Retirement, at least traditionally, has long been viewed as an opportunity to travel, pursue hobbies and simply relax following decades of hard work. But for many of today’s retirees, there may be more questions than answers.
“Following the day-dreamy imaginings of travel and leisure, many new retirees face an intimidating question: ‘What’s next?’” said Brookdale Lifelong Learning director Linda Martin, opening the college’s first ever Retirement Reimagined conference in Lincroft on Dec. 9. “For those who have spent so many years working, weekdays full of empty hours pose a brand new challenge. This conference will explore that transition and discuss some new and exciting ways that retirees are approaching it.”
The conference, titled “Your Second Act,” featured a wide range of guest speakers and visiting experts who were on hand to discuss various aspects of retirement in the 21st century. Attendees were able to choose from six available breakout sessions offered throughout the day, including workshops focused on starting a blog, managing investments, harnessing creativity and reducing stress.
Workshop leaders included former pharmaceutical professional Jacqueline Robinson, who discussed her experience being downsized after a 30-year career, which led her to begin researching the novel approaches her fellow Baby Boomers are taking to retirement. Robinson presented the results of her research, explaining that Boomers are changing the face of retirement by beginning “second acts” of discovery and possibility.
Robert Cutrupi, senior portfolio director with the Cutrupi Group of Morgan Stanley, hosted a presentation titled “Stock Market Boot Camp,” while Jamie Sussel Turner discussed her post-retirement journey from former school principal to award-winning author and professional coach.
Following a catered brunch, all attendees were invited to a keynote presentation by acclaimed author and anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite. Applewhite, recently named 2016 Influencer of the Year by the PBS website Next Avenue, discussed topics from her new book This Chair Rocks, which seeks to dispel myths about the “retirement blues” and extol the possibilities and potential happiness awaiting people later in life.
Highlighting a broad range of national statistics and personal stories, Applewhite explained that older Americans are not nearly as likely to experience cognitive impairment, encounter drastic health care costs or be placed in supervised care facilities as most imagine. Most of the difficulties associated with growing old, she said, actually stem from society itself.
“I am not saying that getting older is easy,” she said. “We are all worried about some aspect of it, whether it is getting sick, or running out of money, ending up alone – and those fears are legitimate. What never dawns on most of us is that the experience of reaching old age, or middle age, or even just aging past youth, can be better or worse depending on the culture in which it takes place. And this one is really youth-centric.”
Older Americans, she said, often avoid certain activities, styles of dress, or even the use of walkers and wheelchairs simply due to the stigma associated with their age. This can be worsened by societal pressures, including workplace age discrimination and mass media, which force people to “internalize ageism,” Applewhite said.
“But attitudes toward aging have an actual, measurable effect on how our brains and bodies function at the cellular level,” she said. “People with more positive feelings about aging walk faster, do better on memory tests, and they are much more likely to recover fully from severe disability. They live an average of seven-and-a-half years longer, and obviously they live better.”
The key to erasing ageism, Applewhite said, begins with recognizing societal bias against older Americans and fighting back against it. Many cultures, she said, value their elders much differently, believing that “a long past has as much value as a long future.” Americans must also avoid internalizing ageism and believing that every forgetful moment or minor pain is a sign of “the grand slide into depression, dementia, and puffy white shoes.”
“Who even blinks when older people are described as confused, or pathetic, or even repulsive?” Applewhite asked. “It is high time to mobilize against discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of age. When do we stop valuing people, and why? Not because we grow old, but because we do so in an ageist society… The next time you wonder whether an attitude or an outfit or an outing is age-appropriate, reconsider the question. There is no such thing. And come on in. The water is fine.”
To learn more about Brookdale’s Lifelong Learning Division, including upcoming courses in the arts, history and literature, click here.
Check out more photos from the Retirement Reimagined conference here.