More Than Money: Older Women Find Help in Facing Transitions

By Mandelstam, Janet | Aging Today, November/December 2007 | Go to article overview

More Than Money: Older Women Find Help in Facing Transitions


Mandelstam, Janet, Aging Today


Roberta Cohen planned for her retirement the way most people do. "I focused on how much money I would need to retire," she said. "I didn't concentrate on what I'd actually be doing." When she left her 30-year, high-powered, high-stress career in banking, she said, "I went from dynamic to old, and I was in a real state of depression." Cohen was 58.

Betty Goessel, a retired physician, experienced a different transition when her husband died last year. "I was married to a wonderful guy for 30 years," she said. His death left a void in her life.

Both women found The Transition Network (TTN), a seven-year-old organization that helps women age 50 or older through the transitions in their lives. Although TTN's primary focus is the transition from work to whatever comes next, the group offers support to women experiencing a host of changes: a divorce, the death of a spouse, an illness, an empty nest or, perhaps, a move to a new city.

REINVENTING RETIREMENT

Founded in New York City by Christine Millen and Charlotte Frank-two professionals who were contemplating the years after their own retirement-TTN has grown to a community of nearly 3,000 participants throughout the United States. These women have embraced the group's philosophy of creating new models for the postretirement years by taking control of their lives, celebrating the decades after 50, and recognizing that midlife and older women have much to contribute to society.

The women of TTN represent the first generation to achieve professional success in large numbers. Many were the first females to hold high-ranking positions in business, government, public service or academia, and the workplace provided both a social network and a sense of identity for them. When Millen-a partner at Deloitte, the international consulting and professional services firm-was contemplating retirement, she recognized that there was no road map for women like her who had always led active, productive lives. "I realized I [wasn't] the only woman thinking about this," she recalled, "and going through this transition with other women would be more interesting-and more fun-than doing it alone."

Millen contacted Frank, who had held executive positions in government for 45 years, and together they set out in 2000 to reinvent retirement for the women of their generation and those who will follow.

The issue at hand, according to Frank, was "how to go from intense engagement and structure to another way of life." The new organization would show women that "they can leave a primary job but not leave the world of accomplishment," she added. The timing was right: TTN, she said, "was probably a couple of years ahead of the curve" before the boomers hit retirement and before an explosion of books and workshops focused on retirement.

THREE MAIN ACTIVITIES

Today, TTN has established or is forming chapters in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Houston and the suburbs of New York City. Organization members range in age from their early 50s to their 80s. Some still work full time; others seek part-time work or volunteer projects that use their professional skills. For many, the lure of the organization is simply the opportunity to interact with a group of interesting, vibrant contemporaries.

TTN's principal activities center on three programs:

Planning and management of life transitions: Monthly meetings in New York and at several other chapters often feature guest speakers who touch on such topics as finances, health, employment, relationships and ageism. However, the building blocks of the organization are the peer groups, small gatherings of eight to a dozen women who explore the difficulties and triumphs of transitions on a more personal, intimate level. Other peer groups organize around social activities or special interests, such as travel or books.

Meaningful community service: Civic engagement projects match the professional skills and experience of TTN members with the needs of nonprofit and public organizations. …

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