Retired: The Forever Young Generation Retools
(Or why a seventy-year-old woman wrote her first book)
Published in ChicagoNow, June 20, 2016
My younger brother just retired. So did my husband’s younger sister. Like me back in May of 2013, when I finally really retired from Cherry Preschool, after breathing a sigh of relief, they are asking, “Now what?”
I’m not sure how to answer that question. Every person follows a different path. When I entered the blogosphere at age 68, I was inspired by 64-year-old Diana Nyad, who had finally completed her lifelong dream of swimming 110 miles from Cuba to Florida, something she had been trying to do for 35 years. She had trained for this fifth attempt for four years, and she did it. Motivated by her example, on September 26, 2013, I published my first blog post, Reinvented, Not Retired. And I pondered what being retired actually meant.
In that post, I played around with the word retired, hoping to discover what it meant to me:
RetirEd (as in a retired educator with lots of opinions about the current state of education)
Re:Tired (as in falling asleep even earlier watching TV – LOL – or more seriously as in feeling exhausted sandwiched between the needs of my then 90-year-old mother and my then seven grandchildren)
Re-tired (as in getting new tires for a used car or in this case starting a new venture as a “previously driven” person)
My first impulse as a newbie blogger was to share the opinions that I could no longer express through my bully pulpit as director of Cherry Preschool. But the longer I blogged, the more disappointed I was with the ephemeral quality of writing online and watching it disappear.
My seventieth birthday loomed on the horizon, so I started thinking about creating a legacy for my children and eight grandchildren by writing an actual book. Then, in April of 2015, my mother died. Now I became obsessed, as she had constantly told me to write a book. I wish I had done it when she was still alive because I can picture her running all over her retirement home hawking copies of my book. And I like to think that somehow, she knows about it anyway.
When I got into the writing, I realized that I had a lot to share. I wrote essays about the importance of forging community, maintaining loving relationships, embracing change, advocating for those who cannot do it for themselves, and knowing when to hold on and when to let go. Underlying everything was my belief in the power of love, grace, kindness, caring, community, and acceptance.
As part of a generation becoming seniors, I realized I had both a lifetime of experience and the unique baby boomer perspective on a variety of issues. But I also realized that, for a woman of my generation, the first step was finding my voice and believing what I thought mattered as much as a man’s opinion. While I participated in protesting for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, most of the leaders were men. Although she stated it ineloquently, I get what Gloria Steinem was trying to say about young progressive women being drawn to Bernie Sanders because that’s where the boys are. For my generation and hers, there was some truth to that allegation.
As a young mother, I was initially drawn to issues that affected my children’s education. Later I became involved in educational causes that impacted the children at my preschool. Special needs advocacy (that touched both the preschool and grandmother parts of my life), and issues surrounding the care of aging parents (mine) also became activist passions in the last of decade or so. I’m sure my path was quite different from the one I would have taken as a man. I think my peer group of women took a very active role in many important issues that touched our lives directly. I can’t think of a similar path for the men I know as they aged.
Back to Diana Nyad, when she emerged from the water after her remarkable swim, what she said really resonated with me:
“I have three messages. One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team.”
That’s pretty good advice for boomers as they reach retirement.
Never give up. If I did not live by these words, the preschool I founded would not have been created. My grandchildren with special needs would not have improved. And my opinionated self would have stopped speaking out when I retired.
You are never too old to chase your dreams. I have to believe that one or I wouldn’t be doing this. When I was in college majoring in English with a minor in secondary education, my father belatedly suggested I would be a good journalist. Once I started blogging, my mother insisted I should write a book. Too late, I thought, but then I asked myself, why not?
It takes a team. Find a group of like-minded people. Be part of a political movement. Join a book club. Volunteer for a cause close to your heart. Or like me, follow your long dormant passion and be part of advocating for things that really matter to you.
Now what, my fellow retirees? We have to find a purpose for the last part of our lives. We need to retool and learn new skills. We need to use the time gifted to us to do things we dreamed of but could never squeeze into our busy work lives. Now is the time to find our passion and make a difference. Now is the time to begin an encore career.