The first wave of Baby Boomers is turning 75 this year. This includes such icons as Dolly Parton, Tom Selleck, Goldie Hawn, and Eric Clapton. Another 14 million first-Boomers were born between 1946 and the end of 1949. These are the true pioneers of the “new retirement.” They are visionary boomers reinventing retirement. And we younger boomers are watching with awe. The first wave is blazing a new and exciting trail for all to f0llow.
Importantly, one does not have to be a super star, Oscar-or-Grammy winning boomer to reinvent retirement. I was fortunate to meet an inspirational first-Boomer. She was willing to share her story and her journey. And in the end, following her passion was the key to reinventing the very idea of retirement.
Meet Val, one of the boomers reinventing retirement
What struck me first about Val was how her daughter beamed with pride as she told me about her mother. I had not yet met Val, but Shannon was bursting with joy as she talked about her mom. Turns out, Val had quite an extraordinary story.
Val graduated from Community College the same year Shannon graduated high school. Then, Val went on to complete her bachelor’s degree at Wellesley College. It took 10 years—while working full-time as a Human Resources professional at the college. But she was all smiles when she donned her well-deserved cap and gown in 2000. At the age of 54, Val achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a college grad. (Photo is from this special event.)
Her education continues even today. Over the past six years, Val has focused on new goals. She’s turned a desire to give back in a spiritually significant way toward studying Reiki. And, she’s making her way to Reiki Master teacher. She loves every minute of Reiki study and practice now. But her journey to following her passion wasn’t exactly a straight line. The power of how Val joins boomers reinventing retirement starts back in time…
Val’s no-nonsense, practical approach started early
Val is the oldest of three sisters (and a baby brother). Growing up in the 1950s and 60s was an interesting era for girls. At home, Val was competitive with her sisters. “We were always trying to outdo each other,” Val laughs. “It was always a competition about which sister was better at something.”
However, at school, things were quite a bit different. A competitive spirit was not considered proper for girls. Val was a very good student and loved learning. In fact, her grades were so good that she got a scholarship for college. But, in her family, everyone worked. “There was a very strong work ethic in my house. We all knew when we graduated high school, we needed to get a good job.”
Girls in the graduating class of 1963 often took the civil service exam. Val scored very well. As a result, she was offered a good job working for the US Air Force at the Boston Army Base in Boston.
At 17, Val graduated from high school, turned down the college scholarship, and started her good job. At 19, she got married.
The constant juggling act
If not for working, Val says she would have been bored. She needed, and wanted, intellectual stimulation. And, a paycheck was a necessity. It was relatively easy in the early years of her marriage to keep a job and manage the house. But then, motherhood arrived. She was juggling a new baby daughter, the house, and her desire to keep her own interests alive. A baby brother arrived four years later.
In the 1970s, there were few opportunities for moms to work full-time. Daycare centers didn’t exist in most towns. Nannies were too expensive for most. Add to the mix that Val didn’t have a car. And to phone her mom in the next town over required a toll payment! What was a young mother to do?
When she could fit things in around the kids’ schedules, Val started dabbling in night classes at a local community college. She also got back to work while the kids were in school. Eventually, she could take classes during the day and completed her Associates Degree in Business.
Women didn’t have careers; they had jobs
It’s easy to misunderstand how important this first group of boomer women has been. They effectively paved the career futures for younger Boomers and the next generations of women. Indeed, they pushed closed doors open and worked jobs they could find or create that worked around the kids. In Val’s case, her career developed over time. It was a combination of jobs plus the help of earning higher education.
Many of the first Boomers didn’t have the chance to head off to college to pursue a passion. Instead, they got jobs. Alongside their husbands, they provided for their families. And, without realizing it, they opened so many doors for their own daughters and granddaughters. An unintended and amazing contribution, indeed.
In Val’s case, she found lots of good jobs along the way. She first worked for the Air Force and then spent several years as stay-at-home Mom. Then, she found employment in Human Resources at a computer software company. She was particularly excited when she later saw an ad for a job at Wellesley college. She applied for the full-time professional job in HR, continuing in compensation and benefits. She stayed for 10 years, working and taking classes, until she graduated in 2000.
Next came an opportunity at TJX Corporation where her HR background opened a door in corporate compensation. There were a few years of consulting in banks followed by a stint at State Street. Another role at another corporate for-profit company kept the paychecks coming. And, then, almost full-circle, Val ended up as the Assistant HR Director at a community college before retiring from there.
All too soon Val became one of the boomers reinventing retirement
That was some career-building journey! How could it be the end of the trip? And so soon? Val wasn’t feeling like she was done yet. She had always looked for ways to develop herself and to do for others. This really couldn’t be the end of the line for her.
But, where to go next? Val took stock at where she’s been, but more importantly, at where she still wanted to go. She had loved her studies at Wellesley College. She was passionate about, and valued, a liberal arts education. Religion was of great interest. As a result, Val chose to study the great religions of the world.
“I absolutely adored my liberal arts studies at Wellesley College. They allowed me to look at my world and beyond through a different lens,” Val recalls. “I have a broader view of the world through various religions and cultures. And, I am so much more aware of the beauty of diversity.”
