This article focuses on the transition out of full time work. The ideas also are relevant to anyone seeing 65 as a transition into a new phase of life. Let’s begin by framing the end of a full-time career as simply a transition in a continual sequence of life transitions. We have been through many and know how to do it. Step away from phrases like “final phase, third act, and golden age.” Such language builds an expectation of decline that may not be true for you, and certainly not for many of us.
A recent study by Age Wave (June 2023) found that on average, the concept of “old” for our grandparents was at 60 years and now is 80 years for our generation. I think that calls for a new language and understanding of what our post full-time years are about! Don’t you?
As we navigate the end of full-time work, we often ask ourselves, “What will I do with my days?” Or “Will I feel lonely?” Or, “Am I still relevant?” Or, “How can I do what I want and still have some life structure?”
Inspired by Bruce Feiler, in his book Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, the most fertile and meaningful inquiry is, “I am at the point in my life when…” How have you answered that question? How do you respond to it now?
Think about the transitions you have experienced. Certainly, you remember moving into young adulthood, graduating from college or facsimile, starting a career, establishing a family perhaps, children leaving home if you had them, menopause… perhaps a divorce or losing a mate. I know you have your own personal list of the transitions that have shaped your life.
For which of your life transitions did you look outside of yourself for the answer to “This is the time in my life when….”? Surely, as a young adult, your parents, peers, and socioeconomic environment played a role in your choices. For the “empty nest” phase, we have examples in the media and of course our peers. There is even a movie called The Empty Nester’s Handbook!
The above transitions do not interrupt entirely our sense of purpose and life rhythm. If we work or are deeply involved as a volunteer, we have that context to bring meaning and provide some kind of community through work relationships. Of course, being in a demeaning or toxic work environment is a different story! Still, we continue to have an external structure to rely on.
That brings us to our choices as women 60 and beyond moving into a post full-time life. What is different about this transition?
First, it can occur through choice. Alternatively, with ageism widespread in organizations, or due to health issues, it may not be by choice. It is important to notice what initiates your leaving full-time work. Yet, in the end, the question before you is the same. What is next?
Much of the messaging around us is still based on the premise that at 60 we are “old.” It is time to start looking at retirement facilities, to accept that it is time for younger adults to take over and quiet your voice, to enjoy more physically safe activities, and to generally try to navigate our inevitable decline with all the prescriptions and anti-aging treatments we need (if you notice what advertising suggests!).
Many of us, I know not all, have more vitality than we imagined for our age. What we have used as our models for this transition are out of date and do not serve us.
Each of us needs to decide for ourselves how old we feel. If you feel vibrant and more youthful than expected, then research has shown you probably are! There is a difference between chronological age and senescence – the process of physical aging. Then, make your own decisions about how you will spend your time.
What if you see the transition from full time work as just one more life transition with more to come? What if you removed false barriers and expectations to discover what is true for you? What then if you asked yourself, “I am at the point in my life when…”?
We are rewriting what is conventional and we will need to reshape our society as we go. We’ve been doing that for decades, so why stop now? Businesses will need to rethink retirement timing expectations and become flexible in providing options for experienced employees to continue to contribute if they want.
Increasingly, professionals are choosing to work into their 80s because they love what they do. Schools are already finding ways to adapt so we can continue our education in topics that fascinate us now. Research has shown the improved performance of multi-generational groups – so do not quiet your voice.
You might choose something altogether different. I invite you to shake off the expectations about aging that we have lived with for a lifetime and discover who you are now as a woman in your 60s, 70s and beyond.
Here is the real gift. This may be the first time in your life when you have had the freedom to choose what you truly desire. At the same time, we are being called to discard the outdated societal images of who we are, who we can be, what we can do. There are no rules.
Find those butterflies of excitement inside and follow them. What do you want next in your life? Allow it to come true.
I am curious about your life transitions and how you find moving into your 60s and 70s different than expected. How do society’s expectations influence you? What ideas for yourself give you butterflies inside? Have you ever not moved ahead with a desire because it is not typical of someone ‘your age?”