February 7, 2010

USA: When She's Ready to Retire, She'll Know

. NEW YORK, NY / The New York Times / Jobs / February 7, 2010 Preoccupations When She’s Ready to Retire, She’ll Know By Dianne Fuller Doherty I HAVE what I consider the ideal job: providing confidential advice to small businesses and working to create jobs in western Massachusetts. It’s a position I’ve had for over 17 years. I started here when I was in my mid-50’s. Several years ago, I thought to myself that I would probably do this a few more years. But I have the health, energy and passion to continue. Although I certainly appreciate the lack of financial pressure that comes with postponing retirement past the age of 70, it’s not nearly as much of a motivator as the job itself. My energy comes from the clients and the businesses they develop. I feel inspired by their resourcefulness and initiative. One client of mine who is in his mid-20s built a business buying lost and stolen bicycles from police departments, refurbishing them and selling them on the Internet. He had a high school diploma when I began working with him six years ago. He decided to get an associate’s degree, and is about to earn a B.A. I think his success in business contributed to his wanting to continue his education, though it meant cutting back on the business. Dianne Fuller Doherty advises entrepreneurs at the University of Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network. Nancy Palmieri for The New York Times Another client, a single mom, has a concept for organic lawn care. She was a partner in, then principal owner of, a landscape and snow removal company. We’ve discussed whether she is too far ahead of the market and what she’ll charge for her services. Pricing is always important. If I left now, I think I’d miss the structure and the intellectual challenge of the job and the people. My feeling is that as long as I am doing something of value, why not continue doing it? I owned a marketing company from 1983 to 1992, so I know what it takes for a business to succeed, and I can encourage would-be entrepreneurs. That’s a major benefit of longevity in a job. I talked about retirement with my current boss several years ago, during my review. After giving me her evaluation, she asked about my long-term plans. A short while before, three other regional directors — the state has six — who were in their early to-mid-60s retired. I think that my boss may have been worried about being short-staffed. I told her that I had no intention of leaving, but that I would give plenty of notice when I did decide to leave. Recently my supervisor had each regional director put together a succession plan. It’s not the first time I’ve done something beyond a conventionally accepted age. I returned to school, and started taking courses toward an M.B.A. at Western New England College in 1979, after being out of college 20 years. I’d been an undergraduate philosophy major, which was important to me but unmarketable. My husband was committed to his career as a lawyer. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting for him to come home each day, and I was searching for an equally fulfilling career. My four daughters were in their teens, increasingly self-sufficient, and I wanted to be a role model for them. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but the people I respected most in the community were in business. Once I enrolled, I realized that most of the students were half my age, and that some of the professors were younger, too. I decided to go for a degree only when I passed the halfway mark. At a surprise graduation party for me at a friend’s house, guests dressed in cap and gown, marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” and delivered graduation speeches. I had passed a milestone I had never expected to reach. Exercise helps my energy immensely. I get up most mornings at 5:30. I run three days a week and do weights. Early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I go to an aerobics class. After work a couple of days a week, I do yoga; I alternate with Pilates the other days. On my 60th birthday, I promised myself I’d do an hour of exercise a day; I’ve kept to it. Everybody tells me that when it’s time to quit I’ll know it, and I keep going on that premise. Having set a deadline several years ago and letting it pass by, I’m not setting another one. I expect to go quietly, with no fanfare but with enough notice to my colleagues so they can prepare properly. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m wrestling with now: How do I time that? When I retire, I’d like to continue with volunteer activities for the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and working pro bono on global expansion for Digital Divide Data, a social enterprise that provides jobs and training to youth in Laos and Cambodia. Each fall, I use vacation time to travel to Southeast Asia for a board meeting. I recently attended my 50th class reunion at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. When we arrived there as students in 1955, we were told that we were pangynaskean women — that we had to build uncommon lives for ourselves. “Pangynaskean,” with Greek roots, essentially means cultivating the total world of women. Maybe that belief was part of my decision to go to graduate school and keeps me going now. I want to inspire my children and grandchildren. I also want to continue learning. It’s a big part of who I am. [rc] As told to Amy Zipkin E-mail: preoccupations@nytimes.com Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company