I’m always amazed when people succombe to retirement. Shut down. Play an occasional game of golf. Read a few books. Live through their children and grandchildren. Stop learning, experiencing, venturing, wondering, challenging, accomplishing.
Every day I see more and more examples that life can be lived to its fullest until you take your last breath. Today’s example: Joan Revell Ryan of New Rochelle, NY–a 70-year-old (hard to believe, look below!) woman who still has a paid job running a very full activities calendar for Willow Towers, a senior assisted living residence. She doesn’t have a husband impatiently waiting for her to get home –she’s married to an 82-year-old who still practices entertainment/sports law full-time.
Joan tells me that first and foremost she is the mother of three (ages 51,49,47), stepmother to two and grandmother to 14 (7 of her husband’s and 7 of her own). Her eldest daughter just became a grandmother, and about that fact she says “you know what that makes me”.
Like anyone who has lived 70 years, Joan has seen the good times and the bad. A husband killed in a plane crash. A divorce from another philandering husband. A daughter who was a heroin addict, went to jail and worked hard for sobriety and motherhood.
With few interruptions, Joan has always worked. She turned her artistic inclinations into a furniture design business—William Baldwin and Mrs. Lee Iacocca are among many who have collected her work. She focused on hotels, fashion and beauty for an ad agency, recruited salespeople for telecommunications companies, found sponsors for Fortune 300 events, co-wrote the first CBS mini-series, read scripts for a literary agency, partnered with The Washington Post to develop Family Expos, sold fashion advertising for British Vogue, worked as an interior designer, landed her artwork on a cover of Better Homes & Gardens, taught religion to six-year-olds—and cooked and wrangled cattle at an Idaho dude ranch.
But she’s really not done. Joan tells me she will work until they carry her out and she can’t talk anymore. She does not sit around and think about her age or worry about how the remainder of her life will play out. Instead she’s busy making a difference in the lives of a lot of senior citizens—doing what she calls “the most psychically rewarding work I’ve ever done, and work that gives me purpose every day”.
Some will read about Joan and say, “well, she could do all of this because she obviously had good health.” The fact is that she is a breast cancer survivor, she had both knees replaced and she stays ahead of all her arthritic aches and pains with anti-inflammatories. This is not a woman who lets any ailment stop her: “I keep busy moving my body and brain”.
Part of keeping busy is cultivating the next generation. Joan invited her 19-year-old grandson to live with her for the summer while he pursues an internship with a graffiti guru. He’ll be working for a graffiti art exhibition in Long Island City, New York called 5PTZ—and to bring things full circle, Joan will take some of her seniors there to paint graffiti, too.
Someone who is so busy—and who has found so many interesting jobs throughout her life—fully understands why I have trouble with the concept of retirement. Joan is also puzzled by people who are out of work for long periods, and advises job seekers of any age to think far outside the predictable box. There’s nothing on her resume that would suggest she would ever work with seniors, but she has certainly mastered the art of transferring her skills in multiple directions. “I am so much more than my resume,” she says, “I’m the sum of all my parts, all my experiences, both good and bad. With a focus on the three P’s—passion, persistence and prayer—I anticipate I still have many incarnations in the years ahead.”
- Recognize that paid professional work is possible far beyond the age of 65.
- Veer from a straight and narrow path: have the confidence–and strategic vision–to transfer your skills to many different industries and types of jobs.
- “Pay it back to the sisterhood”, as Joan says. Tell your own story to inspire lifelong productivity in other women.