Guest Blog: Retirement 2.0

01Mar09

This month we’re starting our feature of guest blog posts by Smith alums, beginning with this one on retirement from Carol Lightwood ’63. If you are a Smith alum and would like to write a guest post (on any subject of your choosing), please email us at smithalumblogs@gmail.com.

Retirement is a relatively new invention and one, I think, that should be updated.

For millennia people worked in some capacity from childhood until death. Then the industrial revolution created a surplus of workers.  More machines meant fewer people producing more goods. The solution: older workers would step aside, withdraw, retire to allow younger people to become employed.  As part of the deal younger people were asked to chip in some money to help support older retired workers.

And that is where we stand now.

But what a waste of talent and knowledge and ability. Turn a calendar page and suddenly a valuable member of our society is designated as no longer needed and promptly sent off to a permanent vacation, if their finances allow, or a permanently restricted lifestyle, if finances do not.

Instead, retirement should be upgraded to having an opt-out option.  Call it Retirement 2.0.

Entering Retirement in the New Millennium

I write this from the vantage point of someone who left her corporate job as a Vice President, Creative Director with one of the Saatchi ad agencies in 1986. I have never gone back to the corporate world with its meetings, politics, 401ks and retirement dates.

One important thing to know about the advertising biz: an ad career is longer than a professional athlete’s—but not by much.  Sometime between the ages of 40 and 50 one had better own the company or get out of the business. So immediately after I left the agency at age 45 I launched my own creative boutique, writing ad copy.  I loved the work and the assignments kept flowing in year after year.

In all those years, however, not once did a specific retirement date enter my mind. I saved money, of course, and invested and built a retirement account. What I thought about most often, however, was what I was going to do today and what was going to come next in my life.

Then one afternoon in 2004, I open my mailbox to find the annual report from the Social Security Administration. Wow! I had been contributing to Social Security for 50 years!  In one of those curious turns of fate, not one copywriting assignment glimmered on the horizon, so I signed up for Social Security at age 62.

But I did not consider that retirement.  It was simply a new steady source of income.

With no fixed retirement date looming I opened a small soap making company.  Began to teach a memoir writing class. Published a memoir writing guide.  Learned Front Page and developed six websites for myself.

Now this is where Smith College comes in.

About a year ago, the Pasadena Smith Club Treasurer announced she was retiring as Treasurer of local liberal arts college. Another Smith friend in the class of ’63 told me she was retiring as a judge

“What’s this?” I thought. “Retirement?  How can that be?  They’re both as young as I am.”  Then another thought crept in: “Or maybe I am that old.”

Redefining Retirement

For a while I wrestled with the realization that in the traditional work world I was “that old”. Looking at actuarial figures, however, my two friends and I probably have another twenty years of living ahead of us.  I also considered how much I had accomplished and experienced in the twenty years between ages 45 and 65 and thought:  “Maybe I can do just as much between 65 and 85.”

Inspired by this thought, I developed yet another website, called Real Life Retirement, based on friends’ experiences of working after retirement.  (I came up with that title, Real Life Retirement, long before the Schwab brokerage did!)  I began to lay plans to teach more memoir writing classes.  And then there is research for a trip to India.

I still have not set a specific retirement date.  Maybe I will do it after I am 85.  In the meantime I am a beta tester for Retirement 2.0.

Carol Wilson Lightwood, ’63, has a new website, www.realliferetirement.com which focuses on working after leaving a primary career. She is the President of the Smith College Club of Pasadena.

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