Sometime in 2009, Rhoda Margolis was sitting at her desk, working on a retirement program, when up popped an invitation to a webinar on the same subject.
She logged on.
By then, Margolis, who celebrated her 73rd birthday recently, had been contemplating what her own life might look like after retirement. Without a job, what would give it meaning? How would she make new social connections? What would she do all day?
She hadn’t been plugged into the webinar long when she discovered she wasn’t alone. There were other women with similar concerns and who had come together to support one another in making the transitions from marriage to being single again, from taking care of children to empty nesters, and in Margolis’ case moving from work to retirement.
In fact, they did this through a national nonprofit called the Transition Network, professional women who gather to form new friendships, do meaningful volunteer work, share thoughts about aging and have fun.
Margolis called the network’s New York office to inquire about an Atlanta-area chapter she might join. There was none, but they had a list of women who’d made a similar inquiry and left their contact information.
Within weeks, Margolis invited 15 women to her home in Decatur for coffee.
“Everyone was enthusiastic,” she recalled.
Five of them signed on to help create an Atlanta chapter. They struggled at first to get the word out, but friends of friends of friends invited other women. Before long, the chapter had some 50 members, women in their early 50s to late 60s desperate for a life beyond work. Some were married; some were single or divorced. Some were white; some African-American and Asian. They were marketing directors of multinational companies. They held executive positions at nonprofits. They were trailblazers.
Gail Collier-Glover, 62, of Tucker, found the chapter five years ago while on the internet. She retired in 2014, after spending more than 20 years in IT, mostly for the state of Georgia.
Like many women professionals, work and family had become her life. Without those, she had no social outlet. The network, she said, gave her hope.
“I was feeling like a fish out of water,” Collier-Glover said. “When I joined the group, I got a lot of support, and seeing women as much as 10 years older than me and still active was inspiring. I thought, OK, when I’m 70, I can do a lot.”
Of course, she can. Unlike work, there is no training or orientation for retirement, but women all over the country are using the same talents that vaulted them to success to find ways to manage their lives after work has ended.
“We’re not our mothers,” Margolis said. “We’re the first generation of women who had careers in the workforce. It used to be when you retired, you got your gold watch and two or three years to sit in a rocking chair, and then you died.”
That’s certainly changed. Not only are women — and men for that matter — working longer, they are more active and much more healthy, unwilling to go quietly into the night.
The way Collier-Glover and Margolis see it, they have at least 30 productive years ahead of them, and they don’t intend to spend that time in rocking chairs, twiddling their thumbs. They want to spend them as productive members of society.
“We want to savor our 50s, 60s and 70s in ways our mothers couldn’t,” Collier-Glover said. “We are not the ‘old’ elderly. We are charting new territory.”
The older we get, the harder it can be to maintain social relationships. Yet the older we get, ever more important such relationships become.
Studies show, for instance, that people who are lonely frequently suffer from high blood pressure and depression. No chance of that happening within this network of women. By no means do they buy into aging stereotypes.
They gather often in so-called “peer groups” to discuss issues important to them. Estate planning. Social Security. Medicare. You name it, they talk about it.
They volunteer, sorting food for the Atlanta Community Food Bank, collecting toys and cooking meals for nonprofits like the Ronald McDonald House.
They stay busy, touring points of interest like the Carter Center, walking the Beltline or dining poolside at a member’s home.
“Our tagline is ‘Embracing Change After 50,’ ” Collier-Glover said. “We believe in enjoying life and never giving up.”
It’s hard to believe that these women ever defined themselves by their jobs and families. At the same time, it’s hardly surprising they’re moving with lightning speed away from defining themselves to redefining their retirement years.
That’s what trailblazers do. Isn’t it?