Finding joy and purpose in retirement is sometimes a “Second Act”
“He is happiest,
be he king or peasant,
who finds peace in his home.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This week we are wrapping up our series on finding a “peaceful home,” having looked at how some of our neighbors have approached decluttering, “rightsizing” their homes, and finding joy and purpose in retirement. Let’s take a last look at two vigorous couples—one newly retired and the other who are veterans at it.
New careers in retirement become their “Second Act”
Suzanne Hill (left) assisting one of her students at The Umbrella Center.
Suzanne Hill and Ray Offenheiser lived in Carlisle from 1996 to 2016, raising their children Patrick and Didi, now 31 and 29. Suzanne vividly recalls that their decision to move came abruptly in 2015 during the big snowstorm. “Ray was recuperating from knee surgery, and we had a long driveway on a hill. When I slipped on ice that was under the snow while I was shoveling and broke my arm, I was just done! I was done with all the upkeep, the maintenance, inside and out, especially with having two acres. We had thought about moving before that and had looked around halfheartedly, but then we got serious and started to get the house ready to sell. That spring I got a contractor and refreshed the kitchen, put in a new bathroom, updated the master bath and painted inside and out. The contractor got a dumpster, which helped us downsize and toss stuff.
“I thought about dropping everything to go out there but I couldn’t do it”
|Ray Offenheiser teaching at Notre Dame. (Courtesy photo)|
“In the year after that, Ray was moving toward retirement from his many years as Executive Director of Oxfam America. He was courted by multiple universities both locally and at Notre Dame, his alma mater in South Bend, Indiana, to either be a professor or manage international relations. When I thought about my life, I said ‘Here is home.’ I thought about dropping everything to go out there but I couldn’t do it. I have built a great situation here in Concord with my ceramics studio and teaching at The Umbrella Center for the Arts. I didn’t want to lose my position there because there is nothing really like it around, and I didn’t want to leave my space, my students of 12 years and my community.”
“Ray couldn’t see himself retiring to puttering and volunteering. He took a position at Notre Dame teaching in the Keough International Relations School, the first new school at Notre Dame in 100 years. He is having fun and being creative with ideas, allowing him to move more freely in some ways. Teaching is a way of looking back over your own career and putting it in perspective and being able to do that is a wonderful opportunity. He is keeping his hand in the game and doing meaningful work for the next generation, working with graduate students from all over the world. I call it his Second Act.”
Not one, but two home bases
“When they were talking to Ray about his position, it was nice that I found a position there too teaching ceramics to non-majors for the fall semesters, so we now have two home bases – a home in South Bend and a townhome in Acton—not exactly downsizing! It was a challenge for me to put together a whole new house there but it has been really fun putting my course together, teaching and interacting with students. Real estate there is less than half the price of here and we had to find a home with studio potential, so that meant one with either a garage or a basement to do my ceramics work, so we ended up with a four-bedroom home with a walk-out basement. Even though it is newer than our old house, it does have its share of maintenance. After a career of almost constant business travel, Ray is now learning about how to manage and maintain a four-bedroom home and doing well at it.”
“We are off to Italy this summer as Ray received a Rockefeller grant to start work on a book that looks back over his career. We’ll be at the Rockefeller center in the town of Bellagio on Lake Como, known for its artists, intellectuals and writers. I will take Italian and cooking lessons and visit museums while I prepare for my fall semester class.”
Will never retire
Suzanne says she is never going to retire. “My work is fun. Parts are more work than others, but all in all, it’s really enjoyable. For me, doing what I do gives me joy. Not being able to do that makes me sad so why give it up? And ceramics is something which uses the hand-brain connection, which is a very important thing to keep cognitively vital, especially as people grow older.”
Doing what you love is the Second Act
Her advice to others contemplating creating their next chapter: “Don’t be afraid of it, and don’t underestimate yourself. Keep finding ways to manage your time so as to stay active, stay engaged and keep your energy up. First of all, remember you don’t have kids to keep up with anymore! Just driving kids around took a ton of time. Anybody can have a Second Act; just do what you love. That’s the second act.”
Lucky downsizers in Carlisle
Jean and Jack Sain in their new home at Malcolm
Meadows. (Photo by Linda Myers-Tierney)
You may remember a recent Mosquito editorial by Betsy Fell which mentioned that Carlisle residents indicated in town surveys that many seniors would like to downsize but stay in town. Jean and Jack Sain recently did just that, after 47 years of living in Carlisle. Jean said “Our house on Virginia Farme Road where we raised five children was wonderful, but the kids have been saying for a while that it is time for us to have a smaller house. We saw an ad in the Mosquito for a condo in Malcolm Meadows, and that ad tipped the balance for us because we had wanted to downsize but we really wanted to stay in Carlisle too. So we hustled over, saw this place and submitted a bid the next morning. We weren’t prepared, but it has been a wonderful move nonetheless.”
