Ah, retirement. That blissful time of life you work so hard to get to. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be rewarded with an early retirement. At age 53. And, meet the man of your dreams, get married, buy a sailboat, and spend a year living at sea, sailing around the Bahamas and Florida and wonderful, tropical places.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And, it was for Leslie Inman. After 20 years as an executive in corporate America, early retirement was at her doorstep, and she embraced it with her usual enthusiasm and high energy.
She was equally excited about establishing a home together with her husband when she got her land legs back. It was off to the mountains of New Hampshire to set up her early retirement home. Once the furniture shopping was done, the paintings hung, and her cat settled in … well, then what?
Leslie is truly an adventure seeker. She loves trying all kinds of new things. She has a wonderful way of getting into the fabric of a new community and exploring all there is to offer. Her first couple of years in New Hampshire were filled with new activities. She took up skiing at age 55 and joined the “Flying 50’s” ski group at the local mountain. She volunteered as a Board member at her condominium, helped with the local food pantry, and most importantly, finally had the time to pursue one of her dreams: photography.
As a corporate executive, there is little time for hobbies and building an expertise in an unrelated area. Early retirement afforded her the time, and she jumped in with both feet. From starting with photographing nearby nature scenes, she quickly advanced to all-day hiking explorations with backpack and camera in tow. She was getting into her creative, artistic expressive side, and it was a joy.
Say that again – – You’re a Santa’s Elf?
One of Leslie’s core values is that when she believes in something, she backs it 110%. It could be a particular cause or a problem that needs to be solved. Or, it could be an organization dedicated to helping children truly experience the magic of Christmas.
So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Leslie wanted to support the local Christmas train ride for kids of all ages. She contacted the Journey to the North Pole™ to become a volunteer. And, what better way to help create children’s Christmas magic than to be a Santa’s elf? Complete with a green elf suit and jingle bells on your shoes! Nope, not going to do back-office work or sell tickets. Leslie was in the thick of things helping Santa and all those wide-eyed children ride the train to the North Pole.
Recession and Returning to Work
Entering 2008, early retirement was working well for Leslie. Then the market took a nose-dive, and like many of us, she and her husband weren’t feeling great about the future. When she looked at the double-whammy of a significant and sustained market drop along with the withdrawals she was taking to create a retirement paycheck, the outlook simply wasn’t as promising as it had been. Never one to let moss grow under her feet, Leslie went back to work.
She had been a realtor once before in Florida, so picking up her real estate license in New Hampshire was a natural fit. She developed new business models, did a lot of marketing, and was successful selling properties. Enough to tide her over for 18 months and a market recovery.
Time to retire! Again.
Pursuing Her Creative Side
By now, Leslie was 58. She had long held a passion for photography, and wanted to get more serious about it. The early attempts were a great foundation and she had built up some skill in composition, printing, and digital technologies. She was ready to sink her teeth into the art of photography…so, she went back to college! She was accepted to the Maine Media College, about 3 hours east of where she and her husband lived. It was a 9-month residential commitment, and they worked out the logistics of a long-distance romance.
Leslie packed a few suitcases and all her gear, found an apartment, and dove into an intensive educational and practical program. She created several significant portfolios, entered competitions (and won some of them), and graduated along with the three other students, all much younger than she.
Now she had to decide what to do with her photography. Would she turn it into a business or keep it as a hobby? After much consideration, she determined that her photography was a creative and expressive outlet for her; not a business.
When You’re Missing Something in Retirement, What Should You Do?
If you’re Leslie, 1) you talk to your husband about relocating to the mid-coast of Maine, and 2) you decide it’s time to put all those years of knowledge and business acumen back to work.
Yes, Leslie came out of retirement #2 and went back to work. This time, it was for the Girl Scouts of Maine. She had an arsenal of business talent to offer a non-profit, and working in a new environment would challenge her in new ways. So, off she went to work at age 63. For the next two and a half years, Leslie was driving a significant organizational restructure and making improvements to the recruitment of new leaders for girl scout troops in Maine.
By the fall of 2017, Leslie finally said, “Enough. I’m done working for other people. I’m ready to retire!”
Third time might be a charm. Now, who really believes that?!
Just What Is Retirement?
There is nothing better than sleeping in and having a pajama day. Every now and again, and even for a month or so after you retire. Fully recharged, Leslie set out to fill her days. She looked for volunteer opportunities. This was harder than expected, as many organizations don’t know what to do with volunteers. She did settle on becoming a hospice volunteer and helps with the local aging at home organization.
Interestingly, as she met other women and started talking about retirement, something was happening. The conversations were running all over the map. Some women were thrilled to be retired. Some had to retire for any number of reasons not in their control, and others were spending their days watching TV, and enjoying a lot of wine and cocktails.
As a life-long learner and a woman with a high intellectual curiosity, Leslie knew there was something untapped here. She wanted to explore further this era we call “retirement”. But not in the ways we are all used to seeing from the financial perspective. This was much deeper, more personal, and generally not talked about.
The outcome of her initial conversations was, “Let’s talk about this phenomenon of ‘retirement’ and try to understand and articulate why women react so differently.”
An Accidental Retirement Career
Leslie is not really back to work, but she has launched an ambitious project: writing a book. She and her colleague, Roxanne Jones, are gathering research from retired women to get an in-depth look at what it means to be a modern retired woman. It’s called Voices from the Other Side…of Retirement.
“It will be a guide for soon-to-be-retiring women, with advice, lessons learned, and stories from women who have already left the working world and entered the land of retirement,” Leslie shares.
Real women who have crossed the lane will share their own emotional, spiritual, relationships, and daily-living joys and challenges that come with retirement. The book is an opportunity to get underneath real situations women are facing today as the Boomer generation of working women move into another undefined and uncertain period with untapped potential to redefine and create a new idea of retirement.
Retirement Voices is Launched
To gather a wide collection of words of wisdom from women (say that 5 times, fast!), Leslie and Roxanne created a questionnaire, set up a website, and are embarking on a marketing and social media endeavor to hear from women all over the country. Take a look at RetirementVoices.com for more information about the project.
If you are a retired woman, look at the questions to see if you would be willing to contribute your stories and perspective. Women typically like to tell their stories. This is a chance to share yours with the women who are just a few years behind you, so we can learn from your experiences and insights.
Author’s note: From a slightly selfish perspective, I know it will be great to get a lot of different points of view assembled in this book before I retire! I know I don’t know what to expect when all the deadlines are gone, no clients are calling, and my email trickles down to just a few spam notes each day.
Early Retirement Is What You Make of It…
…even if it takes three times before you really retire! Leslie has an amazing amount of energy and a get-up-and-go spirit. When something wasn’t quite what she needed in early retirement, she’d make a change, a tactical shift in direction. From ages 53 to 66, she was on a journey that allowed her to continue to use business skills and capabilities in new ways, and finally pursue the creative side that always had to take a back seat while building her career. It’s great to look back on all she’s done, but it’s even more exciting to look ahead.
Good luck with your book, Leslie. And, let me know when you really retire!