Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

Could we retire retirement?

Did I tell you that I’m writing a book?

Maybe not, because saying I’m writing a book means so little until you actually have a completed draft. But I’m excited about the work and suspect some of you may have ideas to share with me. Besides, I’m a bit obsessed.

The book is about following your calling: working, creating, and thriving as we age past midlife.

I believe we can create a wonderful stage of life if we know how to work with the possibilities it represents.

Nobody told me that the period between fifty and seventy-five, or “the 3rd act of life,” is a time in which we can be more ourselves than ever and thrive as we work and contribute. (Same holds for some of my friends in their eighties.)

Can we retire the word retirement?

I didn’t always understand the potential of working through my sixties and beyond.

When I grew up in suburban Connecticut, I had no clue what I wanted to be–having been told that being a cowgirl wasn’t really a career. However, I knew that at the magic age of 65 someone rang the bell and you stopped working. If you were lucky, you’d be given a gold watch, like the one my Grandfather proudly shared.

Fast forward many years and the word retirement barely makes sense to me.

Why would I want to step away from contributing when I feel wiser, more creative, and more inspired than ever? Not to mention the fact that life didn’t leave me with a big pension to cover the so-called leisure living I see being promoted in magazines.

I’m meeting lots of folks like me who want to keep creating, contributing and working (broadly defined) well past the time the retirement bell was supposed to ring. Even the ones who leave their jobs often sneak back to employment, start businesses, do substantial volunteer work, or follow their creative passions.

In the 3rd act of life, we are older (bodies do creak), wiser (for the most part), and we may not want to keep working in the hyperactive, ambition-filled, ego-driven mode of our thirties. But we haven’t lost our creative drive.

In many of us, there’s still an urge, a longing, a calling that invites us to listen and do the work we are meant to do.

Ignore that longing at your peril–it’s your ticket to vitality and a longer life.

Our new tribe of post-midlifers has an opportunity to reinvent the conversation about working in our later years.

And, it’s about time.

Psssst. Danger. Don’t talk about aging.

There’s such a stigma on aging in our culture that even talking about it puts you at risk. It’s not sexy. People at cocktail parties may run from you. (“That’s very interesting, but I need to go get another gherkin right now.”’)

Our big, fat, cultural myth about the period post-fifty is that it’s about decline. You peak at 50, or maybe it’s 40 or even 35 and it’s just downhill from there. No wonder “aging,” without a positive vision, is a dirty word we want to avoid.

Of course, there’s the counter-myth that you don’t have to grow old or show any of the signs of aging. ($262 billion dollars in anti-aging products support this one.)

I could make millions if….

If I could call my book, Nine Surefire Ways to Stay Young Forever, I’m sure I’d have a hit. Just to be sure, I’d put a wrinkle-free celebrity on the cover and sell millions of copies! (No one needs to know about the repeated facelifts, modified teeth, or PhotoShopping behind her gorgeous portrait.)

I can’t do that. Because it’s fake. We’re all aging. You’ve done it successfully since the day you were born. Denying your age doesn’t keep you from aging, it just prevents you from pondering what the longing deep inside wants to tell you. When you’re in denial, you can’t ask where you’re going, what you really care about, what fills you with meaning and purpose, and how to best use the gifts that come with your age.

Wanting to work, create and contribute doesn’t require staying on the production line, burning ourselves out the way we might have done in our over-amped, adrenalized younger years.

We’re smart. We can choose to invent new ways to work that honor our energy, our bodies, and our knowledge of ourselves. We can let go of thinking we need to change the whole world (alas) and ask what is the one, often small thing we know is ours to do.

What about those employers who still practice covert age-discrimination? Don’t mess with them, if you can avoid them. They have no clue what they are missing. And age-ism? It’s like people discriminating against their future selves because they’ve forgotten that they, too, will hopefully be older some day. Bizarre!

Please share your thoughts

I have a lot to say about this, and that’s why I’m writing a book. Are you with me still? (You may have already gone out for the gherkins.)

Please let me know what you think, or share your personal tale of working, creating and finding meaning in midlife and beyond. I’m collecting stories now.

If you’re younger and already know that you want to work creatively in a wiser, 3rd act way, you can join the tribe.

It’s not age that defines us–it’s an approach to life.

Or, if you’re young and think you can avoid thinking about all this, just remember that you, too, will one day pass midlife. If you’re lucky.






8 Responses

  1. Amen!
    Well said. I’m with you whole heatedly. I tell people that I’ve retired from the operating room and not retired from the blessing of gift of medicine. Doing volunteer work in community, Health Policy and Advocacy on behalf of fellow physicians and our patients. Now. I’m on recipient side of Healthcare. Keep serving your purpose as long as you can. With warm regards.

    1. Thanks for your wise words, Raj. I hope that the healthcare system is treating you well after all the years you spent on its behalf. All the best to you, Sally

  2. Sally, I love your storytelling blog installments. One year ago the church where i worked eliminated my communications positions. I’d only worked there 22 months, but after the first year realized I’m not a desk person and the overwhelming amount of time spent in front of a computer monitor was killing my soul. I’d been studying acting for 1-1/2 years so at 53 years old I finally said “I need to do this” and dove off the cliff. I presented at a Generals audition attended by Seattle theatre companies, continue studying acting, got an agent, have made several paid commercials, performed in a play and a web series where I’ll have a recurring role. I was fortunate to have piled away some cash from my 9-5 job in my savings and had some other resources to draw from thanks to living below my means. Each day is a walk of faith but I’m learning a craft and getting work, albeit not enough to support myself in expensive Seattle. But I’ve got a job as a concierge and am finding creative ways to earn my keep as I go forward. It is worth the risk…I didn’t want to turn 60 only to realize I’d never had the guts to go after what I really wanted.

  3. I recently completed an intensive six-week online course aimed at creating a network of global change agents. The materials was absolutely fascinating to me, It went from the personal to the universal and taught us how to reach out to others and catalyze as painless transformation from the Era of Empire to the Planetary Era as possible. I’m 70 and I was by no means the oldest person in the course.

    I also decided to make far more time for face-to-face interactions. One of my favorite non-profits, the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, is located in my town. I’m going to be working more closely with them.

    I may even churn out a few more children’s books. Even though it might send some people running to the pickle barrel, I’ve learned to embrace my role as an elder.

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