When I first joined the industry in 1972, greenskeeping was an art form. My golf course was a canvas filled with the beauty of nature. Over time, science has taken precedence and superintendents have had to adapt – sometimes for the better, sometimes not. But good or bad, I would not eliminate any of the experiences I’ve had over the last 45 years. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate them even more as the years pass.

That’s usually how most of us feel as we get older and begin to contemplate the end of our professional journey.

Planning for the ultimate vacation

I know what you’re thinking: What planning? Most of us are doing everything we can to postpone thinking about that momentous occasion. When you’re young, planning for an event that seems so far away pales in comparison to pressing concerns like raising a family, paying the bills and replacing the water heater. That’s why most of us just keep kicking the retirement can down the road, hoping for a day when it feels more appropriate to plan for retirement. When the children are out of the house, with an education and jobs of their own, that’s when we’ll start funding the retirement account.

Since so many of us get a late start on our savings, here are a few tips for building your nest egg:

  • Be absolutely sure to have your primary residence paid for because it is almost impossible to retire otherwise.
  • Have health insurance concerns covered before you retire because that is a huge, often-unexpected expense.
  • A company-matched 401k should be utilized. Under no circumstances should you let this opportunity pass you by!
  • Individual retirement accounts often provide excellent tax breaks so if you find yourself owing income taxes at year’s end, you should take advantage of this option and keep more of your money for yourself.
  • Stocks, bonds and annuities often offer a higher yield than conventional savings accounts.
  • Consider working toward a second career or simply follow your passion after you retire.

That “second career” idea might sound strange, but the passion you hold could make it a rewarding challenge. After all, who would have thought President George W. Bush would follow his passion for painting? Painting works for him, and his enthusiasm is evident when he speaks about it.

Retirement doesn’t mean you’re at the end of the road. It simply means the highway you were following has reached its destination and it’s time to plan another route – the exciting new path to find your passion.

Leaving on your own terms

Before you leave that last job and begin your retirement, make sure you’re leaving on your own terms. Don’t allow rumors or hearsay to tell the story.

When I contemplated my own retirement, I placed a copy of my retirement notification in the golf course newsletter and delivered one personally to the CEO, human resources, my supervisor and my staff. I even placed it on the community bulletin board in the clubhouse lobby. I wanted to communicate directly with those that might be unaware of my decision, and I wanted to leave on my own terms.

Throughout my career, I set lofty goals for myself. They weren’t impossible to achieve, but they required significant effort and sacrifice. Once you set your own goals and achieve them through hard work and perseverance, you’ll also feel a great sense of personal satisfaction.

Even once you’re fully committed to your retirement plans, that first step will still be scary. When you step away from your comfort zone and into the great abyss of retirement, your future will suddenly be in your own hands, and not those of your employer.

If your preparations for retirement are sound and all the loose ends are secured, you’ll be ready to take that next step. Your emotions will soar, your body will feel alive, and the daily work commitments you have known for years will slip silently into the pages of time.

Retirement can be the most exciting and fulfilling stage of your life. Some enjoy volunteering while others prefer to travel. Some just like to fish, go boating or spend quality time with family and friends.

Volunteer to do some good for your community or hike nature trails you never had time to explore when you were working. Whatever you choose, happiness should be the result. Even though you might feel less than 100-percent confident in your decision to retire, once you are ready to commit, remember your plan. Be sure you are ready to bow out with grace – and then do it.