If I Knew Then Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School's Class of 1963

Chapter 6

Growing Older

If you knew then what you know now, how would you deal differently with aging and retirement?

Retirement is a hot topic. Now that the first Baby Boomers have hit the age of 65, the engraved-gold-watch business must surely be thriving. Another indication of the interest and angst around retirement is Amazon.com’s inventory of books on the subject. They sell more than 18,000 titles.

For the vast majority of Americans, retirement looms rather than beckons, because of the treacherous trifecta of declining income, increasing health-care expenses, and insufficient retirement savings. While many — if not the majority — of the members of Harvard Business School's Class of 1963 don’t have the financial worries that come with retirement, some still found themselves to be a bit “out at sea” when the time came to quit going into the office.

The advice they give around retirement hits a common theme: “Don’t do it if you can avoid it,” one said, while another echoed, “Retire to something — not from something.”

Bob Griffin

One of the best suggestions I ever got is to never go to bed without having something in mind that you need to do tomorrow — not just a chore — but something you want to do for yourself or others.

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Rich Opsahl

Perhaps most important is to have lots to do. It doesn’t matter what it is, but whatever you do in retirement should take a lot of effort. For me, it was house-building and ultra-running.

Be sure to keep up on exercise, with a healthy lifestyle. Try to get at least two hours of aerobic exercise each day. Be very careful about diet. (Editor’s note: Rich ran his last marathon in April 2013, at age 81.)

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Exercise daily, watch your diet and do what you most enjoy. Read a lot and keep yourself mentally active. Service to others on boards and as a volunteer is important. Stay socially involved in every way you can. Go fly fishing!

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Charley Ellis

Invest in you. Read forever, with a focus on important books. Travel widely. Keep learning new things and new kinds of things. Try writing, speaking, and teaching — all three oblige you to keep learning.

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Lawrence D. Ackman

If possible, don’t retire. Stay active mentally and physically. You’ll be a more interesting person if you are involved in a number of businesses or activities.

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Judy Ley Allen

Never lose your curiosity and interest in learning new things. You might retire from a structured business career — but not from enjoying life. Don’t isolate yourself, but keep surrounded by friends and family. Exercise and explore. Great years are still ahead.

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Dave Crowley

  • Reduce the demands of your ambitions.
  • Reduce the demands you make of the earth.
  • Reduce unnecessary travel.
  • Eat low on the food chain.
  • Not much alcohol.
  • Keep walking.

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Artie Buerk

As people grow older, we spend a great deal of time focusing on anti-aging and finding ways to fend off old age. It’s my belief we should focus more on “aging gracefully.” The following are a few suggestions for how to do so.

Daily exercise is the first thing. The easiest exercise is probably walking. I happen to use tennis and hitting with a tennis pro. Exercise from 45 minutes to an hour every day.

Secondly, you must eat well. The Mediterranean diet of fish, fowl, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other good fibers is very valuable.

Last but not least, keep your mind active through reading, travel, recreation, and — of course — goals. Having something to look forward to is very critical.

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John T. “Jack” Corrodi Jr.

In college I was active in sports, but out in the business world, no one plays football anymore.

You must move exercise and healthy eating into the number-one position. Otherwise, you will be fighting diabetes and heart disease.

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George Mosher

When you retire, it’s important to set up some sense of purpose to your life. You can build on what you have done before or start in a new direction, but the new direction needs to have meaning for you. You cannot make up passions. They must develop from some inner source. Share this purpose with people who are important to you.

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Bill Agee

My advice is to never fully “retire” in the traditional sense of that word. I would replace “retire” with “re-orient,” as this is what I have found keeps me feeling healthy, optimistic, and actively engaged as a positive force in this world.

With modern medicine, we have the opportunity to live and work many years longer than our parents did. The key is to make good use of this gift of additional time. To allow our minds and bodies to atrophy is to squander life’s most precious gift. As long as we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we can discover people in need of our talent, compassion, and caring. Reaching out to others is a life force that not only benefits the most vulnerable, but keeps us healthier and happier, too.

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Norman Barnett

Successful retirement requires having growing income. Make investing for growing income your primary objective, reinvesting income until you need it.

