A Feminine View of Retirement

“As you set out in search of Ithaka, pray that your journey be long, full of adventures, full of awakenings. Do not fear the months of old… You will not meet them in your travels if your thoughts are exalted and remain high, if authentic passions stir your mind, body and spirit.” Constantine Peter Cavafy, Greek Poet (1863-1933)

The latest generation of retirees, a.k.a. Boomers, is lucky to have long lives to live in this final chapter of life. We have time to savour meaningful experiences and awe moments that tickle the soul, before we begin the journey back home. Retirement offers that chance to reflect on the career we have had and turn our attention to an avocation that is filled with passion.

My own journey to retirement didn’t start off as I expected. I couldn’t reconcile the word ‘retirement’ with the experiences I expected to live. I still can’t. I’m as busy as I was when I worked full-time. And the most innocent question can elicit a surprising reaction, every time someone asks: “Are you retired? “I am not retired; I’m semi-retired,” I bristle, as if the distinction made any meaningful difference.

The word ‘retirement’ makes me feel old and irrelevant, as if I no longer have anything of value to offer the world. It’s too difficult to accept that this is what retirement means, what life holds for me until Ithaca. I’d rather see myself as someone in the process of re-inventing herself in a new stage of life, not someone waiting for the inevitable. There is so much more work to do and life to live. I had a similar experience in my late forties as I lived through a difficult menopause. At the time, I questioned what it was I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and it provide some clarity.

Many books on retirement suggest the most important things we might want to do at this stage in life is golf, play bingo or nothing at all, none of which are on my radar. Some retirement books bore with the all the financial planning we should have done with all that money we were supposed to have saved. None of these books speak to women searching for a retirement experience that is filled with passion and purpose.

Retirement is the perfect time for women who built careers while raising a family, ran businesses, women who want to embrace this stage of life and take on new challenges, those whose life bucket list is still long and growing.

Eight years into retirement, my quest to reframe the concept of retirement, one that is more fitting for women of the Boomer generation, has been illuminating in many ways. I’ve learned more about myself, my values and what is most important in my life today. I’ve also realized the journey of discovery will last until my last breath, that this is the whole point of life, to learn and grow until Ithaca.

There are no recipes on how we should retire, just like there were no recipes to guide the women’s movement in the sixties when we burned bras in protest and marched for equality. It’s up to each woman to find her own way through retirement and define it on her own terms. But she doesn’t have to do it alone.

This newest generation of retirees are disrupters, always have been, always will be. Only today, their protests are more likely to join hands with the ‘#metoo movement’, fight against racial injustices, challenge the view that seniors are a burden to the public purse, or fight climate change. Irrelevance is simply not an option for today’s elder goddesses.

Betty Davis once said: “Getting old is not for sissies.” She was right. What she didn’t foresee at the time was that women of the Boomers generation were going to create a tsunami of changes and turn the concept of retirement on its head. Previous generations of retirees might say that retirement isn’t the time to set new goals, reach for new heights, take risks, that it’s time to care for ailing bodies and minds, to retreat, do as little as possible, make our peace and plan for the inevitable.

Don’t tell newly retired women that this is the life that awaits them. These wise women are more likely to ask: How can I create new meaning in this chapter of my life and leave a memorable legacy? They see retirement as one of the biggest transitions they will experience in their lifetime, and they want to infuse this chapter with a new vision that looks more like ‘un-retirement’. Time passes too quickly to waste energy being old. The last thing women want is to look back and realize it’s too late, or that they no longer have the health or energy to do what they’ve always wanted to do.

The goals we set at this time of our lives should not be the typical smart goals we used to set at work. They should be bold and oozing with swag. They should be spicy, winning, aspiring goals, the kind that dare us to pursue the dreams we have yet to achieve, those from our someday list or new ones.

Women of this generation of retirees also need a new mantra, something along the lines of: Going boldly where no woman has dared to go before. In an upcoming series of blogs, I invite all women of a certain age who are planning to or have already crossed into retirement to join me in a new conversation about ‘un-retirement’. Invite your friends to join in the conversation too. Together we will explore a variety of ways to design our own unique vision of a retirement life that is infused with passion and purpose. My hope is that we will each create our own unique masterpiece and un-retire on our own terms.

Even if the journey left on earth is not necessarily filled with a multitude of awakenings, it should at the very least be packed with passion filled work and adventures. Although we have reached the high tide of life and some parts have begun to ebb away, there are new memories to create and more challenges to embrace before we are done. Let’s get busy re-imagining this stage of life together., and embark on a new avocation, one that is more than a career or a job, one filled with the most meaningful work we will ever be called to do. The side benefit will be amazing legacies that are lived everyday, legacies that continue to inspire our loved ones long after we reach Ithaka.

 Q: What meaning and purpose do you want your retirement to be infused with?