Are We Allowed to Slow Down in Retirement?

Retiring but Not Shy

Several years ago, a friend and I were talking about what we would do after we “retired.” I wanted to start a new career writing, teaching part-time, doing public speaking gigs, and blogging. She wanted to start a preschool! After decades at our corporate jobs, this was how we viewed retirement.

I was reminded of our conversation as I read the excellent book Retiring but not Shy, by Ellen Cole and Mary Gergen. The book is a collection of essays by women psychologists on the subject of their own retirement. Although some essays were by women who retired a while back, the ones I found most troubling were by those who were either considering retirement or had recently retired.

Like my friend and I, these bright, well-educated women had laundry lists of all the incredible new tasks and initiatives they would undertake. Retirement meant converting from busy/busy to busy/busy. Beyond financial security, many seemed afraid that giving up their jobs meant they would no longer “matter.” These stellar professionals, some of minority ethnicity, feared being marginalized by society after retirement.

Especially for us feminists, it’s hard to imagine walking away from the battlefield. We struggled against the social tide for those degrees, titles, professions and salaries. The achievement of professional stature became our our identity, our source of power, our protective shield.

When I gave up my profession, I didn’t feel special anymore, and looking back, this was where my post-retirement life got interesting. I found myself tackling some heavy questions.

  • Did I have value to society without my work? Does anybody?
  • Did I fear a judgment I’d attached to others who didn’t work? (As a society, this question has implications with elders as well as stay-at-home parents.)
  • Would I ever have the confidence not to work? To give up positional power? To still see myself as special, even without the hard-won mantle of office?

Ultimately, the greatest triumph of my sixth decade was gaining a sense of self-worth exclusive of my profession. To value myself without the suit and heels meant I had to view the rest of society in a more forgiving way. to look beyond the uniform and titles – or lack thereof.

In the book, one of the writers asks: if work equates to feminism and independence, to what does retirement equate?

I have come to see retirement as a time of enlightenment and the letting go of ego.

One writer says “I believe that even in retirement women must contribute to make a difference, to be perceived as powerful and to have power.” But powerful in whose estimation? We cannot make society respect us – we can only respect ourselves. And as for feminist battles, can’t we just model feminist principles as we putter in the yard, go to church, or help out down at the shelter? Why do we need to start a new national/international effort toward whatsis?

Will we ever accept that we are good enough?

Inspired to Change in Midlife

Whether you lost your job in midlife or feel the need to change/reinvent yourself for more benign reasons, it helps to see what other people our age are doing. In this article, a half-dozen older workers describe how they picked themselves up off the floor and created new work lives. I felt inspired by their stories. Maybe you will, too.

Joanne Hardy

Joanne Hardy

Sometimes success takes a while. Author Charlotte Rogan got her first book contract at the age of 57,  but she’s a baby. My friend Joanne Hardy is from the generation ahead of Charlotte’s, and Joanne just published her magnum opus, The Girl in the Butternut Dress.

I asked Joanne how she learned to write so well. She described persevering, and said:

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The best class I ever took was Robert McKee’s three day seminar called “Story.” It is so dense and so thorough…I have taken it three times. He is just fantastic. When you go there you will see a block of seats reserved for well-known media groups, like Disney; they send their writers to him…I thought it well worth it. I came home and restructured my novel.

Not all of us are climbing career ladders. Some are struggling to figure out who and what we are at this stage, which can be intriguing in itself. My friend Ellen Cole created a blog, 70Candles, where women share their thoughts about aging mindfully. My own reinvention took the form of letting go of my corporate identity, and refusing to be judged for shedding my power suit. I decided I was good enough as a person, without the trappings of career to prove my worth to the world. One of my proudest accomplishments at this point in my life is providing day care for my grandbabies. It’s a big shift for a gal who never got to be a stay-at-home mom, but I think I’m at a point in my maturity where I can appreciate it better than if I were younger. Except for my aching back.

Yes, we’re getting older, but there are definitely some great benefits.

More Magazine surveyed 1200 women age sixty and up, asking them to rate their lives. What were they happy about? What did they regret? What have they learned about finding their true paths? Here are the high points:

  • The Betty White Boost: A distinct spike in confidence occurred at the uppermost end of the respondents’ age group. Quite simply, the older the women were, the more likely they were to give themselves high marks for life decisions. Women age 80-plus were the most likely to feel satisfied with their life choices. (Although More only surveyed women, this phenomenon has been documented in men, too.)
  • Know Your True Path: A majority of respondents said they found their true path in life after age forty.
  • Cool with Not Being Superwoman: a majority said having it all is a crock. Do what you can and pat yourself on the back, and that it’s okay to ask for help or to say NO.

I’m curious about you. Are you starting over in any way, with work or family or personal truths? If so, what did you change, and is it working? Are you feeling stronger or are you drifting? Do you have any bits of advice for us? I’d love for you to share your thoughts if you’re so inclined. (And now the baby is waking from his nap so I have to run!)

Morgan babies Xmas pic 2012

Hillary, When Do You Stop?

I was going to write something funny today, but with the news about the blood clot in Hillary Clinton’s skull, I think this might be more important.

Many people speculate that Hillary Clinton is planning to run for president.  I don’t think so.

I think the fact that she’s letting her hair grow long is an announcement, conscious or otherwise, that she’s transitioning away from public service. She has plenty of power, plenty of interests. She could have an amazing retirement.

As Secretary of State, Hillary set records for global travel. At any age, that kind of schedule can take a toll on one’s body, not to mention the stress of her job. Now consider the health concerns of running for and perhaps taking on the job of president. Every one has aged visibly in office, disproportionate to the number of years in that role. Why should Hillary throw herself onto that pyre?

As a private citizen, Hillary would have the world at her feet. Reputed to have an IQ of 140, she probably knows she could serve on any board; learn, observe, participate in anything; travel anywhere. Any number of global titans would be happy, I’m sure, to lend her a jet and a vacation home. Wouldn’t you think?

“I am so looking forward to next year,” Hillary told Gail Collins recently. “I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired. I work out and stuff, but I don’t do it enough and I don’t do it hard enough because I can’t expend that much energy on it.”

If she does return to civilian life, most of us would nod with understanding. Some things are more important than being Leader of the Free World. Like sleeping in, or turning off your phone for a couple days and catching up on the last few years’ worth of movies or books.

Some say that after menopause we’re more like who we were at age eleven. I think we long to return to who we were before all the obligations and transformations were required. Before we started changing ourselves into that nice young lady, that girlfriend, that worker, that wife, that mother, that corporate person. In the case of HRC, that global politician. Wouldn’t it be crazy to explore that path?

We yearn for authenticity. We miss the real us.

I’m reading a book about professional women transitioning into retirement. Many of their essays contain exhaustive lists of the equally high-level, professional accomplishments they expect to achieve in this new phase. It appears they expect to work part-time until they are prevented from doing so by death or disability. I understand remaining active and not turning into a sloth, but at what point will we feel we’ve earned the right to fritter away our time in joyful nothingness?

Perhaps we still feel a need to prove ourselves. Perhaps as older people we’re afraid of being marginalized, so we work hard to earn our keep and deflect criticism.

Yet, getting a blood clot in your skull can force you to reprioritize. You see that it might be okay to simply park your ass in a lawn chair and savor the quiet of mid-day on your own peaceful patio. Sure, it’s good to be productive. But here we are on this good Earth. What are we doing with that privilege?

Hillary is powerful, well-traveled, and accomplished. She’s a warm and loving person with a throw-her-head-back guffaw. I would award her Crone status. I admire the hell out of her, and I wish her the greatest happiness and hopefully, many years of dolce far niente.