Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women

Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women

by Bernice Bratter, Helen Dennis, Lahni Baruck

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For the first time in history, career women -- women who have worked outside the home for most of their lives -- are retiring. Without role models, they look to one another to face the changes this life transition brings.

Career women from the Baby Boom and pre-Baby Boom, or Silent, generations are approaching retirement. They want to know what it…  See more details below


For the first time in history, career women -- women who have worked outside the home for most of their lives -- are retiring. Without role models, they look to one another to face the changes this life transition brings.

Career women from the Baby Boom and pre-Baby Boom, or Silent, generations are approaching retirement. They want to know what it means to suddenly find themselves back inside their homes after having devoted their lives to careers outside of them.

These women are highly skilled, educated and successful.They have achieved visibility, status and influence. And because they are the first large group of American women to define themselves by their work, they have few, if any, models for retirement. Project Renewment will show women that giving up their careers does not mean giving up who they are.

Renewment is a term the authors created as an alternative to the word retirement, which they associated with negative stereotypes and clichés. A combination of retirement and renewal, Renewment suggests optimism and opportunity, growth and self-discovery. Project Renewment is a grassroots movement among women who are close to retirement or recently retired and looking to connect with one another.

The women of Project Renewment believe that retiring is a process of change and increasing self-awareness. As they redirect the commitment and passion previously dedicated to their careers, they transform and reshape their lives. Project Renewment provides these women with an enriched and safe environment in which to explore and confront the challenges that lie ahead as they leave behind a lifetime at the office, hospital, studio or courtroom.

Diverse topics are discussed, such as Who am I without my business card? What if he retires first? What is productivity anyway? Why do I feel guilty reading a book on a Tuesday afternoon? How do I feel about not earning another dollar? Divided into two sections, Project Renewment offers insight and support in a friendly, humorous and meaningful way. The first part of the book addresses the challenges that career women tackle when looking to retire. The second teaches readers how to start and maintain their own Project Renewment group, so they can find support, inspiring relationships and even a few laughs as they look to get the most out of the rest of their lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This guide for retired career women or those about to make this life change starts out coolly but warms up to a friendly support-group style discussion of the psychological pitfalls associated with leaving a life of work. The authors, a psychologist and a workplace-issues expert who founded a networking organization by the title's name, illustrate their approach to retirement as renewal. The book's businesslike title is a bit misleading; chapters are short and punchy and lacking detailed how-tos on the practical points of retirement, such as exit strategies or financial planning. The book's strengths lie in its "you're not alone" tone, with anonymous anecdotes and quotes from the mostly married, 60-somethings in Project Renewment groups throughout Southern California. Also useful is the book's "Guide to Creating a Project Renewment Group," which gives a step-by-step how-to for finding like-minded women at or about to embark on the same life stage. Skeptics may identify this self-help book as a disguise to expand the Renewment brand, but it works on its own terms. Illus. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
"Project Renewment is one of those books that becomes a faithful, trusted friend, the imaginary kind who's always there with wise advice and never needs to talk about herself. It's a soulful, pragmatic, delightfully entertaining guide for any woman who plans to keep growing older and intends to enjoy it come hell or high water. I'm rereading it several times in an attempt to impress it upon my subconscious mind before I misplace my copy. Not that my memory is getting patchy or anything. Of course, I'm not nearly old enough to need Project Renewment. I just happen to love it."

— Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live

"Project Renewment is a terrific book. Its cutting-edge approach to retirement for a new generation of career women is based on sound knowledge, a depth of experience and the rich dialogues of highly effective women creating their future. It's also a great read — fun, informative and hopeful. I was particularly drawn to the essays through the creative illustrations, timely topics and clear writing."

— Ken Dychtwald,CEO, Age Wave,author of Age Power and The Power Years

"Here is a window on the changes facing career women when they consider retirement. Women are working longer without many models from the past about how to handle the next phase of life. A grassroots effort began in Southern California at meetings held by the authors, where talented, accomplished women discussed alternatives to their work lives and ways of pursuing objectives other than the pursuit of income. These meetings provided the evidence on which the ideas of this book are based. Reading Project Renewment is like getting a 'new set of tires' and driving off in new directions. It results from the wisdom that evolves from considering alternatives to work in the mature years. "

— James E. Birren, professor emeritus, University of Southern California, and former dean of the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center

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you don't know where you are going,

any road will get you there.

-- Lewis Carroll

"It was easier to make the decision to divorce my husband than it was to make the decision to retire. I actually thought replacing my husband would be easier than replacing my career," said a sixty-seven-year-old interior designer.

A sixty-six-year-old executive director found that retirement was the hardest decision she ever made. "Work was my life. The people I worked with were my family. Facing my staff and board members to say good-bye was wrenching. I couldn't sleep at night and felt sick. I was saying good-bye to what I had created, to the people who surrounded me and to the biggest part of my life."

