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Surviving and Thriving Through Difficult Times

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am a 60-year-old divorced woman and full-time educator at a private school. My salary is about to be cut in half because of the economy. I am feeling overwhelmed not knowing the length of my current job, my current income or my retirement income. Any advice on how to mange all of this?

Answer: I and my colleague Bernice Bratter recently presented a workshop on a subject germane to your question. The conference, “Own Your Own Power” was in Costa Mesa, California, and co-sponsored by WomanSage. This is a non-profit, Web-based membership organization dedicated to educating, empowering and fostering mentoring relationships for women at midlife.

Founder Jane Glenn Haas is a long-time journalist with the Orange County Register. We spoke with 50 women about the three R’s of the Retirement Revolution: Reinvention, Renewment and Retaining.

These women considered themselves highly effective, yet vulnerable to today’s economic environment. They were concerned about keeping their jobs, trying to find employment, having less or no income, and they were fearful that they would never be able to retire because their retirement funds were now worth half of their value.

Almost all of the women admitted they had gone through tough times. They had suffered from breast cancer, divorce, loss of a job, the death of a child, losing a spouse, being locked out of one’s home in the snow — with a child — because the mortgage was not paid and more.

And yet, all of these women survived and even thrived.

We asked them what got them through these tough times. Their answers included family, friends, creativity, tenacity, strength, courage and faith. These were the resources that served them well in the past – and will serve them well in the present.

We discussed Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a classic theory developed to understand human motivation dating back to 1954.

Graphically the needs are presented as a pyramid beginning at the bottom with basic life needs such as air, food, drink and shelter. The next level is safety needs such as security, order, and stability.

The following levels are belonging and being loved; esteem and, finally, self-actualization – meeting needs for personal growth and fulfillment.

The theory states that we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the bottom of the pyramid, survival. When the lower order of needs is satisfied, then we can proceed up the pyramid to the higher-level needs.

To our surprise, these women described themselves as engaged in all of the needs of the pyramid at the same time. That means even in hard times, these women were motivated to continue growing ¬ pursuing their talent, creativity and fulfillment in life.

Here is a summary of their tips, and ours, that may help getting through these difficult times.

  • Know your financial status; don’t rely on someone else to make the decisions. Be informed and be financially literate.
  • Control your fears and anxiety with exercise, meditation, yoga or another activity that helps you relax.
  • Reach out to others. Don’t isolate yourself. Participate in a group to discuss concerns and share tips with one another.
  • Consider reinventing yourself if necessary. Get some career counseling and examine your transferable skills. Brush up on interview techniques and resume writing.
  • Recognize that you may need to work longer than your thought.
  • Acknowledge your strengths, achievements and creativity.
  • Believe in yourself. You’ve made it this far and you not only will survive but thrive once again.
  • Simplify your life.
  • Make some cuts that are reasonable such as eating out less and a bit less shopping. (We all agreed to meet next year at the conference in the same outfits.)
  • Help someone else; anger and bitterness can be reduced by taking action and doing something for others.

The three R’s of the Retirement Revolution mean that we may need to reinvent ourselves, applying our talent and skills in new ways. We may need to revitalize ourselves with renewed belief and commitment. And we are reminded to always acknowledge and retain our strengths and use them.

The challenge is real. Be informed, get support and take the action that you need. Although this economic time has been called the once-in-a-hundred-year tsunami, we will ride the waves and get through it.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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