399: Aging with Panache: Too Young To Be Old with Nancy Schlossberg
For over 50 years, Nancy Schlossberg has been helping adults grow and navigate life’s big transitions. She’s a former professor of counseling psychology, former president of the National Career Development Association, and currently serves as co-president of Transitions Works, a consulting group.
She was the first woman executive at the American Council of Education, and she established the Office of Women in Higher Education in 1973. She’s also written ten books, including Too Young To Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age. It’s an accessible, upbeat guide in which she looks at the basic issues of aging – health, finances, and relationships – to give her readers lots to think about as they develop a deliberate plan to age happily.
In our conversation, Nancy explains why she doesn’t regret retiring (but regrets how she did it), what it really means to age well, and her unique frameworks for navigating life’s transitions as you approach the next phase of your life.
GET A FREE COPY OF NANCY’S BOOK, TOO YOUNG TO BE OLD
Here's all you have to do...
- Step 1.) Subscribe to the podcast and leave an honest rating & review over on iTunes.
- Step 2.) Text BOOK, that’s BOOK to 866-482-9559 for a link to our book request page, complete the form and we will ship you the book for free. It’s that simple!
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- How Nancy’s own unhappy retirement led her to explore how older individuals can build meaningful connections and communities.
- What it means to age with panache.
- Why a transition can be any event or non-event that changes your life – and Nancy’s 4 S’s (situations, self, support, and strategies) to help you navigate them.
- Which of Nancy’s retirement paths you’re on (adventurer, continuer, easy glider, searcher, retreater, involved spectator) and why this is all but guaranteed to twist and turn over the course of your life.
- "Today is not forever. And that goes both ways. Suppose you're ecstatic over something today, it doesn't mean you're going to stay ecstatic for the rest of your life. Also, if you're miserable today, you're not going to be miserable for the rest of your life." - @nancyauthor
- "The more involved you are, and the more your sense of purpose is reflected in the work you're doing, the more difficult it is to think about retirement." - @nancyauthor
- Nancy Schlossberg on LinkedIn
- Nancy Schlossberg on Facebook
- Nancy Schlossberg on Twitter
- Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age by Nancy K. Schlossberg Ed.D.
- Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy K. Schlossberg
- Overwhelmed: Coping with Life's Ups and Downs by Nancy K. Schlossberg
- National Career Development Association
- American Council on Education
- Senior Friendship Centers
- Erin McLeod
- RWP 353: A Retirement Dilemma: Wisdom You Need Before Leaving Full-Time Work with Steve Lopez
- Independence Day: What I Learned About Retirement from Some Who’ve Done It and Some Who Never Will by Steve Lopez
- The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert Waldinger M.D. and Marc Schulz Ph.D
- University of Maryland
- Brown Palace
- Steve Lopez
- American Psychological Association
- Howard University
DisclosureOffer valid in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, to first-time requestors. During the offer period, receive one (1) in-stock book per request. Limit (1) book per week per household. Limit three (3) books total each calendar year, between January 1 and December 31. Offer valid while supplies last. Howard Bailey Financial, Inc. reserves the right to cancel, terminate or modify this offer at any time. Void where restricted or otherwise prohibited.
Casey Weade: Welcome to the Retire With Purpose Podcast. My name is Casey Weade, where it is my mission to deliver clarity and purpose and elevate meaning in your life here on the podcast and we do that in a couple of different ways. Every single Friday, if you're new to the podcast, you'll find that we're talking about trending topics, and that all comes from our Weekend Reading for Retirees email series. That is an email that hits your inbox every single Friday trending topics. We grab one of those and we dive deep with you in short form every single Friday. But then every other Monday, you have my favorite thing. You have the opportunity to listen to one of our world-class guests. We bring on one of our guests and we conduct a long-form conversation on a variety of different topics, both financial and non-financial. And that is what we're doing today with Nancy Schlossberg.
Nancy was actually first introduced to me by Steve Lopez. And if you want to catch that conversation with Steve, which was fantastic, one of our top downloaded podcasts of all time, we talked about his book, Independence Day, what I learned about retirement from some who've done it and some who never will. That was episode number 353 and one of those 50 individuals that he talks to, I believe it was 50, was Nancy Schlossberg. And he dove a little bit into some of her takeaways. I said, “Boy, I want to talk to that gal.” I can't wait to get Nancy here on the show and that's what we did today. For over 50 years, Nancy has dedicated herself to helping other adults, older adults grow and navigate the inevitable transitions through life. She is a former professor of counseling psychology, the past president of the National Career Development Association, now co-president of a consulting group called Transition Works. She was the first woman executive at the American Council of Education, where she established the Office of Women in Higher Education in 1973.
She has been honored for her work by the American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association, and she's written ten books, author of ten books, including the focus of today's conversation, which is going to be her book, Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age. And if you'd like to get a free copy of that book, we partnered up with Nancy to give away as many of those books as we possibly can, and it's super easy. To get your own book, all you have to do is write an honest rating and review of the podcast on iTunes, and then you can shoot us a text. Text us the keyword ‘BOOK’ to 866-482-9559. We'll shoot you a link so that you can provide us your iTunes username, we’ll verify it, and we will send that book out to you for absolutely no cost. And, boy, it's a fantastic book. Believe it or not, Nancy is 94 and that is how she's accomplished all of these things and she's not done yet. She actually retired kind of a while back. So, we're going to get started with that.
Casey Weade: But first, Nancy, welcome to the podcast.
Nancy Schlossberg: It's wonderful to be here. And I just have to say that my daughter says the only thing retired about me is my paycheck.
