Influence #1 — Not Your Parents’ Retirement

Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, Preacher (1878-1969)

Many women, and I count myself among them, grew up promising ourselves we would raise our children differently than our parents raised us. Guess what, we didn’t, not substantially anyway. As we matured, we admitted that our parents knew a thing or two, even heeded their advice and followed their examples. Now that our families are grown, we’ve drawn a new the line at retirement. Many haven’t really contemplated retirement. We can’t imagine getting old like our parents did, still can’t.

Now that we have arrived at retirement’s doorstep, it’s not surprising we struggle to define what retirement means or what it should look like. If it’s any consolation, we’re in good company. In an era where anything goes, women are experiencing a uniquely different kind of retirement to what their mothers experienced, with no roadmaps or clear recipes on how to retire. And we aren’t preparing psychologically as we should be, partly because we’ve been too busy raising families and building careers to notice time was passing.

Given how the world has changing in significant ways, I suppose it’s inevitable that would be forced to look at retirement in an entirely new way. So much of what we have experienced is new, so how can retirement be any different? There are a multitude of reasons why retirement won’t look anything like it did in previous generations, but here are four key reasons why it will be different.

Women are living longer and healthier. With constant advancements in medicine, life expectancy continues to expand well beyond eighty years old. Five times more women than men will become centenarians. Being idle for twenty, thirty, even forty years simply won’t cut it. Contributing in meaningful ways will, which is why we’ll need something productive to do.

Women were career makers too. Gone is the notion that women never really retire, but instead slip into old age doing the same thing they always have. This is the first generation where women pursued careers in large numbers and are now retiring from work. Like men, they are finding the transition a huge adjustment, one that is not always a straight and easy path to nirvana. Women, like men, are looking for new ways to contribute in meaningful ways to society.

Women are redefining the concept of ‘retirement’. It can feel at times as if retirement has become a four-letter word. We are struggling to find the right word — Un-Retirement, Second Act, Third Act, Next Chapter. The old rulebook no longer applies. But for a generation that is still as idealistic today as they were in the sixties, although that idealism is now tempered with a good dose of wisdom gained from life’s experiences, we need a new playbook.

Women have long bucket lists to tackle. These lists rarely include watching reruns of bygone shows, lawn bowling and bingo night. They are more likely to be filled with things to learn, risks to take and new journeys to embark upon. Volunteering abroad, starting new careers or businesses, learning a new language, experiencing the world, and being fully immersed in their grandchildren’s lives are on these lists.

Bottom line, we still want it all, so we dare ask the big hairy questions: “Who am I, now that I’m retired?” “How do I want to be remembered?” “How can I still contribute in meaningful ways?” To figure out the answers, some are working with coaches make new life plans, both of which are now as critical as financial plans.   

More than the fear of outliving their retirement funds, women fear health or cognitive decline. And we are not immune to strife and change as we age. But these challenges can become great motivators, pushing us to make the most of retirement, right out of the gate, and squeeze every drop of juice out of this stage of life.

We’ve come full circle. We once challenged the establishment, became the establishment and now we are ready to challenge the institution of retirement. Seems fitting. It’s not like we’re going to stop re-inventing. We can’t; it’s in our DNA. Our reputation as ‘re-inventors of everything’ should serve us well. Besides, we have too many someday plans to pursue and goals to reach. We will not be content to simply retire; we need something to retire to.