Summer Book Review #24: Smart Women Don’t Retire They Break Free

‘It’s not easy to think about what I really want….for as long as I can remember it’s been achieve, achieve, achieve,’ I said to a friend of mine who joined me for lunch early in my transition.  The concept piqued her interest.  It engaged her.   She’s a financial services entrepreneur.  Her dream had been fashion design.  And yet she found finance and accounting.  A detour?  A revelation? A necessity?

I remember the lunch mostly for how it ended.   I shared that I was on a path to cut through the achievement fog, to suspend its influence on my career and personal choices going forward.  I remember a chuckle.  And something like, ‘why bother?’  I was silently horrified.

This week I remembered that exchange thanks to Gail Rentsch’s and the The Transition Network’s book, Smart Women Don’t Retire They Break Free (Springboard Press, 2008)   In it she asks, “how do you sort out those things that are truly important – that make you tick –  from those things you learned to consider important only because you got approval or rewards for them?”    (Smart Women, pg 67)   Are there things you’ve learned to consider important?

I chose this week’s book for an odd reason.  I wanted to see how transition at retirement differs from other transitions over the arc of one’s life?   Or is it the circumstances surrounding a transition that differ?   For those interested in the Cliff Notes answer…based on my reading of this week’s book nothing’s different.

Transition at retirement looks, acts, feels and is simply no different from the other transitions we go through over the course of our lives.  The characteristics are the same.   The only difference seems to be that since more people go through events like ‘retirement’ or ‘divorce’ we have shared vocabulary and cultural support systems in place to offer assistance.

I enjoyed reading the book mostly because of what it said about transition as a whole.  I read the retirement stuff but didn’t really find it to be all that different from what we’ve been discussing for the past year.    I’ll let you be the judge:

  • Why transition?  The authors make a solid case for those teetering on the edge of transition.  At one point they quote recently deceased psychoanalyst Laurence J. Gould, who said, “we need to use uncomfortable states as opportunities to learn, develop and grow.”     (Smart Women, pg 24)
  • Powerful Questions:  Rentsch shares a wonderful set of questions for those considering which direction to choose for a new beginning.  “Many experts suggest that life is as good as it is going to get when several things come together for us:  we become fully engaged, we challenge ourselves, and we do something that has meaning.”    (Smart Women, pg 125+)
  • Transition Barriers:  The authors asked psychotherapist Mary Beth Kelly about what gets in the way of healthy transition. She offered, “rigidity, worry, regrets, lack of courage, and thinking of life as mostly behind us are a few of the things that get in the way of our making healthy transitions.”    (Smart Women, pg 201)   While you may say that “life is behind us” is a retirement retort, I can assure you that I’ve heard it said amongst 30-somethings lamenting a previous life while at the playground with their children.
  • Coaching:  Rentsch concludes with, “there is nothing left but for us to take charge and show how we want to be judged and defined.  We can’t do that if we fall victim to negative self-judgments or have any tentativeness about asserting, I am who I am.  It definitely won’t happen if we buy into others’ limiting ideas of who we should be.” (Smart Women, pg 218)

I didn’t agree with all of Rentsch’s perspectives about transition, particularly her thinking on when it occurs over the arc of a woman’s life.  To Rentsch it is cyclical and predictable at roughly twenty year intervals (Smart Women, pg 23)    She never quotes William Bridges (author #2 Transition: Making Sense of Life’s Changes and #22: The Way of Transition) but she does quote Herminia Ibarra (author #9 Working Identity) so I guess she isn’t all bad.

Of the women’s movement she states,  “in the latter part of the 60’s..it was the catalyst for a monumental revision of women’s place in the world.  It caused us to reexamine normative ideas about women’s roles and to rethink expectations.  It spurred us to question previous assumptions, and it informed our vision of who we could be and what the world might look like.”   (Smart Women, pg 14)  I can’t help but think that more effective women’s transitions could be the catalyst for the 21st century’s update of normative ideas about women’s roles and expectations.  What do you think?

Would it surprise you that I haven’t spoken often to my lunchtime friend since our achievement talk?   I hope that I’m the type of person who can embrace differences of opinion.  Nothing irks me more than the idealogues in Congress who can’t respectfully disagree and yet still get something done.   I think it was the chuckle that did it.

I guess I hear my chuckling friend saying, ‘chasing another rainbow Linda?’  The answer quite simply is yes.  Care to join me?

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2 responses to “Summer Book Review #24: Smart Women Don’t Retire They Break Free

  1. Pingback: 2012 Summer Book Review Finale: What if? | NovoFemina

  2. Pingback: Yuletide greetings… | NovoFemina

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