Is the Road Trip Worth It?
It happens everyday, actually about 10 times a day on average in this country alone: A professional society hosts a conference to bring doctors or lawyers or various executives together. It might be at a convention center or on a Boca Raton beach, with attendees barefoot in the sand, sipping cocktails while politely applauding a speaker. More often than not, the event includes a session about investing, retiring or figuring out ways to not retire. Expert panels are held. Business cards are exchanged. Advice is supposed to not only be given but helpful.
But as they ease into the next phase of their lives, a lot of attendees who have tried this circuit say they’re returning more exhausted than informed. This is sort of a shame, given all the effort to produce these things: Professional societies held a staggering 3,500 conferences last year, bringing in $3.7 billion in fees and other revenue, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.
Ron Cordes can give you a pretty good idea of what goes on. Now 53, he started hitting conferences after selling his company to Genworth Financial in 2006. He and his wife were trying to find a meaningful focus for their newly created family foundation. But it was difficult, sometimes even overwhelming, to absorb and sift through the large number of ideas and contacts thrown his way in a few days. “You go to all these conferences and spend 30 minutes in the hallway talking to people,” he says. “And six months later, you still have this pile of business cards and wonder, ‘Why did I collect them?'”
As he discovered, the conference field is rich with options. There’s everything from Socap, a more traditional convention-hall affair for aspiring social entrepreneurs, to big-name confabs hosted by the Milken Institute and Clinton Global Initiative, where invitees pay a $20,000 membership fee to rub elbows with elites. Even there, retirement is never too far off the agenda: Cordes was on a panel last year with Marc Freedman, chief executive of nonprofit Encore.org, which helps people move into their second acts. Sherry Lansing, a former Paramount Pictures executive turned philanthropist, and Barry Rand, CEO of AARP, attracted a standing-room-only crowd.
Still, going on the how-to-retire circuit can create its own sense of ennui. “Conferences have this diminishing return going on,” says Marci Alboher, an Encore.org vice president who speaks at dozens of conferences a year. She advises attendees to set aside two hours on their first day back home to process everything, “otherwise, it’s really a jumble of business cards and notes on an agenda. You may never do anything with it.”
Another solution is to skip the usual circuit and try a growing number of boutique retreats devoted entirely to later-in-life transitions. At the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers a “Paths to Creative Retirement” weekend workshop to help people deal with identity changes in retirement, figure out how to find purpose and investigate new work opportunities.
Four former executives who used sabbaticals to find their way have organized “Reboot Your Life” retreats that meet in a Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone, along with homes in the Hamptons and Sun Valley, Idaho. The sessions are limited to eight participants and feature gourmet food and an intimate setting—”because we want people to feel comfortable and for 48 hours talk about this in a safe place,” says Rita Foley, one of the organizers. People walk out with a personalized plan, including what to do in the two weeks following the retreat.
For his part, Cordes, who is still co-chairman at Genworth Financial’s wealth-management unit, actually started his own “Opportunity Collaboration” conference in Mexico to further his foundation’s work. Now, he is also organizing smaller meetings. In March, he and six others “in transition” traveled to Cuba to meet with local social entrepreneurs. But it wasn’t all work: Snorkeling was on the agenda too.
Original post in Wall Street Journal