Casey Weade: I love that. And that is part of your story. I want to talk about that retirement. You say you retired a bit on a whim. You heard a couple of colleagues and you overheard them talking about another employee where you worked and how they should have retired sooner. And you said, “I never want that person to be me.” And then you took this leap into “retirement.” I wondered if you regret that decision because it was a bit on a whim.
Nancy Schlossberg: No. I didn't regret it. It showed to me the age bias. The woman they were talking about was probably 75, which to me now is a kid. I thought she's vibrant. She's active. What are they talking about that it's time for her to leave? But then I thought, you know, if that's the way people feel, I'm not going to hang around here. I'm going to do something known. And so, I decided to retire. I don't regret it. I regret the way I did it. In other words, I did two things simultaneously. I retired from the University of Maryland, where I had been for 26 or 27 years. I loved it there. I had worked all my life raising children. I was never an at-home mom. I was a mom and a worker. But what I did that was wrong is I retired and we moved. Now, I know enough about transitions. I've studied them for 40 years to know you don't do two big transitions at the same time. Yet that's what I did. So, if I regret anything, it's just that I didn't do it in the proper way but I don't regret that I did it.
Casey Weade: Well, someone that specializes in this kind of line of work, life transitions and counseling psychology, you experience in your own words, you said you experience a bit of an identity crisis after the transition. Wasn't that a bit unexpected for someone that's in the work that you're in? Does that just go to show us that everybody is going to experience it if Nancy Schlossberg experiences it?
Nancy Schlossberg: Well, I certainly did. I had unrealistic expectations. We moved to Sarasota, Florida, where we used to vacation and we loved it there but it wasn't Washington, D.C. and I had an expectation that every nonprofit would be dying to hire me. Guess what? They wanted my money. They wanted me to be on their boards, but they weren't interested in hiring me. So, that was my first shock. And then I began to wonder, who am I anyway? I mean, when I was at Maryland, I was the head of a center. I was a full-tenured professor. And now suddenly I'm in Sarasota and I'm struggling to figure out what to put on a card. What do you put on your card? My card had been filled with things when I was at Maryland. Now, what do I say? So, it was a crisis for me, and I was shocked. I thought this was going to be a piece of cake. I know about transitions. I planned it. I was in control of it. And yet it wasn't working the way I expected. So, you probably know what did I do about it then? Of course, I moaned and groaned. You’re supposed to.
Then I thought, “You know what? I've got to learn more about this retirement thing. Obviously, there's a lot I don't know.” So, I started doing focus groups. I went to trailer parks. I went to upscale condominiums. I tried to study people from different walks of life to find out what is retirement anyway. And I really learned a lot.
Casey Weade: Yeah. And a big part of that was you forming the Aging Rebels, right? So, you formed this group, the Aging Rebels, in Sarasota. It consisted of people aged 70 plus that were all about bonding with each other, navigating their way through this second life. And did that come out of a lot of these conversations? Where did Aging Rebels come from and what is an Aging Rebel in the first place?
Nancy Schlossberg: Well, let me tell you, I didn't start it. I was part of starting it. There was a group at the Senior Friendship Centers and the Senior Friendship Centers in Sarasota, Florida, Venice, Florida, it's an unusual organization. And if we have time and if you're interested, I'd love to tell you a little bit about it.
Casey Weade: Please. I imagine a bunch of 70-pluses riding around on motorcycles with biker helmets and leather jackets, Aging Rebels. I think I got it wrong.
Nancy Schlossberg: Just slightly. I had gotten to know the CEO, Erin McLeod of the Senior Friendship Centers, and a retired lawyer, Michael Carr, was running a discussion group. Some of the women in the discussion group said to Mike, “We want something on aging.” So, Mike talked to Erin. Erin called me. Mike and I started this group. We've never worked together before, and it just was seamless. We've been running it for over five years before the pandemic in person, during the pandemic via Zoom. Now, we're back in person. What is it? Who are Aging Rebels? Aging Rebels are people who are defying the stereotypes. So, do I want to deny my age? No. We want to face our age. I'm not crazy about every wrinkle I have but I'm not going to do anything dramatic. We are facing aging. We're engaged with aging. We're incorporating it into our lives. We're not ashamed of being old. We're glad we're old that we've survived, that we know a few things we didn't know before.
And the Aging Rebels are just a wonderful group of people who meet every week. The wonderful thing is you can come or not. You don't have to commit to come every week but Mike and I are there every single week on Tuesdays 1:30 to 3. And I did miss a few weeks when I had a very serious case of COVID. So, then I missed and they had to carry on without me. But other than that, there's nothing that will get in the way of my being at the Aging Rebels.
Casey Weade: Well, it seems like this concept of community, it's growing quite a bit, exponentially you might say, especially in this area but for many, the idea of joining a community that's built around aging well or positive aging, it's kind of a new concept. Can you talk a little bit about the power of community?
Nancy Schlossberg: You know, people are writing about the loneliness epidemic. I'm sure you read things. There are a lot of lonely people in this world and they talk about that it's an epidemic. What do they need? They need relationships. They need connections. They need community. When we talk among ourselves, the Aging Rebels, what do you think they talk about mostly? Relationships, people in their lives. One woman doesn't speak to her brothers or they don't speak to her. Another woman, I mean, they tell us their stories. They come together because you realize then you're not alone. It's such a good feeling. And what I love is at the end of the Aging Rebels, when we disperse and I'm going to my car, I see them gathering and still talking and talking. And I see relationships that have started among people who met in the Aging Rebels. And there are some people who have been coming since the very beginning. It's very inspiring to me, and it makes me realize that the most important thing are the relationships you have with people. And I think they showed this from the Harvard longitudinal study. It's not about success. Not that success is a bad thing. It's a good thing. It's not about money. It's about relationships. And the head of the longitudinal study and I can't think of his name right now, but he wrote a book called The Good Life. And with all the studies they did on Harvard men over 60, 70 years, it comes down to relationships and community. And so, for me, to be part of something like the Aging Rebels is wonderful.
