What are the most important lessons learned at later stages of life? – Press Enterprise

In this stage of your life, what have you learned that is most important?  

This question was asked of eight men and seven women in mid to later life who have been coming together for the past 11 years to talk about subjects that matter regarding transition and change. The majority are retired; others are working part-time. All are or were highly accomplished in their respective fields including television, business, higher education, theater, science, technology, journalism, law, social services and nonprofit leadership, to name a few. The men belong to the Life Transition Group. The women belong to Renewment, a term that combines retirement and renewal. 

Here is some background to both groups. 

A number of years ago, Ron Dresher and Brian Harris, both long-time successful marketing professionals, went for a bike ride along the beach and began to talk about their next chapter in life – commonly referred to as retirement. Both were retiring from significant positions in business and advertising; both felt passionate about their work. They questioned what they would do with their energy and commitment when no longer working.  They felt motivated to become more knowledgeable and were ready to share experiences with others. Subsequently, they formed a group of like-minded men and called themselves the Life Transition Group and have been meeting for 16 years with monthly speakers as well as having informal topic-centered group discussions. They have over 35 members and two groups in the Los Angeles area.   

To establish balance in their lives and a new sense of identity, they developed some guiding principles using the acronym CHAIRS. Each letter stands for a value the men want to embrace as they emerge from their full-time careers. The letters stand for the following: C=Charity; H=Health; A=Achievement; I=Independence; R=Relationships and S=Spirituality

These characteristics are shared by women of Renewment, a forum and movement started by my co-founder Bernice Bratter and me in 1999. The Renewment women are like-minded with successful careers, wanting to create the next chapter of life to be equal to or even more satisfying than the previous one.  

It all started when Bernice called me after contemplating retirement from her second executive director position and asked if there was any research or programs focusing on career women and retirement.  I replied, “I don’t think so; in fact, we are not even on the radar screen.” A four-hour lunch followed when we decided to invite several like-minded women for dinner to discuss life post-career. That was a four-hour dinner.  

Given we had few if any role models, there was much to discuss and Renewment was born – a forum and movement that supports and inspires career women through transition and change, from work to retirement and beyond. These women also have or did have successful careers, wanting to create the next chapter of life to be equal to or even more satisfying than the previous one.  

Despite our lack of intention to grow, Renewment grew virally to nearly 40 in-person groups most in the Los Angeles area with some in New England down to Florida with most women still working and focusing on the transition to retirement. Some groups have been meeting for three years; others for 23 years.  

As the pandemic eliminated face-to-face meetings, we launched virtual Renewment roundtables to discuss subjects important to our life transitions such as having a sense of purpose, being relevant, defining a new meaning of productivity, relationships and changing identities in this new life stage as in, Who am I without my business card? Similar to the face-to-face meetings, the roundtables grew virally engaging over 100 women from across the country. Most are newly retired although some continue to work.   

Back to our joint meeting. As a participant in this meeting, I wanted to listen for possible gender differences regarding the learning experiences.   

Note we do know men and women have different communication styles according to Deborah Tannen, Distinguished University Professor in the Linguistics Department at Georgetown University. In her book, “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” (William Morrow, 2007), Tannen writes that for most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport; a way of establishing connections…” She writes men “tend to exhibit knowledge and skill” with an emphasis on reporting rather than rapport. Tannen’s writing gives us pause to acknowledge that men and women often have different communication styles and what each may consider important. Stay tuned next week for the important learnings of each group – and know a little bit of kindness goes a long way.  

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com.  Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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