During our lunch, the three businesswomen of “retirement age” talked honestly and openly about a range of topics that we’re thinking about.  You know how those conversations just morph from one subject to another.  Here’s a sampling of our thoughts and conclusions:

Our Goal for Retirement:  We’re all pretty Type A people, so of course, we need to have goals…whether it’s in our jobs or retirement.  Helen synthesized our thinking in such a beautiful way:  “You spend 2/3 of your life working and you know all the components of that and what made it fulfilling.  And now you’ve got this whole white space ahead.  What do I want that picture to look like?  It will have little snips of what I had in the first 2/3, but I want to rebalance it in a way that’s MORE satisfying going forward. I don’t want it to be as good as the first 2/3”, she exclaims.  “I WANT MORE!”.  And that’s the most beautiful description of retirement that I’ve ever heard!!!

On the New vs the Old Retirement:  When our parents’ generation retired, they were following a normal path—getting that gold watch and moving on.  Today, it’s so different and we are all looking FORWARD to a whole new life of new beginnings.  For the lucky ones, we still have a lot of energy left, clearly don’t feel or look our ages (or so we think) and we want to have the time and health to enjoy ourselves during this next chapter.  We’re not wading into retirement.  But rather we will spend the time to figure out what will make us happy in this time where we can hopefully enjoy the fruits of all the hard work we’ve done during our career.  We don’t want to look backwards.  We’re looking forward!!

On working part time:  The problem is that you’re still at the beck and call of other people.  This is especially true if you’re in a client facing position:  Clients are clients and you just can’t turn your back on them.  Moreover, the critical issue in a part-time gig is that Type A people tend to continue working quasi-full time for part-time pay.  At the same time, we all agreed that if you’re in a control position, then it’s probably easier to pull this off.  The problem lies when you don’t have the control and you want to have a part-time retirement.

On Guilt and Retirement:  Is staying home and reading the paper until 10 am in your sweats an acceptable pastime?  Or is it a guilty pleasure?   Carol didn’t feel guilty when she did it, but has now moved on. Helen looks at this behavior and is of two minds.  On the one hand, she says that she takes great pride in having built a company, provided lots of school tuitions and could justify the reward of staying home until 10 am.  And yet, she looks at that option and figures that she’ll feel some sense of loss and discomfort doing that.  After all, we’ve spent a life “being productive” and “being needed” and “being of service.”  It’s really not easy to turn that off, we all agreed.

On the lack of structure in retirement:  The fulcrum between lack of structure and flexibility is a key issue.  How to balance them is the critical question and each person has to figure out how much of each they want.  More of one ….by definition…means less of the other.  Furthermore, one’s interest in one versus the other may wax and wane over time.  Carol relished the lack of structure and great flexibility early on in retirement and is looking to add more structure going forward and Helen figures that she’ll “figure it out.”  It’s all a question of chapters and where you are and figuring out what’s important to you.

On filling the blank space:  If you don’t create the “blank space” in your retirement, Carol advises, you’ll never find the “stuff you want to do.  Only when there’s a void can you figure out how to fill it”,  she warns.  After all, when your plate is full, you don’t have the time to figure out what’s out there.  And when you retire, “things just evolve”, she says.  Furthermore, we agree that over time you will fill the space differently, just like Carol is doing now.  In her first retirement phase, she was ok with letting the daily duties of living fill the void…and now she’s ready for something “more.”  The good news about changing course in retirement is that “you can screw it up…and then get a redo.”  The consequences of a less-than-perfect path are so much less than they were when you were working.  If at any time you find that you’re not happy….just do it differently!

Bottom line, Retirement will always mean different things to different people.  And even more importantly, as I’ve said many times, it’s definitely a Work In Progress…and that’s the beauty of Retirement. You get to have a mulligan whenever you want!

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