Casey Weade: That's amazing. And I think we're going to see so much more that we're working on developing our own community as well, just because we've seen the power of community in my own life and in the life of so many. Yeah. I want to talk a little bit. You've said aging well a couple of times now, and in your book, Too Young to Be Old, you talk a lot about aging well. And one core question that book asks is how do I age well? And I want to ask you, how do you define aging well? What does it mean to age well and what's that look like in your own life?
Nancy Schlossberg: You know, a lot of older people, our people say, "I'm not who I was. I'm not as good a golfer. I'm not as good a speaker. I'm not as good this or that." They compare themselves with who they were rather than who they are. Let me tell you what inspired me and what gave me a view of the aging that's really been very meaningful to me. In about 2017 or 2015, I don't remember the year, there was a wonderful festival, the art festival in Sarasota. Baryshnikov came, and I was very excited that he was going to dance. I had heard that he no longer did the jumps and the twirls that he had done before but that he was still wonderful. I went to the performance. It was unbelievable. The stage was empty. There was nothing on it. Out comes Baryshnikov with his back to the audience dancing across the stage. A minute later, a video goes on of Baryshnikov in the same outfit he was wearing onstage, a younger version for many years before dancing, a video of Baryshnikov dancing. So, you have Baryshnikov on the video, you have Baryshnikov in person. You have his shadow. It was so exciting and so creative. And I realize it has nothing to do with the way he was. He's creative today. It's the way he is today. You don't have to talk about who he was until he is, and he's making the very most of his life. And I thought this is the answer to aging well.
Casey Weade: That's positive aging right there. And he talks so much about positive aging. To stay with this topic just a little bit longer, another thing that you say a lot is aging with panache. You know, what does that mean exactly? And do we not have that?
Nancy Schlossberg: Well, first of all, I remember talking to a financial planner when we were in our fifties, and he was saying, "Well, you're going to need much less money when you're old.” And I'm listening to him and I said, “You think when I get old, I'm going to wear old clothes with dirty spots on them? No. It’s going to cost me more money.” Where I got the idea of panache, my husband was in a facility for a short time because he was so ill. And I remember visiting that facility every night. And there was a woman, very old, very old student. Everybody is younger than I am but she was very old and she had cute shoes on. And I said, “Oh, I like your shoes.” She said, “You can look nice no matter what age.” And I realized she had style. She had panache. And you don't have to be, you know, you have a choice. And if it's important to you to look with it and to be part of the scene, you can do that. And I was impressed with this woman.
Casey Weade: We're going to have… I see it now. We're increasing the clothing budgets for all of our clients here in the coming months.
Nancy Schlossberg: Well, you don't have to. I have a friend who does all of her shopping at Goodwill, and there are bargains there.
Casey Weade: That's fantastic. You talk about navigating transitions, and this is a major transition as we step into retirement but we go through a lot of transitions throughout our lives. What is a transition and how do we recognize we're in one? What makes this one uniquely challenging?
Nancy Schlossberg: By definition of a transition, it's an event like graduation, retirement, getting married, getting divorced, any of the big changes in your life. It's an event or a non-event. And I'll define a non-event in a minute that changes your life. It changes your role from worker to retiree, from student to graduate. It changes your role. It changes your relationships. A biggie is it changes your routines. A reporter for the Wall Street Journal wrote about when her office was changed at the Wall Street Journal, she found herself very upset by that because her routines were changed. So, it changes your role, relationship, routines, and your assumptions about yourself and the world. Look at me. I assumed when I went to Sarasota, everybody would be dying to hire me. My assumptions were wrong. So, think of a Geiger counter and think that you're dealing with a number of transitions simultaneously, some that haven't happened, some that have already happened, some that are big and have changed everything in your life. Some that aren't so big.
So, all transitions aren't equal, but that doesn't mean they're not a transition. So, it's an event or a non-event that changes your life. That's only one part of it. But let me just briefly define non-event but I could do a whole thing of non-events because most people don't. Right? I mean, have you ever thought of a non-event transition?
Casey Weade: Why would I think about something that's not an event?
Nancy Schlossberg: Because you're creative. That's why. I was really so excited when I thought about this. A non-event is when you have an expectation. Let's say you're a young woman from a traditional family. You know that you're going to get married and have children. That's your expectation. Then you have fertility problems. And then you can't get pregnant. Then you have to make choices. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to do anything? Are you going to go through treatment? Are you going to go for adoption? So, assuming that nothing gets resolved and you do not have children, but that is something you wanted and expected, it is a non-event. Look at Prince Harry. I mean, Prince Charles. I got the wrong prince. Look at Prince Charles. His whole life, he expected to be king. When I used to talk about non-events I had a book that came out just on the topic of non-events. I would say to the audience, “Is there anybody here who knows the Queen? If so, I'd like to give you a book to get to her.” Well, I never had anybody in my audience who knew the Queen, but he was a living example of a non-event. It didn't mean he wasn't living but he wasn't living the dream he had. So, a transition is an event or non-event that changes your life.
Casey Weade: In with all of those.
Nancy Schlossberg: There are a few more perks to it but that's enough for now.
