I had lunch with one of the most successful women I know. In male-dominated financial circles, she is truly a household name and she’s earned every one of those achievements through hard work and talent. Adjectives people would use to describe her—brilliant, no nonsense, not afraid to take on challenges, incredibly thoughtful and understandably self confident. She retired a couple of years ago and her comments on the challenges she faces are definitely worth sharing.
From my perspective, Laura is one of those people who I might have expected to work long into her 70s. And I do believe that she could have stayed in the business as long as she wanted…but chose not to. And in this context, she concluded that one of the reasons she’s happy that she retired is that “the older I get, the more I realize that there are no guarantees. Frankly, the idea of putting off and putting off and putting off things you want to do just gets scarier and scarier. You just have to do things when YOU CAN! ” Like many of us…of a certain age…she’s watched too many people see their life plans derailed by illness.
From there to the challenges: First… and this is often the elephant in the room: Retirement Marriage. Married for 47 years, Laura cites the proverbial motto: “You’re married for better or for worse…but NOT for lunch.” The issue, she explains, is that in retirement your lives must re-synch in a way that works for both people. And if you have different retirement life patterns, that’s a real challenge. Laura is ultra-Type A and her husband is the opposite. When they were working, this difference didn’t necessarily cause either one much stress. But now, as she says: “He can be downstairs in front of the TV and on the internet, reading for 7 hours without a peep. Meanwhile, I am pacing like a caged animal!!! If I don’t get into the City for meetings, or lunch, or have some prep to do for a Board meeting, I would go out of my mind.”
Another difference that’s difficult to bridge is retirement attitudes. Laura’s mantra is that “I want to contribute, while I still have my marbles, my skills and my expertise. My view is that in retirement, you need to use your skill set to make a difference in someone else’s life. I can use my financial expertise and contacts. Teachers can teach and coaches can still coach.” Others are more self contained, like her husband, who clearly enjoys the intellectual pursuits of retirement. That difference can be frustrating.
Clearly, they both have identified their differences and are working through them. On the really positive side of that equation, is their shared love of travel, gourmet food, cooking and some very favorite and shared pastimes. And they do indeed travel together, and love it. In fact, as we spoke, she had just come back from 2 weeks in Hawaii!!
Laura and I are business friends and that actually is another challenge she faces. Having spent 200% percent of her working life WORKING, she didn’t have time to develop what we all call “girl friends.” If you had watched her rise in a very male-dominated world and seen the commitment it took to get there, you’d certainly understand this. With time on her hands now, she muses that she just doesn’t have that support network of friends to fall back on and she’s loathe to impose on other people’s time. One of the prices of that huge work success is the lack of a cushion afterwards. And then again, we agreed to go to the ballet together…and I feel that we’ll be doing more of that!
I’d say that a challenge that she doesn’t face is lack of things to do or a lack of some structure in her life. She is a sought-after professional in her industry and fortunately for her, she’s someone who has a tremendous amount to contribute. No grass is growing under her feet, that’s for sure! At the same time, she knows she’s entering a new chapter and that’s still a work in progress.