Family & Education

Finding Meaning in Your 2nd Act

Advice on how to navigate the transition from career to retirement
BY Barbara Danza TIMEFebruary 20, 2023 PRINT

For most people, early and mid-adulthood consist of pursuing career goals, starting and providing for a family, and seeking extrinsic fulfillment. It can seem like one’s whole life is preparation for these phases. But what happens afterward—when the kids fly the nest and it comes time for retirement?

That’s the subject of the new book “Climbing Down the Ladder: A Journey to a Different Kind of Happy.” by retired attorney, author, and speaker Laura Black. In it, she aims to help readers embrace their last chapters and find meaning beyond their careers. I asked Laura for her advice for those who are about to navigate this next phase of life. Here’s what she said.

The Epoch Times: What inspired you to write “Climbing Down the Ladder: A Journey to a Different Kind of Happy?”

Laura Black: In the same way women lacked role models on the way up, we lack them on the way down. When I left the workforce, it was a time of loss: My children moved out of the house for lives on their own, my parents were ill and eventually passed away, and I felt a loss of identity—without a business card, who am I? I was not alone—there are 29 million retired baby boomers. I hope my journey will empower others to find their own “different kind of happy.”

The Epoch Times: Many people look forward to their retirement years with fantasies of free time and relaxation. What aspects of this phase of life have you found surprising?

Ms. Black: I am not one of those people. For us, Type As who are goal driven, at first, we feel the void. For those who can relax and enjoy free time, that’s great. However, my journey forced me to look back and decipher what motivated me in the first place. What did I have to prove? Once I figured that out, it was easier to give myself permission to be present and enjoy the moment. I realized that I did enough, proved enough, and was enough. I am enough and must savor this sacred space between retirement and the final curtain.

The Epoch Times: For those approaching retirement or watching their kids grow up and looking ahead to their life’s next act, how do you recommend they prepare themselves?

Ms. Black: When we leave the workforce, there is a void. I analogize this to a section on a wheel. There are lots of pie-shaped triangles. We do not have to replace this career section, but we can expand the other sections of our wheel: relationships, community, health, learning, spirituality, and leisure. I advise building up these sections before we retire.

The Epoch Times: What common mistakes do you see people making as they head into their retirement years?

Ms. Black: Not preparing emotionally—realizing the loss of status, identity, and purpose.

The Epoch Times: What do you wish more people understood about the retirement years?

Ms. Black: Once we do the work to find out what motivated us in the first place and give ourselves permission to enjoy, we discover a richer, more meaningful kind of happy.

The Epoch Times: If someone reading this is in this last chapter of life currently and struggling to find meaning and fulfillment, what’s the first thing you’d suggest they do?

Ms. Black: Look to those sections of the wheel that I mentioned above and make a concerted effort to expand each one: Find new friends and deepen old relationships; learn something, anything, new; test new leisure activities—don’t rule things out before giving them a chance; get involved in your community—there is so much needed out there; take care of your health, whether through new activities, new foods, or new preparations; and get in touch with your spirituality, whether through meditation, formal religion, or just a wonder about our world.

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Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.
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