Casey Weade: Whether it's an event or a non-event, it seems to me that the biggest challenges would be the unknowns. And we had one of our Weekend Reading subscribers that submitted a question. So, as a Weekend Reading subscriber, we always reach out to you a week prior to bringing on our guest and we have some great questions come in to help co-architect this conversation. And I think this is a perfect place to insert Harold's question and saying, "How do you deal with the psychology of preparing for the unknowns in retirement?” And it seems to me that this is kind of applicable to every transition, right? There are these unknowns. But as we step into retirement, I think we get hit with unknowns that are going to last the rest of our lives, especially financially as well where, well, what's going to happen with inflation? What's going to happen with taxes? What's going to happen with the stock market? Where am I going to be? Where are my kids going to be? We have all these unknowns. And I do find that's one of the most challenging things for a retiree to overcome as they make this transition.
Nancy Schlossberg: I love that question and I love the notion of how you ask that. What do you do about the unknown? I have felt a long time that if you can help people understand more about transitions and the transition process, giving them cognitive information that that's helpful. Let me give a concrete example. There is a writer in New York many years ago who wrote a book called Widow. She was a writer, not a psychologist. And after she became a widow, she did some foolish things. She moved to an area and when she moved, she did a lot of things. And she said at the end of her book, "If I had known that after two years I would have incorporated this transition in my life, I wouldn't have done the crazy things I did.” And so, that's what my work is all about. So, what is it that I have learned from my work that can help you deal with the unknown? And I can talk about that if you want me to.
Casey Weade: Please do. I think the place I want to go next was just coping with transition. So, even talking through your 4 S’s might help us get there.
Nancy Schlossberg: Well, even before we get there, a transition, the way we're talking about it, it's like is it one point in time? But you know that anything you go through, it's over time. So, my colleagues and I got an apartment in Maryland that I worked in, a backup, we had a contract with NASA's Space Flight Center. And they went through a RIF, a reduction in force. So, they let 55 people go. They did it by computers and so forth, identifying 55 jobs that have to be eliminated. My colleague and I interviewed every single person right before Thanksgiving, right after they had the notification that their jobs were eliminated. I'm telling you, they said things like, "This is worse than the diagnosis of cancer. This is the worst thing that's ever happened.” “I even get dressed for work,” one man said, “because I don't want my wife to know that I won't have a job over Christmas.” Except for two men who are grasscutters at NASA and one of them said, “I can cut grass any place,” and the other was a top executive who said, “Oh, I'm relieved. I'm getting bored with my life, my wife. This is great to have a change.” Except for those two men, everyone was devastated. Okay. If we had described that transition then, it would've been horrible. But guess what? We decided we would follow them up in six months and re-interview everybody.
Now, the wonderful thing that NASA did, they connected everybody whose job was eliminated with somebody in the HR department so that person had support during the six months. If you see me moving, my little cat is trying to get my attention. And that was a transition, getting a cat, because I'm really a dog person. And that was an accommodation to my age because a dog pees three or four times a day. But when we re-interviewed them, I was absolutely amazed. One man said, “If I can handle this, I can handle anything.” Another man said, “This is the best thing that ever happened to me. They helped me get a theater position.” He had been in the theater group at NASA. But anyway, each one of them had replaced with the help of NASA and they were all men. That was accidental with those men but when you look at the transitions over time, the way you react, the day of the transition is not the way you're going to feel six months later. Now, I'm going to tell you something that's going to shock you. You ready?
Casey Weade: I'm ready.
Nancy Schlossberg: When I was 30, I’m newly divorced but dating a man, a professor from NYU, sure that we were going to get married, he jilted me. Now, that's what's going to shock you. How could somebody have jilted me? It's incredible. But it happens. And so, if you were to interview me the day of the big jilt, I would have been miserable. His psychiatrist had told him that he wasn't ready to get married. It was right around the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, I'm jilted. Here I am, miserable. You've interviewed me, and now you know about the transition of jilt. I've been jilted. But if you're looking at me now, that's the best thing that ever happened to me. I met my husband of 50 years about a month later, I had a wonderful life and I am so grateful that I was jilted. So, to understand your transition, even if you're miserable today, it doesn't mean you're going to be miserable in six months, six years, or sixty years.
So, one of my takeaways is today is not forever. And that goes both ways. Suppose you're ecstatic over something today, it doesn't mean you're going to stay ecstatic for the rest of your life. Also, if you're miserable today, you're not going to be miserable for the rest of your life. And what makes the difference in whether you're miserable or not? That's the next part of the model. But I think knowing that today is not forever, that you can't judge, even though you're upset today about something, that doesn't mean that's going to stay that way.
Casey Weade: Well, I think that is a perfect transition into these 4 S’s. Those are situations, self, support, and strategies. And that first one being situation, you're finding yourself in a situation where it feels permanent, it feels dire. But that's one of the things that we - this is the importance of focusing on situation because we often miss the reality of the situation.
Nancy Schlossberg: Right. So, the 4 S’s and the reason I call them the 4 S’s is if I told you that there are variables that make a difference, your audience isn’t interested in variables, and I'm not either. And so, I called it the 4S system. What are your resources that will help you negotiate this transition? Because the transition takes a while. It's not something that happens on a day. And the 4 S’s, one is your situation. If you are facing, say, the RIF or reduction in force or job loss, at the same time, I'm thinking of a man whose father was dying of cancer when this happened. So, here he was. His situation was dire. Here he's dealing with two major traumas at the same time. On the other hand, if something happens and your job was changed, but in the meantime, wonderful things have happened, your father is now free of cancer, what's your situation at the time of the transition? Now, you can't necessarily change that but let's look at the other things. What kind of supports do you have? And the supports are very important.