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Eugene C. Bell

When work becomes too difficult and no longer brings pleasure, it’s time to retire. Become a mentor to the young and stay a loving friend to your spouse. Listen to your physicians.

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Frederick M. O’Such

Develop your passion for your retirement challenge while in the midst of your business career. In 2001, I joined the initial group of Harvard Business School classmates who formed The Partners of ’63. Our focus has been to assist young nonprofits that have targeted poor kids caught up in our dysfunctional public K-12 education system. In particular, serving on the Board of TNTP (The New Teacher Project) and actively working with its young leadership team over the last nine years has been very rewarding.

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Joan O. Rothberg

Eat healthy food, exercise, laugh, dance, tell jokes, do something new every day, and travel as much as you can. Most important, stay optimistic.

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John H. Schwarz

Don’t retire until you have truly exhausted your love for your work. Don’t retire without some plan to keep busy at something other than recreation. Keep intellectual pursuits high on your list of activities.

Understand and adjust to what retirement can mean in terms of too much togetherness with your spouse. Give each other space as existed when you were working.

Accept aging and have a good sense of humor about it.  Stay active, be social, and generally good health will follow.

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Jim Utaski

The state of mind to avoid is retirement. Find that second passion or the unfulfilled quest. It will make life happier and healthier, and you’ll be more interesting and fun to be with.

I agree with those who say public education deserves the intense attention that civil rights and equal opportunity once received. If and when public access to health care is addressed, the quality of public education is the American issue of the next decade. Don’t retire — help address it.

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In my view, a successful retirement is when very little changes. The inner drive of the ’63 MBAs that I know doesn’t just stop on a given date. Trying to achieve, trying to make things better, is truly a lifelong quest.

Growing old is such a natural thing. Grow old gracefully. Many of us are blessed with great genes and the gift of years. Make them count.

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Wilko Börner

Start early to plan your life for the time beyond the peak of your strength and physical power, and to find an honorable and fulfilling transition into the many years remaining. A good handling of this change will also be good for your health.

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Jon B. Boss

Do not wait until it’s time to apply for your Social Security benefits to think about and plan for your retirement. Begin early in life to do things like volunteering, pursuing research, traveling, or writing, so when you do retire from your employment, it is far easier to simply devote more time to them.

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John A. Fabian

Other than the usual advice of staying as active as possible, both mentally and physically, I would add that travel is a great stimulant — and try to spend as much time with other people as possible.

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Gary MacDougal

We’re all different, but for me the key is to live where there are stimulating things of all kinds to do, so that every day can be filled with great activities — nonprofit work, family, friends, business, tennis, ballet, symphony, opera, lectures, or long, interesting walks. For me this has been Chicago and New York. Weather is far down the list, fixed by a warm coat.

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Dave Puterbaugh

Find a passion to get involved with, ideally with a hands-on element to it. 

Maintain and seek out ties with a wide group of friends — long-term ones, new ones, and people of all ages. Surround yourself with people who are happy and doing meaningful things.

Don’t put off doing the things that require good health. I hope to do a lot more travel, with some international bucket list items. But when I get to the point I can no longer do these things, I won’t feel cheated because I made them a priority over the years.

And finally, play from the senior tees!

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Thomas E. Reilly Jr.

  • Play golf and walk. It provides exercise, travel, camaraderie, and perpetual challenge.
  • Get close to young people as much as possible.
  • Make a job of investing your money.
  • Only a few solid minds are on nonprofit boards. Help out there.

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Peter J. Solomon

I have become more of an existentialist, and have always thought a balanced life is essential — family, work, fun, travel, friends, civic involvement, charitable effort and support.

Life is a dissipating asset. Today, I view my life as a 20-year bond that may mature early. I better take care of the time.

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Douglas T. Tansill

Don’t retire if you can avoid it. I stopped getting paid by someone else to work 12 years ago, but fortunately I joined a group who started a private investing firm together, after retiring from their former careers. It has kept us young and engaged, and that may be one of the keys to good health.

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Life is a series of restructuring situations. Planning and dealing with the retirement series is no different, so restructure your life continuously and never really retire.

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Paul G. Hines

Maintain a healthy attitude about the hand you are dealt in life. Be flexible and cheerful, and do what your doctor says — after you find a good one!

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