Wednesday, October 16, 2013

We're Older Men, and We're Just Fine.

It can happen to any man.  Indeed it happened to me.   Turns out my story is far from unique.

Retirement loomed on the near horizon.  My wife wanted to cash out from her job at age 56 and move to Asheville, NC.  At 58, I was NOT ready to retire and was not sure about moving.   I figured I could easily transfer my human resources & management consulting practice to our new home town.  In support of my wife I pushed that we should buy our house a couple of years prior to moving.  

My wife developed a list of 30 new adventures and activities she’d pursue in retirement.  And my plan?  Do the same work, just in a new place.  I wanted to leave business travel behind and focus just on local clients. 

The proverbial ton of bricks hit me once we settled in Asheville.  Our adopted home town lacked a corporate presence.  What had I done to myself?  I left a thriving business behind to find no business here.   Then the depression hit.

I became cranky, dispirited, and dull.  My focus waned and my anxiety grew out of control.  I missed my my clients, my business connections, my sons, my friends, and my familiar stomping grounds.  My new life turned out to be a nightmare.

From boyhood on men learn to suppress emotions.  You know, “just tough it out”.  Like most men, I was conditioned to think “Men don’t cry” and certainly don’t share their feelings.   We’re taught to network for business reasons, but we don’t know how to approach other men for support.

One of my wife’s 30 activities was for her to start a pet care business.  With that in mind she asked me to attend a program called, “Marketing to Boomers and Beyond.”  The keynote speaker was an executive from AARP.  Something he said sparked an epiphany.  He claimed men and women experience similar anxieties as they enter retirement, but women handle these retirement challenges much better because they socially network while self disclosing more comfortably and readily. Women have many more coping resources available to them, he continued, and they are much more likely to take advantage of those resources than are men.   So, I turned to my wife and whispered, “That’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to start groups for men in retirement.”

To get the men’s groups going, I interviewed experts on aging and retirement and they sounded the warning siren.  Many said, “Great idea and it is much needed, but it will never work.  Men don’t do that self disclosure stuff.”

Skeptics have always driven me to reach higher plateaus.  This was no different.   I resolved, “I’m going to do this and it’s going to succeed”.  Thus, I created support groups for men dealing with transitional issues in retirement, Men’s Wisdom Works. 

I’m Chuck Fink and during the upcoming weeks I’ll be featuring stories by some of the hundred members of Men’s Wisdom Works.  You will read how these men’s groups help members thrive as we grow older.  In future blogs we’ll describe how and why our groups flourish and the difference MWW made in their lives.. For now I can tell you that medication helped me cope with my emotional downswing, but it is Men’s Wisdom Works that took me from despair to hope.

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