Do you have friends who are supportive? What about institutional support? If all of us have worked for organizations, look at what NASA did for those men by connecting them to somebody within the HR department. And that's what, by the way, the senior, the Aging Rebels are. They’re a support system for each other. So, what's your situation? Is there a plus or minus? What are your supports? Are they plus or minus? What about you? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you see the glass as half empty or half full? And what kind of coping strategies do you use? You use lots of them flexibly or do you always resort to the same one? So, we had a guide that you could build a self-scoring guide and find out where are you, low or high, but you can say, "Okay. My situation is a plus or minus self-support strategies plus/minus.” What are the ones that need strengthening? And then this is where coaching counseling comes in. How can I shore up my support? How can I work against my pessimism? How can I increase my knowledge of which coping strategies to use when?
So, the 4 S’s are your potential resources to help you deal with the transition. So, just think in your own life. Have you ever had a transition you coped well with? Can you identify? Have you ever had one you haven't done well with? And you think, what were the differences? What were your resources that you were able to count on during the one that you handled well? So, it just gives you a framework for thinking, "Hey, I'm not happy today, but what can I do to shore up my resources?” And that's the important thing. There is no magic bullet. There really isn't. There's no magic strategy. I tried it once. I went to a bookstore. At one point, I wanted to lose weight. So, there was this book and one simple thing to do to lose weight. So, I bought the book. And the one simple thing was to imagine yourself in a bikini. Well, I tried it. Horrible. It didn't work. So, I think that some of the self-help books that come down to one magic strategy, that's not going to work. So, anyhow, you have to look at your balance of resources, the deficit, and that can make a tremendous difference in how you handle transitions.
Casey Weade: Well, and you provide some strategies. I think, for many, it’s kind of difficult to identify, well, what strategies do I use? That almost entails some coaching in and of itself to actually recognize the strategies that you use on a regular basis, but you give individuals some ideas, some strategies to navigate transitions, changing the situation, changing the meaning of the challenge, reducing your stress, doing nothing.
Nancy Schlossberg: Right, right.
Casey Weade: And one of the questions I wanted to ask in that, I think changing the situation makes sense. Changing the meaning of the challenge, that makes sense. Resilience, humor, faith, reducing stress, I want to get into exactly how you manage stress, but the one that caught my eye was doing nothing. Doing nothing. I mean, for someone that’s a man of action like me, it’s kind of hard to imagine ever just doing nothing. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges of so many as they are stepping into retirement is this feeling of, I’ve always been active. I always knew what I was going to do next. I’m going to do this next. And now, I’m supposed to sit with it. When is doing nothing an appropriate strategy? And how long do we do that?
Nancy Schlossberg: I have a very simple way to figure out which coping strategy makes sense for you to use. Three simple questions on coping strategies. There are thousands of coping strategies. But there are some people who’ve really worked hard to understand all of the coping strategies, and they can be categorized into four different kinds. First coping strategy are the ones where you try to change the situation. Let’s say you don’t get promoted. You’re expected to be promoted. You don’t get promoted. Can you change it? How do you change that?
Let’s suppose you’ve done everything you can. You’ve written the articles that you’re supposed to write. You’ve done the things you’re supposed to do, but you can’t seem to change it. Then you have to change the way you see it, reframe it, and look at it differently. And the third is no matter whether you can change the situation or reframe this, you’ve got to relax and lower your stress level. That’s walking, meditating, swimming, all of the things that will help you stay calm. And that’s important. So, something happens to you or something is bothering you, you said yourself, “Can I change it?” Well, yes/no, how? But if I can’t change it, can I change at least the way I look at it? I’ll tell you a story. Maybe you’ve heard my story about going to Denver. Do you know my Denver story?
Casey Weade: Oh, deliver it. Not everybody has.
Nancy Schlossberg: I was invited to give a speech in Denver when I was at the American Council on Education to college president. So, it was all set. I said to the person in the hallway, “I’ll see you. I’ll be there on Friday.” I didn’t say which Friday. I assume we’re talking about the same Friday. I get to Denver, I go to the hotel, they’ve never heard of me. They have never heard the American Council.
And so, I then call the office and I say, “I’m in Denver. Where, am I at the wrong hotel?” They say, “Nancy, the meeting is in November and this is October.” Now, I could not blame this on the age because this was many, many years ago. This is maybe 40 years ago. So, it wasn’t an age issue. Somebody made a mistake, it was a miscommunication. I am in Denver the long month. I get very upset about that. I call my husband, I get him out of a meeting. And he said, “Nancy, we cannot fall apart in Denver. Your new book, Overwhelmed: Coping with Life’s Ups and Downs, is about to be published. It would be very bad, for sure, if you fall apart in Denver.
So, I hung up the phone and I went across the street to the Brown Palace. I think that’s the name of the hotel. And I go to the expensive restaurant because I figure I need an expensive restaurant and the maitre d’ is sitting me. And I said, “I can’t sit down. I have to tell you, I need a support system and I don’t know what to do.” He said, “Well, I’m going to get you a martini.” I said, “I do not drink martinis and I don’t drink at lunch.” He said, “You do today.” And I think well. I sat there and I thought, is there anything in any of my books that really makes a difference and will help me get through this? I feel like a fool. Here I am in Denver, and a month away, and this is terrible.
So, I thought, you know, maybe this is a great thing that’s happened to me. I’ll have a great opening when I come back in November. You’ve never had a speaker more eager to speak with you. And so, I was very excited about that. And I thought, look, I’m getting to be a dowdy professor. Maybe this is good. I can go to Denver for lunch, San Francisco for breakfast. I mean, I can see myself as traveling the world. And I began to play with the idea and to realize it’s not awful what’s happened. And in addition, think of the help this will be to people who miss a lunch date, who miss an appointment for a podcast to date, they realize it’s not as bad as what Schlossberg did. So, anyway, by the end of this drunken lunch, I was feeling pretty happy.
