One of the most common challenges confronting older women are the issues of work and retirement. Many women have spent some period of time in the workplace and some have had long careers. Of women over 65 years of age, a few continue to work in their original professions, some do related work, and many retire. Many women volunteer their time to a worthwhile cause while others focus on their health or development of their own personal growth and creativity. All of these paths are valid and appropriate for different women.
Among women over 65 who have retired (and they are the majority compared to women still working in their profession after age 65), there are a number of common reactions I have noticed. While there are certainly some women who were ready—or more than ready, to retire; there are others for whom the transition felt abrupt and somewhat traumatic. These women struggle with the transition and face a major challenge to redefine themselves and their sense of their purpose in the world.
In our culture, self-esteem is very intertwined with productivity, generating an income, and making a contribution of some kind to society. Even though women make huge contributions via the unpaid work of parenting and caregiving, it is through paid work that most women derive their clearest sense of value and self-esteem.
Retirement is a sought after goal, but the transition is often more difficult than expected. We have to adjust and recalibrate our sense of purpose and self-esteem and decide what we wish to do with the time freed by retirement. Most women report being as busy (or busier) in retirement than they were when they worked. Some have never had to face the challenge of having to structure their own time. Even freedom has its challenges! Let’s talk about the challenges of work and retirement.
- Were you a participant in the paid or unpaid workforce and did you derive a sense of worth or value from these activities?
- Did you receive recognition for your work and accomplishments? If not, how did you deal with not feeling recognized?
- If you retired, talk about your transition into retirement. Was it hard? Was it fairly easy? Is there anything you would do differently if you could do it over again?
- If you have continued in your profession (or a new area of work), what has this been like for you?
- If you were to provide wisdom or guidance to working women who are considering retirement, what would you tell them?