At the point of retirement, Val combined several key elements of herself. She recognized her passion for learning and cultural diversity. Plus, at the core is her desire to help others. Val was open to new ideas and ready to explore.
So, when she was introduced to Reiki through her church, the lightbulb snapped on.
From pigeon-hole to passion
As many boomer women discover over time, they often get pigeon-holed into the same types of jobs. Val didn’t start out to be a compensation specialist. But, she landed a job in HR compensation early in her job path. The next opportunity was also in HR, and the next. And being really good at it, set the stage for her future job opportunities. All in similar roles. She might have wanted to try out different areas of a company. Build new skills. But those options were simply not available.
However, in parallel with these jobs, Val found ways to pursue areas that were more meaningful. “I was always a people-person. And, I am very spiritual,” explains Val. “So I felt like it was a “meant-to-be” moment when I was helping to coordinate pastoral care at my church. “All of the nurses are getting trained in Reiki in the Boston hospitals. This was an effort lead by my Pastor’s wife. She’s the one who included me in a group from my church for training. “
Val happened to be in the right place at the right time. At “retirement,” she finally had the chance to fly out of the pigeon hole and follow her passion.
A language of healing and caring
Back to her roots, it’s always been very important to Val to keep learning. So, it was easy to jump into Reiki training. In her late-60s. Almost immediately she realized how this type of care fit right into her passion.
Reiki is a natural, healthy, non-medication way of helping the body heal using its own means. Originating in Japan in the early 1900’s, Reiki is considered a complementary medicine. It centers on the belief that mammals have an energy field that can be harnessed to help a body relax. The techniques used help a patient to focus on relaxation that then supports the body in its healing.
While there are some skeptics out there, today’s western medical community is largely embracing more holistic ways to help patients. The old techniques together with modern medicine often provide better outcomes.
In fact, at one of the largest Boston-based hospital systems, 60 Reiki volunteers work directly with patients. And, the traditionally-trained doctors embrace the additional help. Reiki is neither invasive nor competing with medical practices. Val describes it as a language of love and care to help a person with the healing process.
Building a small business in her 70s
Val was one of the certified Reiki volunteers at the Boston hospital. Unfortuntley, she and all others had to be “furloughed” during COVID-19. But, she’ll be back.
Patients in many parts of a hospital are experiencing highly stressful health situations. Introducing them to the calming touch of a Reiki session can reduce much of the anxiety that comes with being so sick.
And, there is high demand for this technique. From hospice care organizations to nursing homes, the medical community is seeking alternatives to make aging more comfortable. To that end, Val has started her own small business, At Peace Reiki. She has plans in place for growth and expansion over the next several years. Val sees individual clients at two locations in nearby towns—Wellesley and Ashland. She has done extensive work in assisted living facilities.
During this time of COVID-19, she has also trained seven new Reiki Practitioners. She’s especially proud that they include her daughter and her sixteen-year-old twin grandsons.
Val doesn’t need to work. But she believes strongly in this particular work. So, in her mid-70s, as one of the boomers reinventing retirement, Val is building a business. The revenue she brings in is in addition to her other retirement income.
But most importantly, she just loves helping people. “I have an opportunity to help people who need it most. It’s a way of giving back. Plus I get to stay connected.”
Still on her journey to acceptance
Looking back over her life so far, Val can see exactly how her path led her to where she is today. It certainly wasn’t a straight line! And it didn’t happen quickly. But, it’s hers to own and to accept.
Thinking back to the early years in her 20’s and 30’s she’s come to understand that it wasn’t easy to find a good job while raising children.
Her first marriage didn’t last, but she’s been happily married to her current husband for almost 25 years now. They met at age 50 when each was pursing an education. While she was at Wellesley college, he was studying at Harvard. The pursuit of higher education is a driving force for this couple.
And, Val’s journey through various jobs has provided valuable insight into business. Most importantly, her close ties to her church are incredibly important to her.
Looking forward and watching boomers reinventing retirement
Like many of us, Val often wondered if there was something more she should be doing. It wasn’t always easy treading on the outskirts of her real passion. But sometimes, it takes a few decades to get to where you’re supposed to be. And, a clear vision of what you don’t want to do. And, watching what others are doing so you continually get new ideas.
Val says that some day she may learn how to knit because her sisters do work that she really admires. “But I don’t need to try to ‘outdo’ them.”
And, she is delighted to have found a way to incorporate all the parts of her journey into her reinvented retirement.
Val is open to more studies of ancient medicines. She’s highly in tune with various cultures and beliefs. And, she’ll continually look for ways to help real people. So many need help dealing with the challenges that dog all of us in today’s world.
There’s no stopping this baby boomer! Val is as delightful and joyful a person as you’ll meet. She’s making important contributions to the individuals she’s helping every day.
It’s inspiring to hear Val talk about her future. I hope she knows she’s a super-star in her own right. She’s blazing a trail for all of us younger boomers to follow. And, probably most important, she’s already helped open doors for her own daughter and her grandchildren.
Have you found your passion or is it still in development? Here’s to wishing you a successful journey into your retirement years. May they be as fulfilling as Val’s.
For more examples of Boomers reinventing retirement, you might enjoy these posts:
And, to read what’s happening with Reiki success in Boston’s Brigham and Women’s hospital system, check out this information.