Casey Weade: Well, it sounds like you’ve followed that strategy. You changed the situation, went and decided to grab lunch at an expensive restaurant. You changed the meaning of the challenge in and of itself, and identifying that this was an opportunity, reduced your stress with that martini. And then you sat there and didn’t do anything for a little while and kind of figured it out. Did I encapsulate that appropriately?
Nancy Schlossberg: Yeah, yeah. And by the end of the lunch, I didn’t drink much of the martini, but I did know that, look, this is not the worst thing in the world. Nobody’s died. I’ve put it in perspective. But going back to the few pages in my book about how to deal with something, that really made a difference.
Casey Weade: There’s one of the things that you talk about a lot, Nancy, which is a psychological portfolio. And so, we’ve got a great question from Gary, one of our Weekend Reading subscribers, is asking about a psychological portfolio. He says, “What do retirees need to do to create a psychological portfolio?” And maybe you can answer this by explaining what a psychological portfolio is and kind of what is it made of.
Nancy Schlossberg: Okay. I remember how I came to thinking about it. I was interviewing a man who had retired. He was CFO of a Fortune 100 company. His pension alone was a million dollars a year. So, money was no issue. And I was asking him how retirement was going. He pounded the table. He said, “Retirement is awful.” He pounds the table. He said, “I have all the money in the world I’m needing. but they no longer can make a difference.”
Okay, began to think, what do people need in retirement? They need a financial portfolio, you know that. But what about a psychological portfolio? And what is a psychological portfolio? First of all, it’s your identity. I was a professor. When I meet you and you hear that I was a professor, gives you a certain picture. You’re a television person, a financial person. You do podcast. You interview people all over the world. When that’s over, who are you?
Who are you aside from your job title, your identity? And that’s related to your purpose. You have a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, especially Monday mornings. You may catch some people in all kinds of events. So, your purpose has been clear, is clear, pretty clear. Suddenly, you’re retired. And why do you get up in the morning? What’s driving you?
For me, it was the wonderful thing that I was having trouble with retirement. So, I interviewed retirees and I started running books on retirement. So, it gave me a note of my purpose came from my experience. So, who are you? What’s your purpose and your identity, your identity, purpose, and relationships?
Many people say in retirement that what they miss is the camaraderie. They don’t miss the workplace. They miss the relationships they had with people. And so, it takes a little while to develop another kind of loop where you feel at home, comfortable, meaningful. So, the book I wrote then was Revitalizing Retirement, your identity, purpose, and relationships. So, that is your psychological portfolio.
Now, let me be clear that there are two bottom lines to everything you said, your health. If you were in horrible health, it’s not just your health, but your subjective health as well as your objective health and money. Do you have enough money to live? Are you homeless? I mean, can you afford an apartment, a house, whatever it is you need? So, money and health are bottom lines to everything that we say.
Assuming that you have enough money to eat and have a place, a roof over your head, then the other things come into play. So, who are you? And what are your new relationships? I’m no longer at the University of Maryland. I’ve been gone for a long time, 20 years. I still stay in touch with a few of my colleagues, but I have a new community, the Senior Friendship Centers of the aging levels. So, you develop a new community.
But your portfolio is like your financial portfolio. Do you have enough to live on? And each person is different. Your psychological portfolio, have you paid attention to that? And I say that it’s important as your financial portfolio. At one point, after my couple of books on retirement came out, I did a lot of thinking about this, and I opened every speech with the same opening.
The only thing I know about money is how to spend them. I don’t understand money, I’m not a financial planner, but I know how to spend it. So, that was my opening for my speeches on retirement to financial planning places. Anyway, to me, it’s very clear. And one of the things we talk a lot about in aging levels is purpose. And what’s your purpose today? What are you doing that gives meaning to your life?
Casey Weade: When I would think that psychological portfolio, it’s made up of purpose, identity, relationships. And I would think, a big part of our identity are really all three of those things, which is what I’m really intrigued by, and this is why I really wanted to have this conversation. I didn’t know we were going to get all these other great things out of the conversation.
But one of the things that I talked about with Steve Lopez were these retirement paths that you came up with. And it seems if you get clear on your purpose, identity, your relationships, then that kind of leads you to one of these six paths that you’ve laid out here. And I want to talk a little bit about each one of these paths and ask a couple of questions along the way.
So, when we look at these different paths, we have the adventurer, the continuer, the easy glider, the searcher, the retreater, the involved spectator. I have some questions about each one of these, but I would love to see where you would like to take it. If you want to take us down this path of retirement paths, how would you like to enter that conversation?
Nancy Schlossberg: Oh, well, each one is interesting. There’s no right one path. And you’re not on the same retirement path forever. I would never have expected that I would live 25 years after I retired. That’s like a lifetime. So, I could have several different paths or I could have a combined path. I think the adventure path doesn’t mean you’ll go then, doesn’t mean you’re climbing the highest mountain in the world. It means you’re adventuring into something new no matter what it is.
I interviewed a man who worked, ran a research group for Congress. They cut the funding. He was in his late 50s, early 60s, and he had been a sort of suit and tie person, running this big thing. Suddenly, he had nothing. He went on a sailing trip by himself. He was a sailor. And he got back to what had helped him when his wife and child died many years before. He was remarried now. And he thought what helped him was massage therapy. So, here’s this tie and suit guy who goes to school to learn to be a massage therapist.
Many years later, his wife wrote me. She said she couldn’t read the book because she knew I talked about him and he since died, but she was so proud of him that he could become an adventurer and do something really different. A continuer. I am a continuer. That doesn’t mean I do what I did as a professor, but the content that I work with is the same that I work with as a professor. And I’ve continued doing research and it’s modified, it’s not the same. I don’t have to sit on so many committees, but I’m a continuer.
