As women over 60, we have had many an occasion to look back on what has brought us to where and who we are now, and at this stage we may be envisioning and planning our next chapter. Some of us continue to work full-time in our respective fields while others have either lightened their professional obligations or are fully retired.
Public relations efforts have played a significant role in shaping societal attitudes toward retirement in the United States, including influencing perceptions of older Americans and the idea of retirement itself. These efforts have often been employed to communicate messages that advocate retirement at age 65 as a positive and desirable moment in life.
In 1960, the term “golden years” was popularized by Del Webb, the real estate developer responsible for promoting sales of age-restricted properties to the elderly in Sun City, California, which resulted in a further glorification of the retirement milestone.
The real picture is starkly different: numerous scientific studies over the years have shown that retirement, as we have come to think of it in the Western world, increases the chances of suffering from clinical depression and loneliness, and of having at least one diagnosed physical illness. The adjustment to retirement, changes in routine, and social isolation can contribute to these challenges.
To gain perspective, let us reference history: What did people who were getting older generally do vis-a-vis their occupations and professions? Well, when they got older, they simply slowed down and did less, and when they were unable to continue with what had occupied them in their working lives, they sought other meaningful endeavors.
Customarily, the transition was more gradual, not an abrupt cut off from full employment activities to doing nothing, which is why retiring in this way feels and is so unnatural.
Statistics show that the honeymoon period after retirement as we know it lasts about one year. Because a majority want to be purposefully engaged, they end up after retiring having to start all over again to redefine who they are and where they fit in, and they often blame themselves if they don’t spring back quickly or figure things out fast enough. In all honesty, this is an understandable response to social conditioning that no longer serves them and perhaps never did.
Since many of us have more freedom now than we did while raising families and/or pursuing a career, time works in our favor in discovering an organic and integrated sense of well-being as we move through our culminating chapter.
If you have reduced your work obligations or are still loving to work full-time, good for you! If you have retired and have unfilled time on your hands, consider making these much-needed contributions to your family and community.
Become an attentive and helpful auntie or grandparent, if you’ve been blessed with having grandchildren, a volunteer, or a mentor, all excellent choices for staying connected.
The mentor-mentee relationship is, after all, archetypal. Socrates and Plato from ancient Greece; Dante and Virgil of Dante’s The Divine Comedy; Polonius and Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Mr. Knightley and Emma in Jane Austen’s Emma; Gandalf and Frodo in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings; Atticus Finch and Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; and, more recently, Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are iconic examples from world literature.
Without a doubt, mentoring the young is one of our primary responsibilities to the next generation, sharing what we have learned about life and in our respective careers. Although the young have more than ample resources at their fingertips online, nothing trumps the passage of important life information and lessons as much as person-to-person communication and relationship; a relationship with someone who listens and cares.
If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.—Booker T. Washington
A number of organizations and nonprofits – for example, Mentor, National Mentoring Partnership, and iMentor, to name three in the U.S. – can get you started or you can reflect on your daily interactions to determine how a young person you may know or are acquainted with might benefit from what you have learned and lived.
Begin by making it a point to talk to young people when you’re at the grocery store, the post office, the library, public events, etc. Open the dialogue with an observation or a heart-felt compliment. Find a reason to “see” them. Remember that isolation at any age occurs when we fail to recognize ourselves as members of a larger community.
This form of active involvement will require initiative on your part as the young are often hesitant to approach elders. They, too, have been socially conditioned to view us as people in mental and physical decline, old geezers on our way out, rather than as valuable repositories of knowledge and wisdom.
When you remove the mask of the retirement reality myth, you are unlimited in how you design and engage in the closing chapter of your life’s fascinating story.
How’s retirement working out for you? Is your retirement different than your parents’ or grandparents’? How are you using your time – to redefine, to mentor, to volunteer?