Talk To Everyone. Once you learn the lingo, talk to everyone you meet. Say “yes” to any introduction.
One day, you are employed. A senior and valued member of a larger enterprise.
The next, you’re retired. A freelancer in an unstructured and unpredictable world. Valued only by your family. And even they are nervous.
Yikes. There’s no real preparation for the cold water plunge of retirement. But after we were dunked, we decided to try to figure it out. Here are ten steps you might take—or not take—in the beginning.
Step One: Rest. We were surprised at how exhausted we were, once the adrenaline drained. We slept late. We read the newspaper. We saw friends for lunch—the few who were available. We slept some more. For a few months that was it.
Step Two: Do Not Commit To Anything. Don’t panic. You will figure this out. But not overnight. And until you do, be careful. It has been a long time since people thought they could tell you what to do, but that’s what they think now. You have nothing better to do than help them with their chores. Wrong. Your time is your own, and you have earned the right to take as long as you like to decide what to do with it.
Step Three: Enjoy Yourself. There are so many things you never had time to do. Do them now. This phase will not last forever. Think about matinees, boat rides, long walks, long novels, art galleries or even hobbies you always wanted to master. Erica took design classes and Karen learned to fly.
Step Four: Start To Consider What You Want To Do. You will know by now that you can fill your days. But don’t be surprised if you start to get a little antsy, and you feel that something is missing. We realized after a while that what we needed was purpose. We were grateful to play for a while, but we couldn’t do it for thirty years. We needed more.
Step Five: Confront The Stereotypes. You will likely also encounter reactions from others that you will find unnerving. They look at you but seem to see someone else—a needy, boring who might cling to them like a leech. They say how envious they are that you don’t have anything you must do, but they don’t mean it. In fact they are terrified of an outdated notion of retirement, and projecting their fears on you. They see an infuriating stereotype, and that stereotype hides you from the rest of the world. Reject it, just as you rejected early stereotypes of women in the workplace. It has nothing to do with you.
Step Six: Dress Well. During the sleep-all-day phase, you can wander around your house in pajamas as you watch the soaps. But once you start to reenter the outside world, look like what you are—an accomplished woman who is pivoting to a new adventure. If you used to wear suits, as we did, you may decide to find another mode of attire. But if you look like the person you are—not the stereotype—you’ll be happier, you will get respect, and you will get where you are going faster.
Step Seven: Learn To Speak Retirement. If you tell people you are retired, when they ask what you do, they might look pityingly at you, say something dumb, and shuffle away. So here’s what you do. Before you have a plan, tell them you just retired from a wonderful career, and while you decide what’s next, you plan to take a tramp steamer to Bora Bora, where you might start a deep sea fishing business. Or something like that. After you have a plan—and you will—say that you just retired from a wonderful career and are now embarking on a new project. We found that when people understood we were coming up with our next act, they were much more open inclined to keep talking with us, and often offered us great ideas or contacts.
Step Eight: Talk To Everyone. Once you learn the lingo, talk to everyone you meet. Say “yes” to any introduction. We made connections in worlds far from those that we had known as lawyers, and that was really fun. We entertained ideas well outside our comfort zones. We also began to build a new community. When we worked, we had a ready made social structure. Now, we were slowly making a new one.
Step Nine: Start Visualizing A Plan. We had no good role models, so we realized we had to create our own retirements. We started by trying to figure out what we had liked—and not liked—about working, and how to replace the good parts and leave the bad parts behind. We rented an office—a space where we could work together that was not our home. We put its address on some new business cards. We talked, we read, we thought. And ultimately we decided to advocate a new vision of retirement through a blog—even though we hardly knew what that meant. We turned to some bright young people for help—all of whom said they thought their mothers would love what we were doing. That made us smile!
Step Ten: Have A Glass of Bubbly. Even after you do all of this, you will still have a way to go. The retirement process takes time. But remember—you have already succeeded in at least one great career. You are not starting at the beginning. Your decades of experience are the foundation for what you will create next. Celebrate yourself. Break open some champagne with some friends, and be assured—you will be having a great time, very very soon.
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