Searcher, we’re all going to be searchers. Now, I mean, I don’t know how old I’m going to get, but at some point, I really will be retired and I won’t be doing podcasts with cats. That’s what we call this one, the podcast with a cat. But anyway, what will I do? I have no idea. I had to start to think about that. But we’re all going to be at one time or another, a searcher.
I’ll tell you the group I envy if I envy any group, easy gliders. They’re the people who have no agenda. Wake up in the morning and let the day unfold. There just is one man, a friend of mine who was a reporter, an AP reporter. As one man said to me, “I’m into slack.” So, I’m not saying easy gliders in the slack, but they just don’t have an agenda. What are the others?
Casey Weade: So, we have the adventurer, you’ve discussed. We have the adventurer that’s embracing a new job or activity they’ve never done before. You have the continuer, doing something related to what they’ve done before, much like yourself. You have the easy glider, no real plan. And then you have the searcher figuring out what’s next. And then we get to the retreater and the involved spectator.
Nancy Schlossberg: Well, the involved spectator is an interesting one. I know people who are news junkies who work in jobs in Washington related to politics and they’re no longer doing that. They can’t walk the halls of Congress, but they can watch the news. They’re involved. They’re involved spectators. And I remember when I was speaking about that, at one point, some woman said, “Now I know what to put on my car, involved spectator.”
And then there are two kinds of retreaters. There’s the retreater who is taking a moratorium. I’m going to step back. I’m going to give myself six months or a year. I’m just going to step back and think and let it come to me. That’s a different kind of retreater than the person who’s depressed and who’s depressed about retirement and becomes a couch potato and has no passion, no purpose, no sense of self. And that’s a negative kind of retreater. The thing about the past that’s so interesting is that we can combine these and we can go from one to another, but it gives us a feel and a way to think about what do we want to be when we retire.
Casey Weade: And when I look at these paths, I see them all tied together. I don’t see identifying, hey, this is what I’m going to be prior to retirement. And that’s what I am. I see a path and I see them connecting from one to the next, almost a strategy in and of itself, where first, maybe it’s appropriate to retreat. We become that retreater. We take some downtime.
And then we’re an easy glider. Okay, we’re kind of gliding after that retreat and maybe conducting some low-cost probes, doing some tests of this or that, which leads us to the searcher. We’re searching. We’re searching for what might be next, leading us to becoming that adventurer, where now, we’re actually in those adventures. We’ve searched and now we’ve found a few things that we want to test out, a new job or activity, leading us most likely, what I often find is you become a continuer, at least you are pulling some of those things, some of those common threads of your life into the future, and you’re continuing to do something that’s related to what you’ve done in the past. And then I see you becoming at some point an involved spectator where I’m involved, but I like to watch a little bit and I don’t want to be overly involved. I want to watch, I want to spectate and I want to have my influence, which is a bit of my legacy at the same time.
Nancy Schlossberg: I love the way you brand it. I think that’s really terrific. It’s helpful. I think what you’ve done with it is to show the interconnection of the paths. And I hadn’t thought of that. I mean, I thought of it, but I haven’t articulated, I think. Thank you.
Casey Weade: Yeah. No, I think it’s beautiful. I mean, that was why I was so excited to have you on and talk to you about that because that was what I saw. And I go, “Oh, my gosh, I think this would be so massively helpful to so many that are trying to figure out what’s next and knowing it’s okay.” And these are some of the natural steps that I can take to really identify who I’m going to be in this next phase of my life.
And we’re always talking about what to do right before retirement. I mean, most of the people that are listening, I mean, they’re probably somewhere around five years out from retirement. They’re starting to ask some of these questions somewhere in retirement, but they’re kind of in that range of life where they’re contemplating retirement already.
And we had a great question from one of our Weekend Reading subscribers. And I’m going to kind of bring this conversation to a close around this, and then one final question. And that was a question from Linda that I love. Linda said, “Is it possible for an individual to start preparing themselves to be able to retire before 62 emotionally?” Now, there’s that one piece. That’s that first part of that question. “Can I even prepare for this prior to 62?” And what we’ve said is, “Yes, you can prepare for this emotionally prior to 62.”
But then she goes on to ask, “What about individuals in their 20s?” Because we don’t think about these things until we’re maybe five years out or already in it. What would be your guidance to people that are much further out from retirement? They’re 20, 30 years out from retirement, should they be preparing themselves emotionally for this stage of life that’s well off into the future?
Nancy Schlossberg: Well, intriguing questions. One of the problems with life is if you’re in a job that you really love, I mean, I assume you love what you’re doing. I assume you must be busy 24/7, that this podcast is only a minor part of your work life. And it’s not the way you make a living and it just adds to the richness of your life and to other people’s lives. When you’re as involved as I think you are, as I was, thinking about retirement was meaningless to me. I didn’t want to think about retirement. I was thinking about today and what I could do to make a difference, how I could help my students, how I could translate my research into something that’s meaningful in their lives.
And my purpose in pre-retirement and retirement was to take everything I knew and to do it in more accessible formats, to write nonacademic books, the trade books, to write things that were paperback books for $20, $21, the last three books published by the American Psychological Association, the paperback, so that people could afford them. So, that became my mission. And thinking about retirement was kind of meaningless at that point, even though I knew someday I would have to deal with that.
So, I think the more involved you are, and the more your sense of purpose is reflected in the work you’re doing, the more difficult it is to think about retirement, at least from my vantage point. However, as you get closer to it, you’re going to have to think about it. And that’s why I’ve often said, “Pre-retirement workshops don’t work for everyone.” It’s when you are ready to think about it. You might be ready to think about it a year after you retire. Some people want to plan a year before, so it’s very individual. But you can always go back and re-plan and think about the past and think about your psychological portfolio.
