Photo by: Peter van Agtmael
Redefining Retirement: How Modern Women Are Paving a New Purpose
Erica Baird and Karen Wagner are both mothers, wives, lawyers, friends and New Yorkers. But most recently, they're the co-founders of Lustre.net, an online community created to help the generation of older adults tap into their potential, forge new identities and find new purpose -- all while sharing their learned lessons and inspiring future generations. "There's no real picture of what retirement should look like for us," share Baird and Wagner. "So we created a picture for what working women looked like when started out and now we're looking to create a picture of what retirement could look like for women like us."
Having had the experience themselves of leaving behind decades-long careers, Baird and Wagner found themselves taking the daunting leap into another existence that included more freedom, more time and more eagerness to give back. Together, they created Lustre and are redefining retirement and defying stereotypes of what seniors can accomplish and contribute to society. Rather than writing off our older generations, the Lustre co-founders are honoring the trailblazers of our time by cultivating a space to share their stories and recognize their impressive contributions.
As millions of women every year shed their second chapter of life and embark on the chapter of retirement, Baird and Wagner remind us that finding a new identity can prompt renewed purpose, untapped potential and even a full reinvention. And while entering into unknown territory can provoke feelings of hesitation or intimidation, the Lustre women remind us that failing is okay. In fact, the freedom to fail is a luxury that's all part of the fun.
Finally, Lustre lets us know we can put to rest the antiquated adage of "staying in your lane." Read below for our Q&A with Erica Baird and Karen Wagner as they share advice for how modern women are conquering and relishing the next stage of life.
Pathway: What has surprised you most about women in the retirement phase?
E+K: The biggest surprise is that there are so many women who are all experiencing the same thing and it's because we're at the front of the wave of women who are retiring. This is a very large group of women -- the "boomer" women -- who worked for 40 years and now they're retiring. We had first thought, "Why are these women being forgotten? Is this sexism?" We concluded something interesting and that is nobody had any idea [we] were here. We're different from men for many reasons, including the fact that we had to fight to get into the workforce in the first place and also because we are the first group who is going to live another 20 to 30 years thanks to health advancements made in the last century. We don't have a short runway; we have a long runway. We have another very large period of time and we can shape our future and get all these other women who are in the same place to help us think it through.
Pathway: What's the first step in finding a new identity?
E+K: Realize you have a third chapter of your life you can actually fashion as you want to fashion it.You need to go through a process and the process starts with mourning the fact that the job that you did and you loved for 40 years is now over. And if you're like us, you didn't give that much thought to what you're going to do next. You need to go through a process where you try to figure out, "What do I like? What do I not like? Where do I have options?" and eventually you'll find something fulfilling and you'll have this new identity. I think the key to it is remembering that you're the same person that you were before [retiring]. I think that something happens the day before you retire and all of a sudden you feel like your shoulders are slumping and you're old and you're gone and you're done and you're invisible. Part of creating that identity is saying, "There's nothing about me that's different other than that I lost an office and a title."
Pathway: How can senior women embrace their age as power?
E+K: They can go through the same thought process. [Seniors] might need assistance, but they're still mentally capable and have experience that you can only have when you've lived a certain number of years. They have a major asset to offer especially young people. Start to think of yourself as not someone's who's done with your life because you're no longer working [or homemaking], but as a valuable human being who has an asset that nobody else has. You can jump off into new activities and see yourself as a person with power and value.
Pathway: How can we encourage younger generations to realize that our retirees are the experts we can look up to?
E+K: [Young people] might be better than you are at manipulating some app, but you have a better understanding of where that fits in to the broader scheme of things and how technology plays into the much bigger picture of how we're living on this planet. Your residents have the kinds of qualities that are valuable to a different audience. Once you realize that you have value by virtue of your experience and your age, you present yourself differently. [Older adults] have the experiences and judgment that's been tested that can help [young people] be better.
Pathway: How can retired homemakers discover their new identity?
E+K: A lot of women that we know who are in that position have adjusted to spouses who are also retiring. [Women] created a life for themselves and now they have another person [inserting] themselves into their lives. It's about stepping back and saying, "What skills do I have?" [Homemakers] have management skills and all sorts of juggling skills that are valuable in the corporate world, the non-profit, the political world or whatever world they're interested in. You can put those skills to different uses. We were both corporate lawyers, but we also had families and were homemakers. All of us women are better than almost all men at problem solving and there's scientific research to support that. We have to do it all day, every day for our family and for our jobs. By the time you've been problem solving for 40 years, that's something that's useful in all kinds of respects. You've seen a lot of big issues and you've been forced to figure out a way around it.
Pathway: What's the best part of retirement and how can women overcome the fear of failure?
E+K: It's the reinvention. We all get into our routine and unless we're jolted out of it -- and retirement is a huge jolt -- you just keep doing what you've been doing. The best part is being forced to say, "Wait a second, there are other things out there that I've never done before that I want to do." That's the most fun. We didn't know much about of things like social media and all kinds of things when we retired and we had to learn a lot. There's no harm in failing. It's part of your life and you have the luxury of being able to make mistakes and picking yourself up. You don't have to have something that you know you're going to be good at or you have to be good at. You can try all sorts of stuff and fail with no harm, no foul. It's freedom.
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