are,” Galeucia says. “So in collision repair, when they’re not doing that anymore, they’re a little bit lost.”

Galeucia says retirement is a great opportunity to replace some of those working life social connections with old friends you haven’t seen in awhile. “Quality of life becomes determined by shared experiences,” says Galeucia of retirement. “It’s no longer about homes, toys, trophies. It’s all about seeking new opportunities and experiences, and this is a great excuse to reconnect with old friends.”


Beardsley has many plans and ideas for his retirement. Golfing is his passion, and he gets out on the course two to three times a week. But golfing, as he says, “isn’t 100 percent fulfilling.” So in looking for something to give him a sense of personal accomplishment and connectedness to the community, he’s considering going back to school.

“I’d like to take some classes for fun,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in languages. And I really enjoy art; I used to draw cartoons when I was younger.” For Beardsley, retirement has become a time of discovery. During his working life, he felt he was exploring himself as a working person, but in the bustle of working and raising a family, he didn’t have time to explore his personal aspirations. Now is the time for that, he says. This is the kind of mindset people need to have for a happy, fulfilling retirement Patten says, because they’re retiring earlier and living longer.

Patten says that workers—especially hard-working men—used to retire around 65 and maybe live three years beyond that. Now the average age for first retirement is 58, and people are living 25 to 30 years beyond that. “You can’t live that out on a golf course,” Patten says. “People need something to sink their teeth into. This time is a gift, but there’s the question of what to do with that gift.”

The good news? Retirement offers a lot of choices, says Patten, who cites five main types of retirees:

The Adventurer. “This is the person who travels a lot. They go on adventures that may take them into the North Woods, and they go for several months at a time,” Patten says. Adventurers are often younger retirees who are healthy and active.

The Continuer. “Because many people now have a longer life span, they’re worried about [money and boredom.] They’re going to phase down but continue to work in some respect,” Patten explains. This is where consulting comes in, because it’s a way to use your knowledge and experience, but it’s flexible and doesn’t require typical nine-to-five hours.

The Easy Glider. “They just take it as it comes,” Patten says. “If they decide to travel, fine. If they decide to play golf, great.” Easy-gliders will do one thing until they get bored with it, then switch to something else.
The Searcher. “This is the person who searches really hard for some kind of meaning and purpose,” Patten says. This retiree takes classes and explores new activities.

The Retreater. “This is the only one that’s unhealthy,” Patten says. “This person feels like their life is over. They’ve done their thing and now it’s over, so they retreat and go into depression.” Entrepreneurs are susceptible to this, Patten says, because they’ve usually created their business and it’s consumed them.

It’s important to remember that throughout a person’s retirement, they can change pathways, Patten says. “Many people start out their retirements as Adventurers, then they may follow the Continuer pathway until they get bored with it and decide they need to explore life a little more,” she says. “They may not move into being an Easy Glider until they’re in their 70s.” 


At 78 years old, Nick Caldararo has just decided that retirement’s not for him. He’s seen friends and relatives retire and regret it, so after giving retirement a try in 1992 when he sold Nick’s Auto Body Inc. to his son Steve, he gave it up.

“We got him a beeper so that if we needed him, he could call in,” says Steve Caldararo about his father’s retirement stint. “He’d call and say, ‘Did you beep me? I think my beeper’s not working.’ And we’d say, ‘No, Dad, we didn’t beep you.’ And he’d call back and say, ‘Did you need me for something?’ And we’d say, ‘No, Dad, we didn’t need anything.’”

Nick finally threw in the retirement towel and came back to work in the Newcastle, Pa., shop, where he now mixes paint. He works reduced hours, coming in around 6:30 am and leaves by 3:00pm. That leaves him time to do yard work and ride his motorcycle.
“I know it’s dangerous, but I try to be careful,” says Nick, who’s been in two motorcycle accidents. “Usually people my age don’t ride, but I do exercises to keep healthy. When people see me on the treadmill and I tell them my age, they’re amazed.”

Nick says he continues to work because he genuinely enjoys being around the shop and visiting with customers and employees, and because he can use the extra money.

“It keeps me on the move and talking to different people,” he says. “I like to check things out every once in awhile to make sure everyone’s doing their job.” Galeucia recommends to his clients that they plan for the possibility that they’ll want to come back into the workforce at some point. He calls this Plan B. “A lot people go sail or fish for six months, and they realize it’s kind of a shallow pursuit,” he says.

The elder Caldararo recommends that anyone who’s considering retiring also plan out how they’re going to keep busy, especially in the wintertime. Of course, for himself, he doesn’t see it happening. “I don’t think about retiring. I’d really surprise myself if I ever fully retired.”

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