Updated: Jan 20, 2021
The worst part of the first few weeks of retirement was my first visit to Costco. My husband had always taken care of the shopping because of my intense work schedule. He had talked about Costco for years and wanted to show me how great it was to shop there and save money. But it took only about five minutes of being in the store before I had a mild panic attack.
Nearing the crispy chicken tasting station I was shoved to the side by two small children and a man in an electric cart who ran into my ankle. My administrative instincts kicked in and I found myself using my superintendent voice, saying, “Let’s all make a line, people!” (I did notice my husband was already eating his chicken sample.) As I limped through the aisles of this behemoth store I wondered, is this what depression feels like? How could it be that one day you’re dressed in a suit and heels and the next day you’re draped over a king-size shopping cart sporting sneakers and jogging pants, suffering a sore ankle?
After my Costco experience, it didn’t take long to set up a small consulting business and start to write something I had always wanted to write, a book on education. But something was
still not right. I missed the work; that feeling of being connected to an organization, something bigger than myself. I started looking for gainful employment.
Timing was on my side and I was hired as a full-time professor for a university to teach in their doctoral program. This opportunity was pure joy. What I did not expect, however, was the response I received from friends and relatives. “What’s wrong with you?” my younger sister chided. “You’ve worked your whole life, why aren’t you taking time to smell the roses?” A close friend also admonished, “You’re crazy. You’ve earned your downtime, working at your age will kill you.”
And finally, my husband, who had been looking forward to some one-on-one quality time in our retirement, was disappointed to see me going back to work. He was, however, the only one in my inner circle who truly understood my motivations. Work, for me, actually was smelling the roses. It always had been. So why would I stop now?
After formally accepting the position at the university, I was still concerned with the reactions close friends and family had toward my decision. I knew I needed to learn what other women my age were doing in their senior years. I read some articles on the internet and was thrilled to discover that women over 65 make up a large proportion of the workforce. More than 25 percent of women over 70 work full-time jobs; the majority were in professional fields they did
not want to leave because they had invested so much time in their education and skill-building.
I also learned that the hottest demographic in the labor market is men and women working not only past traditional retirement age but well into their 70s, 80s, and sometimes beyond. The
Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that older men and women will be the fastest-growing segment of the workforce in the coming decade. Some decide to keep working because they need the money, while others love what they do and can’t imagine life without work. With life expectancy in the U.S. steadily increasing, the message is clear: Many seniors are looking for more in life than retirement living.
Dr. Marilou Ryder Author, Professor, and Women's Advocate