Project Renewment: A Retirement Model for Career Women

Article excerpt

The story of Project Renewment began when we met in October 1999. Bernice was president of the Los Angeles Women's Foundation. After a 17-year career as executive director of the Center for Healthy Aging, her first retirement had been difficult. Wanting her second retirement to be better than her first, she asked her colleague Helen, who specializes in aging, employment and retirement, "Has anything been done about career women who are facing retirement?" The answer was, "Little, if anything at all."

We met over a four-hour lunch and concluded that there was much to discuss about women who love their work, are considering retirement and are trying to figure out what to do next.

LIGHT BULBS

To further our dialogue, we hosted a dinner and invited friends and friends of friends who were successful career women. Light bulbs went off as these women realized they had given little thought to their retirement and were eager to discuss their personal interests, concerns and fears. Project Renewment was born at that dinner as an organization and, most recently, as a book titled Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women (Scribner, 2008).

The women at that dinner came up with the concept of renewment by combining the words renewal and retirement, a term still associated with negative stereotypes and clichés. The group felt that renewment implies making intentional decisions about the next chapter of life rather than defining one's retirement by the needs and the expectations of others. The term also suggests that later life for women includes choices, vitality, opportunity and personal growth.

Project Renewment is a process intended to define the dynamic changes that occur when women transform the drive and enthusiasm they previously committed to a career into a source of energy to re-create their lives. It also is a forum that provides a safe, small-group environment where women can explore and confront challenges that lie ahead after a lifetime at the office, hospital, studio or courtroom.

Few people realize that, for the first time in history, millions of career women, who have worked outside the home for most of their lives, are considering retirement. These women are educated, skilled and successful. They are visible and respected, have achieved status and influence, and have made a difference in the world. The first generation to live before and after the launch of the women's movement, they are the first and largest generation of women to define themselves by their work. Because they are the first, they have few role models for retirement.

UNCERTAINTY

According to Nan Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh, coeditors of Women Confronting Retirement (Rutgers University Press, 2003) modern society has a new "population of women who face retirement and are unsure of their worth without a job." This uncertainty is driving the need to create a retirement model that takes into account women's special connection to work, values, lifestyle choices, relationships and other important features of middle and later life stages.

In the 1960s, Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique revealed a population of women who felt trapped and invisible. The first chapter, titled "The Problem That Has No Name," described women's feelings as "empty ... incomplete ..., as though I don't exist." She continued, "You wake up in the morning and there is nothing to look forward to." These women were asking, "Is this all (there is)?" These same women are now in their late 50$, their 6os and their 70s-and they are asking the same question about life after a career.

The women of Project Renewment were clear about what they did not want to do: They did not want to create a traditional support group to solve crises; they did not want to form a nonprofit organization; they did not want to grow; they did not want to launch a national movement. …