“What’s said in this room, stays in this room,” is the mantra of support groups.
But I’m going to give you a peek at some of the conversation that took place recently in my dining room as 20 women gathered to puzzle over where their lives are headed.
Some are still working, some not, but all are grappling with an issue that has been magnified by the size of their generation and the giant societal step these women took in the decades post Feminine Mystique.
|Author and columnist Helen Dennis on Project Renewment|
Now, once again, they are asking themselves, “Is this all there is?”
The group that met at my house is hardly the first to come together to talk about issues of identity, fulfillment, guilt, and more as they begin exploring the next stage of life. The star guest at my house that night -- columnist, author and lecturer Helen Dennis – launched such a gathering in Los Angeles 13 years ago. That meeting has since sprouted into more than 25 similar groups in California and others around the country. Some men’s groups have started, too. Helen even registered a name for this movement -- “Project Renewment,” and wrote a book based on five years of conversations to help groups start.
“Our women weren’t very comfortable with the term ‘retirement,’” Helen told the women at my house. “So we came up with the name 'Renewment.' It’s a cross between retirement and renewal. ‘Retirement’ sounds like you’re retreating. We felt renewment meant vitality, opportunity, creativity, a future. That it was a much more optimistic, uplifting kind of thing.”
So, why the need for a cadre of supportive women to help each other reach that goal? Listen in – it’s not a smooth journey:
I’m looking for the next stage and I don’t know what the next stage is. -- a former non-profit executive.
“I find myself running round on the days that I’m home and running around on the days that I’m at work and there’s no down time.” – a college counselor, now on a reduced schedule.
“I feel guilty saying no to anyone. I want to please them and be liked.”—a township commissioner.
I’m still working. I’m looking for what I can do to balance my life and flourish, as Martin Seligman would say. – a child guidance counselor.
“I’m really busy and yet I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished a whole lot and yet I don’t really care. But maybe I should get more organized.” –a retired school teacher.
As for myself, it’s been a year since I left my job. Here’s the dilemma that I shared:
“I quit working when it wasn’t fun anymore and I was determined to have fun. Now I’m in pursuit of too much fun. My issue is that I’m jumping from this thing to that thing to the next thing that people ask me to do and I’m exhausted. Time management is a huge issue.”
To which someone quipped, “She’s still working. Don’t let her kid you. But she’s not choosing, she’s taking assignments.”
Observed another: “You probably want to take advantage of every opportunity because you’re not sure how many are going to come your way and you don’t know how many choices you’ll have. So you’d better not turn anything down.”
Someone else: Right. So you just jump into anything that comes along.”
Me: “And it also makes me feel good if someone asks me to do something because I’m needed. I’m valued…I have an identity.”
Another: “So choosing which of those things… that’s another transition.”
“Do you think the issue sometimes has to do with whether you’re making money? For women, that’s a biggie,” said a woman who oversees one of Philadelphia’s largest community organizations. “If you’re getting paid for something, somehow people put a value on it, especially men and society. And if you’re doing very important work and you’re not being paid for it, the attitude about it is different.”
Then came the observation that I most needed to hear but can’t yet act on:
“I find people in this retirement process are not taking the time to be quiet. They’re so concerned about losing their identity that they’re not making the time to float or drift or be quiet because it’s almost more frightening to them than filling themselves up….”
As Helen Dennis reminded, “We’re the first and the largest generation of women to define ourselves by our work. And as in so many other firsts for this generation, in retirement, we have no role models So where do we look for how we do this? The times seem right for Project Renewment.”