But I don’t think it’s a simple thing that there is the right time to prepare. I do remember I worked at Howard University in the counseling center right after I graduate school, and I remember teaching a course to the freshmen, kind of a live well course, I forget what it was called, and I remember talking about retirement to them, and they looked at me like I was crazy. But I was thinking, someday, you’re going to have a career, you’re going to be involved, but someday, you will be retired.
Well, it’s hard for people in their 20s to be thinking about retirement, but certainly, the financial people have to make people think about saving money and being somewhat cautious. But the timing of it is so individual. I was not able to think seriously about retirement until I was there. That doesn’t mean that’s the right way to go. I don’t know about you because I know you’re so involved in what you do. Is it something you can even think about now?
Casey Weade: Now, I think about this all the time. I mean, obviously, it’s the role that I find myself in so many unique position where I’m always thinking about retirement, but it applies to a lot of different areas of my life. And this is definitely strange, my wife finds it quite strange, but I think about all these things that might happen in our lives and how do I prepare myself today?
There’s some things that are inevitable. Retirement is inevitable. The loss of a spouse, our own death, our own illness, or the loss of a key employee, how can I prepare myself mentally for those things that are going to happen someday? And I think about, well, what if I lost my wife tomorrow? How am I going to manage that? And even some of the things that may not happen, the divorce or loss of a child, I play those things through my head because I’m afraid if they happen, that I would fall apart if I didn’t already envision a future that some of these transitions could happen.
And maybe the reality is that you can’t prepare yourself for those things. Maybe you really cannot prepare yourself for those things. There’s no use in me, actually, going through these exercises in my brain and playing these things out because they may never happen for one. Hopefully, a lot of them never happen, but when they do happen, it’s going to be different than what I actually imagined. And then I have to go back to the strategies. Having the strategies is all that I really need, maybe.
Nancy Schlossberg: And that’s exactly right. So, I don’t know, I’ve lived through a husband, died after 15 years of marriage. I’ve lived through partners dying, I’ve lived through retirement. And all I can say is that I have no idea what to do next because I’m really entering, I’m 74, that’s really old. Demographically, I am in the old, old world. How long can I keep on working? How long can I keep on being of help to people either through writing, speaking, running groups? I don’t know.
And then what will I do? Well, instead of worrying about what will I do, I just go back, what have I done in my past? And where are my supports? Where is my 4 S system? My situation, I don’t know what it will be, but I don’t know that I’ll like it either. So, I’m pretty good at getting support systems and that will be the first thing I do. I’m a great believer in therapy and coaching, depending what it is you’re looking for, therapy to help you make sense out of what you’re going through, coaching to help you choose the path and get on with your new path.
And third, I will again look at whatever is going on and say, “If I don’t like it, can I change it? If I can’t change it, can I reframe it and look at the good life and the wonderful life that I’ve had and the wonderful people who are part of my life today?” And I must say that for me, the best thing that one can have is what I have. And that is two adult children and their spouses and children who are my collaborators in facing this period of my life and my partner who is part of my life. So, to me, I’ve set it up. I don’t know that I’ve set it up at the age of this and I feel so fortunate. So, whatever happens, I know that I will be able to handle it because I have my collaborators.
Casey Weade: That’s beautiful and it always comes back to that. I feel like the common thread in all of these conversations is relationships and recognizing the relationships you have to date. And what if you go through X, Y, and Z, where are those relationships going to be? If you don’t have those relationships, cultivate those relationships, build that support network as you’ve talked so much about. And as we wrap things up, you’re on the Retire with Purpose podcast. And I’d love to ask you this one question. What does retire with purpose mean to you?
Nancy Schlossberg: That means to me that you have a vision, how you are going to make meaning out of your life. But I do want to add one thing that we haven’t touched on that I think is the bottom line, and it’s not directly purpose, but it’s mattering. If we have a minute, can I describe that?
Casey Weade: Please.
Nancy Schlossberg: When I was at Maryland, there was a wonderful professor, Morris Rosenberg, who since died. And I read his work and then I went and met him and he was doing work on mattering which he felt was emotive. And he did this big analysis of teenage boys and delinquency and found that those teenagers who felt they mattered did not become delinquent. Those who don’t, they didn’t matter, did. I mean, look at all this.
At the end of this big article, he said, “And in retirement, many people feel they no longer matter.” And we started working together. He was working with his students on homelessness and mattering. I was working with my students on the mattering retention of adult learners. If they didn’t feel they mattered to the university, that they were appreciated, noticed, counted upon, they dropped out of school. So, mattering is the degree to what you feel you matter to others.
And I think that is the bottom line. How do you continue feeling you matter? And the other side of it is how do you feel in retirement, that what you do matters to others? So, they’re two different things. One is the purpose that what you’re doing will matter to others, and the other is recognizing you want to be heard, you want to be noticed, you want to be counted upon. And so, to me, that is our test. And by you having me come to this podcast, you do make me feel I matter.
Casey Weade: Well, you matter so much, Nancy, to so many. And if you’re ready to take that first step and articulate that vision, start to create that vision and identify all these things, your psychological portfolio, mattering, and all of these great things. We’re going to be giving away Nancy’s book today. So, if you’d like to get a copy of Nancy’s book, as I said in the open, super easy, all you have to do is write an honest rating and review of the podcast over on iTunes and then shoot us a text. You can text us the word “Book,” that’s B-O-O-K to 866-482-9559. We’ll shoot you a link so that you can provide us your iTunes username. We can verify your review and we’re going to be giving away Nancy’s book, Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age, for free. And it’s that easy. Nancy, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Nancy Schlossberg: Thank you. Thank you.