Effective women are decisive. We make decisions about policies, products, programs and practices. We negotiate deals, reorganize departments, make hiring and firing decisions and do what it takes to create thoughtful change. Yet, when we are faced with our own decision to retire, many of us wrestle, waffle and even suffer.

Women in Project Renewment shared their views in this back and forth "should I or should I not" retirement conversation they had with themselves.

Here are some of their comments that reflect the allure of retirement: "Retirement means less stress and deadlines." "The alarm clock would be set on 'off' and time would finally belong to me." "Commuting would stop, which means a lot in Los Angeles." "Having the freedom to do what I want to do, when I want to do it." "I will be able to eat better, exercise more and spend more time outdoors." "It's wonderful to know that I will have more of a 'life' to spend with family and friends."

At the same time, they were aware of the downside: "Not working would create a huge void in my life. What would I say when someone asks me 'what do you do?'" "I am afraid of cutting ties with my work, the people, culture and structure." "I would miss the challenge and stimulation."

Personal stories reveal the ambivalence -- the pull from and push toward retirement. "It has taken me years to finally make the decision. I thought about all of the reasons to leave my work, but just couldn't do it. I had nothing to go to."

A project manager joined the group at age fifty-nine, eighteen months before she planned to retire. Her company had moved, leaving her with a two-hour commute. "I always assumed that I would work until I was sixty-five, but the long commute is leaving me exhausted. When my family comes over, I can't wait for them to leave. When I am out with friends for a social evening, I can't wait to get home. When my husband talks to me at the end of the day, I have to pretend to listen. I feel as if life is passing me by while I am half asleep. Maybe it's time to retire, but I really don't want to give up my work."

A sixty-seven-year-old woman has been working as an agency director of a nonprofit organization for the past twenty years. "I can never retire. My husband and I never made a financial plan for our future; we also made some unwise investments. It wasn't until I had been at my agency for ten years that the board finally okayed a retirement plan, so I have very little money in my retirement fund. I am sick of managing people and dealing with board members and donors. We do need the money, and I still am working."

A seventy-year-old psychotherapist doesn't know if or when she will retire. "I love my private practice and supervising interns. My husband's health is not good and I need to spend more time with him, although not full-time. I am considering cutting back my hours or eliminating the supervision of interns, but I keep putting it off. If I didn't work, I don't know what I would do with myself. I am not the type of person who is part of the lunch crowd and I really don't have any hobbies. My work is my joy."

Ambivalence is diminished when the retirement decision is determined by internal and external conditions and events. An internal condition is poor health, which nationally is the primary reason for early retirements. External conditions often are imposed by employers who may encourage (legally) early retirement through the elimination of jobs, providing financial incentives and through reorganization. Employers also can make the life of a retirement-eligible employee so miserable that retirement becomes a relief and an escape.

Family and life events affect retirement decisions. A commitment to an ill husband or partner or aging parents can be a compelling force to retire, freeing up time to care for a loved one.

Recent experiences and reactions to work may suggest that retirement is worth considering. Project Renewment women indicated that work may be losing its value if we

• feel exhausted and are unwilling to continue to feel that way;

• are no longer having fun at work;

• feel irritated by colleagues, clients, board members and/or donors;

• are tired of managing people;

• feel out of date;

• sense the employer wants us to leave; and

• no longer feel passionate or challenged by work.

In contrast, our feelings toward work may have the opposite impact, suggesting that retirement may not be the right decision if we

• like starting each day by immersing ourselves in work;

• feel we want to continue to create change within our work environment;

• find work challenging and stimulating;

• feel energized by colleagues;

• enjoy the recognition and appreciation;

• have the energy and capacity to continue; and

• see more opportunities that are exciting and gratifying.

Retiring can be a life-altering experience, especially if we love the challenge, pace and status that work brings to our lives. The decision is more than a financial one. This decision requires us to know ourselves, to be honest about our fears and limits and to be aware of what we need to do to feel alive and vital.

Questions to ask yourself:

1. At this time, how do you feel about your work?

2. How can you envision yourself doing something different?

3. What are your thoughts about part-time work or self-employment?

4. How will your finances influence your retirement decision?

5. Can you identify what you would miss most from your work? How can you experience this in your retirement?

Copyright © 2008 by Bernice Bratter and Helen Dennis

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Meet the Author

Bernice Bratter, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and an advocate for both women and the aging. In recognition of her leadership in the nonprofit arena, she has received numerous awards including an honorary doctor of law degree from Pepperdine University. She has been featured on 60 Minutes, 20/20 and in Hour Detroit magazine.
Helen Dennis, a nationally recognized expert on the issues of aging, employment and retirement, has received awards for her university teaching and contributions to the field of aging. Editor of two books, popular speaker and weekly columnist, she has helped more than ten thousand employees prepare for their retirement. Her expertise is sought by employers, national publications like The Wall Street Journal and such network news programs as ABC's Primetime.

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