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    What are the most important life lessons learned? These women and men respond
    • October 15, 2023

    For the past 11 years, men from the Life Transition Group and women from Project Renewment get together yearly to discuss a topic of mutual interest. Both groups focus on transition and change from work to retirement and beyond. The eight men and seven women ranging in age from their 60s to their 80s were asked the following question: “In your current life stage, what have you learned that you consider most important?” 

    Both groups have had or have successful careers, are motivated to give back to the community and are open to learning ways to maximize the quality of life in their later years. 

    Let’s look separately at the responses of the men and women.

    Gratitude and friendships: The majority of men acknowledged they had learned the importance of gratitude, including the value of their relationships.  A doctor of integrative medicine noted, “I rediscovered my wife and a real partnership that has led me “to substitute patience for impulse and to communicate without criticisms, condemnations or defensiveness.” Being grateful for relationships with one’s spouse, family and friends was shared among most. “Acceptance, patience and gratitude carry me through my life each day,” said a former strategic planning consultant. Each night he thinks of five things that occurred that day for which he is grateful. For many, having good friends provides a sense of purpose, meaning and happiness.   

    Preparation: Others noted the importance of preparing for the unexpected. “Getting older is not for sissies…nothing can be taken for granted and that means being prepared for physical changes and limitations that might occur,” added a global marketing strategist. An entrepreneur with a heart condition, rotator cuff problem and breathing difficulties said he will be moving to a one-story home, at the insistence of his children, acknowledging the limitations of today and preparing for the possibilities of the future. 

    Constant change: Some emphasized they learned in real time that life is dynamic and constantly changes. “We need to embrace it (these changes) and adapt and adjust to them … and strive to accept what we cannot control,” noted an attorney. Change occurs with adult children. “Realizing our (adult) children are independent; we need to create our own lives … even though it hurts when I don’t see them that often.”    

    Success: And then there are the components of a successful life that were defined in four words: “Acceptance, patience, gratitude and mindfulness.” Note that money and title did not make the list. 

    Now, from the women. 

    In love: Two women found they are in love with retirement. As a self-proclaimed ambitious extrovert and accomplished author, this woman said, “I really don’t care what you think about me now.  I am experiencing more contentment, pleasure and relaxation than I ever thought possible.” Another noted that after a significant career driving federal policy changes in Washington, DC, she is surprised how much she enjoys retirement, particularly singing in a rock and roll group. And another expressed that she takes to retirement like a fish takes to water. 

    A struggle: “Why can’t I just settle down?” asked a woman who continues to work as a theater producer. She finds herself struggling and in the interim stage of life which she does not find peaceful. Formerly athletic, she is feeling fragile and vulnerable as more things hurt.  

    A place: “Before I die, I want to live in a place of beauty… we can recreate our lives by moving and living in a small country community.” She and her husband moved from Los Angeles to the central coast that required personal reinvention and meeting friends with no history.  

    The bucket list: “My bucket list is smaller than my chuck it list,” commented a former human resource executive. One item on her chuck-it list is having less concern over her looks; an item on her bucket list is taking advantage of opportunities that come along. Setting priorities is key. For example, one woman said no to a project that could affect state policy.     

    Although these men and women have much in common, what they have learned may differ. While women also learned about the importance of gratitude and acceptance, they also related to retirement as a positive, joyous change in their lives, almost a release from the demands of their previous work. Several comments implied setting priorities, and determining what to do or not to do. If there is a gender difference in what is important, perhaps it’s because the men are at a later life stage of retirement while women are at an earlier stage. However, one may wonder: “Is setting priorities, limits or saying no more relevant and perhaps more difficult for women than it is for men or are we relying on stereotypes?      

    Dear readers – any thoughts on this?

    Stay well, everyone, and know that kindness is everything. 

    Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at [email protected]. Visit Helen at and follow her on

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    ​ Orange County Register