The wOw Conversation: Is There Ever a Right Time to Retire?


Mary Wells, Sheila Nevins, Lesley Stahl and Jane Wagner sat down to discuss the ifs, the whens and the whys of retirement.

SHEILA: You know what changed my view about retirement? Liz Smith.

JANE: Liz is an inspiration for us all.

SHEILA: Liz Smith gave me the courage to keep going, and to realize that I could do it because there was a role model. It’s very hard to find a role model in my industry who’s working in her 60s. It’s impossible. And just being with Liz and hearing her talk — I suddenly thought, “Fuck them. I’m going to stay until they kick me out.”

MARY: I mean, I think we’re all going to create — until we die.

JANE: All of you seem so turned on by life, still learning, still growing. I don’t see you all ever retiring.

MARY: You may go into another kind of field; you might change what you’re doing to something new.

JANE: Yes, you have the luxury of doing something different, taking a break to regenerate, maybe, but not to retire. Did you think there’d be a time that you would retire?

SHEILA: I thought I’d never grow old!

MARY: I haven’t thought about it at all either.

SHEILA: I woke up one morning and I wasn’t young. I didn’t plan for it.

MARY: It’s a shock, isn’t it? It’s a shock.

SHEILA: Yes, it is a shock.

MARY: What’s most shocking is that you feel exactly as young inside as you always did.

SHEILA: Yes. But a little wiser, don’t you think, Mary?

MARY: I think you are a lot wiser. But you look in a mirror and think, “Who’s that woman?”

SHEILA: I know that feeling.

LESLEY: That’s my mother.

SHEILA: That’s my mother. I think I’ll kill her.

LESLEY: Retirement scares me to death. I don’t want to retire. But I work for a company and I know that, one day, they’ll tell me it’s time. I so like what I do that it scares me. So I put blinders on and try not to think about it.

SHEILA: That’s just what I do. I do the very same thing. I just don’t pay any attention.

MARY: It’s changing — that you’re going to work where you are if you choose to, for years and years. That’s changing.

LESLEY: Well, Mike Wallace certainly did.

SHEILA: The thing is, you don’t want people to feel sorry for you. I once saw Maria Tallchief dance and she couldn’t quite do it. She should have retired because she couldn’t get en pointe.

MARY: But that was physical.

SHEILA: Yes, I guess.

LESLEY: You know, Sheila, you have raised the most important question: How will we know when it’s time and we haven’t spent one day too long?

SHEILA: Lesley, sometimes I tell the same story twice and I see this 25- or 30-year-old looking at me, and I say, “Did I tell you this yesterday?” And then I make a joke of it and I think, “Holy shit. At what point am I going to be doing that?”

MARY: Who cares? The 35-year-old you’re looking at can’t hold a candle to what you’re able to do.

SHEILA: I know, but you can’t help but feel it.

JANE: Sheila, a younger person would have attention deficit disorder and wouldn’t remember you told the story.

SHEILA: Yes, but they’d be taking Adderall, so they’d be OK.

MARY: You are all better today than you were yesterday or the day before. You are all fabulous.

10 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Linda Myers says:

    Isn’t retirement just doing what you love to do, gracefully. Not sure it is as much of an age, as a feeling. I have a ways to go yet, so maybe that thought will change at some point.

  2. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    I am a believer that the word “retirement” — SUCH A FINAL SOUNDING WORD — should be taken out of the vocabulary.  From my own observations, those without something throroughly rewarding to do are in the beginning of a downhill slide.  I believe we need reason to get up every morning — and good reason — and we find we are keeping our brains and bodies in tune. 

    Saying that, there is no predictability with the largest variety of health problems – already encountered by my friends – that tell us that we we either must stop what we are doing or change horses in midstream.  . and take a more sedentary positiion if we can.  I will take the latter when it comes — for having something vital to do keeps the mind off the infirmities that hit. 

    In the meantime, I don’t believe in crystal balls.  I believe in goals, being there, doing wonderful things for others, and soon becoming the oldest official in elective office in my state who still has the wits and long-term thinking in tact.  We all know that will not last forever — but while I can still produce as I do, I am giving my work” my all”. 

    We only have today.  We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  And so I want to make each day count, be excited over the variety of roads that I seem to travel on, and end up saying that I lived life to the fullest and be joyous in the process.  Could anyone want more?

    • avatar J Holmes says:

      Once again (Joan,I seem to type this often after reading your responses) I agree with you,  Retiring is such a harsh word.  Two years ago my husband received early retirement at age 58after 29 years with ***, seven years before we were planning on this event. Looking back it was probably for the best – it was thrust upon us & we just handled it.  Yes, it would have been better if the news had waited until our youngest graduated from college (she was a freshman at the time) but we were lucky compared to the majority of people; $$ would be less  but we were ok and we  would prioritize (thankfully we always planned for the future and saved).  The adjustment has been ok (his ego took a bruising) and we started doing things we loved: hiking, reading, relaxing, enjoying each other’s company.  I now look at it as a positive and our life just took a detour.  I have often said I’m so glad he did not die while he was working at ***; he is more relaxed and once again he is sporting a beard (he had one when we met in ’76).  He is retired from his employment but busy living his life.