Seizing an opportunity
Jack continued to fill me in on their process, “We bought the condo on November 1 and put our house on the market rather quickly. Less than two weeks later we had an offer, but the buyers backed out; we weren’t sure why. It went back on the market and we got another offer shortly. It sold on March 1.
Jean reflected on the moving process, stating “Our kids, who range in age from 52 to 60, were all a wonderful help the whole way through, packing, and helping us move. The distance from our old home to our new one is only two and a half miles so we spent many trips having family take things over. Four of our kids are within a half hour drive, and even our daughter in South Carolina spent a week with us to help us unpack and organize once we moved.
“Our main difficulty was in having so many decisions to make in such a short period of time. Shall we move this item or get rid of it, especially things we had for so many years. There was a lot of pressure to get rid of things since we moved to a much smaller place. We are really enjoying it here, but it would have been great if we had a 6-month warning so we could have disposed of things over time with a clearer mind, but it seems everything had to be done in a panic.”
A process of letting go
“We also had large furniture that wouldn’t work in a smaller house. Our bedroom set consisted of large Thomasville pieces that the movers couldn’t negotiate around the staircase so it had to be disassembled. That added to the excitement! The dresser had originally come in through a bedroom window decades ago, but those windows had since changed. Unfortunately that piece had to be met with a sledgehammer and like a lot of other things, made its way to the dump. We left behind a lot of wonderful memories back there, but we are loving where we are now.”
Stuff went to charity or to the Transfer Station
“Much of our stuff went to charitable organizations and much was trashed. Happily our daughter’s sister-in-law wanted our Thomasville dining room set. Unfortunately they live in Buffalo, but it was well worth it to them to have the set shipped there, and they are today very happy with it—a Minor Victory.”
“It was all worthwhile as we are really enjoying our condo now, with its first floor living, unlike our former house where everything involved stairs—the basement laundry, the second floor bedroom. The convenience of having just a few steps between kitchen, bedroom and laundry is wonderful, and we are enjoying our glass-enclosed sunroom which is sunny and warm even on the coldest days. We have a wonderful big basement with lots of boxes in it and plenty of place to put things temporarily till we unpack and sort out. We have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, all on the first floor. As a bonus we have a loft for the computer, which is Jean’s office where she does crafting and her hobby of card making.
Daily life is improved
When asked how life is different for them today, they replied “Our daily living is hugely improved. It’s nice to have a gas fireplace, which kept us warm when the power was out. And the location is superb. We like the outdoors, and this is very nice with open space out back and good use of field and forest. There is a nice variety of birds we enjoy, and once the snow clears, we will walk the Malcolm Meadows trail.”
When asked for any advice for others contemplating a move, Jean and Jack agreed: Start today! “That big clean out is the challenge. It seems like you can’t possibly do it, but you can. Once you get rolling you can do it. And by all means, get help. Our kids were fantastic; they came on their weekends for several months and they made all the difference in helping us move to a place we now love.”
Tips on moving
You might want to think about your situation today and in the past—your home, neighborhood, town, job, et cetera, how you’ve gotten all you could from all those aspects in current and earlier times, and at the same time recognize the ways that your life is shifting into a new stage. You may realize that many of those aspects don’t necessarily serve you today, let alone your vision for the future. Try writing down your priorities and goals for what you want to create in the coming decades. This can be helpful in bringing them into reality, as well as helping you determine what you are willing to let go of to attain your vision.
Ask yourself how it would feel “if …” to create a vision of what you want to create. Try imagining a variety of scenarios, letting yourself daydream about options, visualizing scenarios and just seeing how they make you feel. Perhaps lifelong or childhood dreams may come up for you, and you can ask yourself if they have any role to play as you come up with your new plan. You may reembrace them or let them evolve into new adaptations that resonate even more for you now. Often we cannot make a change if we think we are “giving something up”, yet if we realize we are “moving toward something,” we become energized toward that goal.
Take a risk
And finally, ask yourself to consider taking some risk, how great the risk might actually be, and what benefits that can buy you. Sometimes our greatest personal growth occurs in places of uncertainty and personal challenge. You may realize that you have to let go of the branch you are on to reach the one in front of you.
These can be some of the biggest decisions of our lives, so be patient with some understandable trepidation, because nothing short of the overall quality of your life is at stake. Remember the words of Jane Austen who said “There is nothing like home for real comfort.” ∆