In education circles there’s the saying, “you need to see it to be it,” meaning that young people need to see professional role models that they can identify with in order to create the belief that they, too, can attain such positions. In my era, growing up in the ’60s, the textbooks showed only white men going to work (not women; not people of color), and white women functioning as mothers and housekeepers — or, if they were affiliated with the business world, it was as secretaries supporting businessmen, nurses supporting doctors, or perhaps a female teacher. Role models of authority and achievement were in short supply for women and people of color.
It’s no wonder then, when I was 12 years old and my mother told me she was seeing a woman doctor, I asked if she was confident that a woman could do the job. Unbelievable, right? It was only a few years later that the Women’s Movement took off and comments such as mine became anachronistic. I began to see women, like my sister, enter law school, women leaders, such as Gloria Steinem, speaking out and women’s studies departments enrolling students on college campuses. Finally, the stories of significant women of achievement throughout history whose stories had been ignored were captured and extolled.
Similarly, for people of color, both men and women were given a voice and role models started to emerge. The dominant white society began to see that they too, could achieve greatness and compete on a larger stage.
I contend that a similar social awakening now holds true for Baby Boomers who are the first generation looking for role models of achievement in older adults who are still going strong. This generation has been given the precious gift of decades of vital and healthy living that generations before them never had. But we need to see and hear stories of achievement, purpose and meaning. Just two generations ago, people’s life expectancy was only 58 years. Then, our government established the Social Security system, and set the retirement age at 65. People who made it 65 to retire had little to look forward to ahead of them. Now, the life expectancy is in the late 70s, with some of us living to 90 or even 100.
This gift of extra time presents a tremendous opportunity for achievement, productivity, community involvement and personal growth and development.
And we need role models showing us the way!
In researching my book on the new retirement, I met with over 100 people who shared their inspiring stories of creating dynamic later-stage lives. Perhaps they will inspire you to do more and be more as Baby Boomers pioneer this new era.
Barbara – Now 73 years old, Barbara was a high school teacher for 35 years. She was a single mom and focused on her work and her daughter until she retired at 65. Her true love was painting, and as soon as she retired she got back to the art studio and works in several different media. She also began teaching intergenerational art classes. Four times a year she puts together community art shows that showcase her students’ work. Barbara now has a secondary income and feels that she’s contributing to her own development as an artist, a teacher and a community leader.
Mike – At 77, Mike is going strong. He’s a retired client service manager from a credit union. He enjoyed his work and after leaving, soon realized that he missed interacting with other people. Mike also loves to drive, so he signed on to be a chauffeur for out-of-towners coming to his area to explore the wine country. He’s having a blast! His outgoing nature and enjoyment of meeting people from all over the world pair perfectly in his new position. He drives on his own schedule, about two days a week, and not only is able to share his favorite places with visitors, but he creates a nice secondary income flow as well.
Helene – At 62, Helene is an empty nester and recently divorced. She brought up two children — one with autism and secondary problems. She was devoted to her disabled son and spent much of her child-raising years researching and getting him the services he needed. When he moved away from home at age 20, Helene felt relief but also an emptiness she hadn’t expected. Instead of giving into depression, she came up with a novel solution: She became an aide for a special needs child at a school. She obtained the required credentials and now happily devotes herself to the student one-on-one in the classroom. Helene brings with her all of her resources and expertise, and happily shares her wisdom and advice with her new community of educators. She feels she’s a vital contributor to her community, and the income, though not significant, is appreciated and the benefits are excellent.
Yes, we need to see it to be it. Baby Boomers benefit from the role models in their generation who are showing others how to be vital, strong and purposeful in our later years.