A mysterious woman wearing a green dress and sandals faces the viewer, her round sunglasses glinting in the moonlight, as the sky and ocean darken behind her at dusk.

I remember having the thought some years ago that I would never retire. I couldn’t imagine not working. I was in my 40s at the time. I’m now approaching 62 and am absolutely ready to retire from a full-time job.

However, I notice that the word doesn’t seem to fit. I am resisting “retirement,” in part because it’s so pejorative in our society. It implies that you no longer have a contribution to make. That you’ll be golfing or goofing around waiting for death for the rest of your days.

In fact, the definition of retirement is “the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.” Yes, that checks out. And the definition of work? “The activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.”

So, to be retired then, implies no further mental or physical effort towards a purpose or result? That doesn’t check out.

I feel immensely purposeful at this stage of my life. I’ve worked 40 years and have seen a few things. I have learned through the school of hard knocks as well as from real schools. I’ve made mistakes and enemies as well as good friends. I’ve succeeded a bit along the way, too. I have more to offer. More creativity. More hopefulness. More perspective. More wisdom.

Part of my purpose is learning to enjoy the present moment, instead of planning and scheduling and looking ahead. Cultivating patience has been a lifelong endeavor, and I will continue with the curriculum.

As long as I hold onto my own sense of ongoing learning and contributing to my family, my community and my world, I will engage in my days powerfully. If I collapse into the idea that retirees are a burden, useless and disengaged, I’ll suffer.

Beginnings are so beautiful. The spring flowers poke their sturdy green leaves up first to see the light of day. The smell of a new car, fresh with leather and promise. Puppies and babies and exciting new client projects. All point to the imagining of a bright future.

But endings are not any of this. They can grip the solar plexus and cause heaviness in the heart.

And now I find myself standing at the threshold of an ending and a new beginning.

In January, when I announced to my team that I would be transitioning my relationship to the business I built with my partner over twenty years ago, I explained that I wanted a “do-over” with my grandchildren. A chance to sit on the floor with them and do nothing more than dig the raisins out of a cheerful, small red box. No bags to pack, no flights to catch, no cars to rent, no big egos to soothe. Just babies and toddlers and full presence. I was gone so much when my own children were young.

I still love my work and the team that I’ve had the privilege of working with. So the question I have for myself is, “Is it okay to leave something you love?”

I hate endings and leavings. I’m a duck-out-the-back-of-the-party kind of person. I don’t enjoy goodbyes, and yet, goodbye is calling. I have to answer “yes” to my own question. I am ready to walk toward new loves — writing, pottery, friendships, the garden, long unscheduled conversations.

If you are like me and ready to embrace the new challenges and sense of purpose that is coming to you, I invite you to consider that you still have a wonderful contribution to make, and now you have the freedom and space to make it fully. Go ahead — retire!

Photo credit: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen via Unsplash


  • Dede Henley


    Henley Leadership Group

    I have been in the field of leadership development since 1982. I founded Henley Leadership Group 20 years ago to help leaders and organizations create more equitable and productive workplaces and ignite the nascent leadership potential of employees at all levels. Through individual coaching and programs designed to generate positive business results, Henley Leadership Group has served thousands of corporate leaders in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, energy and finance. Away from work, I live with my husband, and try not to meddle too much in the lives of my half-dozen kids.