Seniors Perform Encore Careers

By Lynne Berg

After Georgi Petrow, 76, retired from retail advertising, she pursued her real passion – painting.  The Norfolk resident now creates her award-winning art during her “Act II” or “encore career.”

When Social Security began cutting checks, the average life expectancy was 62.  Now, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s 78.7 to 81 for women.  Retired folks who’ve sacrificed to raise children and save for their golden years can finally focus on themselves.  Below are a few tips on how to live these happy, productive, and exciting years:

Find Your Passions and Pursue Them.

Bored with retirement from years as a welder and pipefitter, Pete DiPietro, 72, taught himself to carve birds. “God has given me the ability to do something so I don’t become senile in my old age.  It’s just a joy,” he said in a local newspaper article.

A recent Wall Street Journal story profiled Jerome E. Goss, 76, a retired cardiologist in New Mexico who now repairs antique books.  Another senior, retired math professor Stephen C. Solosky, 55, of New York, changed course to become a travel writer and tour guide.

Whether it’s writing, computers, photography, bridge, or sports, a senior center allows you to explore interests and start hobbies.  Don’t leave any regrets on your “bucket list.”

Stay Active – Physically and Mentally.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation found that 30 percent of how we age can be attributed to genes and 70 percent to lifestyle choices.  I call a recliner a “decliner.”  The less you do; the less you can do.   Inactivity, according to the CDC, accounts for roughly 250,000 deaths per year.

Physically – CDC reports that more than one-third of adults were obese in 2009-2010.  Obesity leads to increased risks of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  Primeplus offers more than 50 classes and programs monthly – from “Too-Fit-To-Quit” to Chair Yoga exercise classes.  Linda Coupland, 73, taught exercise classes for years at the center.  Now she stretches her imagination through painting workshops.  “This is my third career,” said the former fundraising executive.

Mentally – Be a lifelong learner.  Acquiring computer skills not only helps seniors stay connected through email but also exercises the brain.  Kathleen Williamson, 73, a retired elementary school teacher, now helps seniors navigate the complexities of computers.  Nationally, more than 53 percent of seniors use the Internet.

Remain curious.  Robbie Shell of the University of Pennsylvania wrote in a Wall Street Journal article about how later life gives people the chance to discover the unfamiliar.  She honed in on honey bees.  Did you know they fly nine miles to find nectar?

Choose Happiness.

In How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, Ernie J. Zelinski  notes that people need “sufficient funds to live and sufficient things to live for.”

Artist Petrow’s home is filled with her paintings – picturing scenes from galloping horses to snow covered sand dunes.  She recently won Best in Show at the center’s Senior ArtFest.

According to Dartmouth College economics professor David Blanchflower, as people age, they become happier, embracing freedom.   No boss.  No rush-hour traffic. Lighten up and enjoy small pleasures – a hot cup of coffee and a warm bed – Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., advises retirees  in his book,  30 Lessons for Living 

Invest in friendships – one key to happiness.  “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience:  This is the ideal life,” Mark Twain said.

Oftentimes friendships emerge from new rituals – connections made at senior centers and in neighborhoods.  A diverse group of dog-lovers meets every day at 5 p.m. to let pooches play in West Ghent in Norfolk.  The dog park pack includes two active 80-something-year-olds who participate in the group’s cookouts, birthday celebrations, and recipe swaps.

At Primeplus seniors bond during woodshop and exercise classes, support groups for men and the bereaved, and games like Wii.  Each Monday a group of senior Russian immigrants exercises in the pool, plays bingo, and enjoys a meal. In Portsmouth, some of the 100 volunteers with RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) meet new friends while checking on residents at Effingham Plaza every day.

Balance is crucial.  Embodying activity and altruism, a retired flight attendant plays tennis, golf, and mah-jongg.  She also tutors children, helps a sick relative, and maintains her and her husband’s duplex in Norfolk.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote:  “Leisure time is time for doing something useful.”

Don’t fear retirement.  Embrace it.  You can pen your “next chapter” as the best work of your life.

Lynne Berg is executive director of Primeplus Norfolk Senior Center, located at 7300 Newport Avenue in Norfolk, Virginia.  It has been serving Southside seniors, ages 50+, for more than 40 years.