      • avatar Joan Larsen says:

        Janet, how wonderful to find you on!!  Our husbands’ stories are similar.  . with my husband loving his position in the oil profession and doing well — and the BP bought his company, leaving the choice of moving to a place ungodly or “retiring early”.  . a sad tale that I believe is told over and over.  Fortunately, our lifestyle didn’t change.  The Godsend was that he had an all-emcompassing hobby that has taken us round the world — and still does.  He is extremely successful – as he had been – outside the business world so the transition was smooth.  I continued – and still do – to work and go my own way, making our dinner conversations filled with talk and plans and more.

        HOWEVER, the word “retirement” has a stigma to it in my mind — with the quotes of how many people die within a certain time after retirement (which is true).  IF the couple involved chooses to think of this time as steering life in a new direction that is stimulating and/or involving in others, it should be fine.  However, I watch this closely — and see too many resting on sofas, gaining weight, and not realizing that one-fourth of a good life may lie ahead.  . and there are opportunities and options out there.  If people know what the choices are and choose the sofa — so be it.  We all make our own choices.

        Wonderful that your life also is working out nicely — and the “enjoying each others’ company part resonates at my own home!.  Miss you, Janet!  Joan

  3. avatar Miss Lee says:

    I am 56.  If I could afford to retire, I would.  Since I have no choice, I will work until I physically can’t.  I would wager that there are far more women like me in this country than those who can financially retire and chose to work for a sense of fullfillment. 

  4. avatar Kathleen54 says:

    I view retirement as your move to your next adventure.
    At the age of 47 I decided to retire from teaching the year I turned 50 and end my 120 mile per day commute to start a new venture with my husband. I always wanted to own a BnB~my husband always wanted to own a gallery of mixed mediums. We now have come full cycle with our vision and opened our BnB/Gallery. He still has his full time job and I have the BnB and our Bulldog. Bliss.
    Always liked to be ahead of the game yet for some to be forced out of work due to age or economy is a major mental adjustment.
    The economy is bad but I know friends of my parents who love animals started to dog sit for local families thereby taking in a small income. They looked into Ins. and now have a nice part-time job they love.
    Retirement is not sitting around doing nothing. It opens your world if you have vision. I do not mean you have to have $$~there are so many volunteer opportunities open in all fields. Mentor a child or an elder person.  The possibilities are endless.
    Some just love being home to garden which at times after cleaning 4 bathrooms every day sounds like Bliss, LOL.
    Just enjoy your life each day ~ it is you’re only day.

  5. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Retirement is what you make it. Sometimes it is the end of one era and the beginning of another as we move into a more creative phase of life. I didn’t exactly retire I was forced into it as a caregiver for family. It isn’t a stigma for me but an evolving time of life. Yes I do miss having work with a paycheck but life happens and we go with the flow.
    This isn’t the end of my life just a stop on the path as I move forward. Some of my retired friends are doing some of the creative things they never had time for when working, raising a family and trying to keep the home fires burning. This phase of their lives is about them – not what others think because they are past that. They certainly aren’t the kind of person to sit in a rocker on the porch waiting for the end to come. One day I will be with them doing the things I can’t do right now.

  6. avatar jwil5423 says:

    Girls, this is one of the saddest conversations I’ve every witnessed.  You make it sound like your work defines you and that you need to hang on for dear life.
    I can’t wait to retire.  I love my work too, but not so much that I can’t think of a range of things I would rather be doing.  There are many more ways to contribute to the world than through working in the media.  Take the blinkers off!  There’s much more out there.

  7. avatar helenhin says:

    I retired from a 25 yr career as a public school administrator at age 55.  All I could think of was how much I wanted to do in the life that was ahead of me.  All my passions, hobbies and dreams could be worked on and fulfilled in the waking hours that I did not have to be at work!  Running with my dogs, writing, reading, gardening and cooking could easily fill my days but I also needed to stay involved in my community.  I signed up to be a volunteer child advocate in the local juvenile court, got onto a couple of local non profit boards and got my dogs certified as therapy pets.  There are endless opportunities in every community to make an impact in the lives of others, and if you are fortunate enough to be able to retire you will be needed!  Figure out where your skills are needed and give your time, and you will wake up in the morning knowing that your day is your own.

  8. avatar Randy Rolfe says:

    I agree with Linda and Joan. “Retirement” is really an outmoded word from the era when one job lasted 30 to 40 years! Today we change careers more than 4 times on average and rising. I actually “retired” from law practice at age 36, feeling that I had learned all I could from that experience and feeling ready to go on to write and teach about what I had learned from living life. At the time, people wondered why I had “switched careers,” but I was just ahead of my time! Now I am old enough that I sometimes say I’m a “retired lawyer” but I have to laugh because I have had several wonderful “careers” since then. It’s time we just start talking about what kind of work we do, whether it’s because we need the income, because it’s our passion or our contribution, or because we need to stay busy. The stats aren’t good about folks who retire to do nothing. We do need a reason to get out of bed. My mother always said she was busier than ever in her senior years.