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Paterno, La Russa: A Tale of Two Retirements

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Great careers often have lousy endings. Though most would prefer to exit in triumph, the way baseball manager Tony La Russa did last month with a World Series Championship, many don’t get hoisted up on shoulders so much as booted out the door.

Case in point: Penn State Coach Joe Paterno. For all his achievements, it appears Paterno may have punctuated his record with an asterisk of shame and regret. Most people (unfortunately) can’t really relate to La Russa or (thankfully) to Paterno — but career coaches say there are lessons to learn from each.

It’s increasingly common for longtime employees — no matter how much they have accomplished — to be cast aside in the end, Marc Donio, an executive coach says. “I find that with folks like that they really need to work though a tremendous sense of loss. They need to get past their anger and to get their own sense of worth back.”

Those pushed into retirement often remain grief-stricken for months, Donio says. “People will say to me, ‘I am in a state of depression. I tell them, ‘you can be a state of depression all you want, but you’re only hurting yourself. ‘But what they did to me was unfair,’ they say.  I know, it was unfair, but grieve about it and move on, I tell them. You have to cry, cry cry, until you can’t cry anymore.”

Though few get mired in situations as public and Paterno’s, a tenure ended in a mistake often requires someone to change course completely, career coach Roy Cohen says. “If what you did was illegal, for example, if you have broken a securities law, you’re not going to be working in the securities industry. But if it was you did was easy to explain away, then try and go to the competition.”

Those accustomed to success often have trouble separating work from their identity, Cohen says. “But if you’re feeling bad about yourself, do something that will make you feel better,” he says. “Volunteer, do some consulting, or even run a marathon.”

Many of Donio’s clients in these situations end up moving into the non-profit sector, he says. “It’s almost like a chapter two of their lives. They take it as an opportunity to do something altruistic., something that can make them feel good about who they are again.”

The Tony La Russa types, on the other hand, may find it equally bewildering to select a new path, but don’t have to go through quite the same process, Donio says. “Those people are the lucky ones — they are in total control of their situation.”


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.