I’ve wanted Irene Smith to be a guest on my podcast for a long time.
And not just because she’s my stepmother.
When we’ve talked to folks whom I would consider “successful retirees” on this show, there’s a common theme: stay active. Whether you continue to work, start volunteering, or throw yourself into a favorite sport or hobby, retirees have to make an intentional effort to get off the couch and maintain connections to their communities and their loved ones.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone in their 80s should drive solo from Florida all the way to Kansas City – without GPS – like Irene did in order to visit me! But I do think the way Irene lives her life is an inspiration to all of us who are looking ahead and preparing to make the most of our Golden Years.
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“Sitting does not do you any good.”
“I’m 82 years old and I plan to live at least to be 100,” Irene says. And when you listen to how Irene spends a typical day, well, you believe her!
“I right now live on two and a half acres,” Irene says, “and the day that I have to sit in the house and look out the window and can’t do the work anymore I’m moving to an apartment. But until then, I have 20 years to enjoy it. I love gardening, but Florida is not a place to raise a decent garden, so everything I have is in pots: my tomatoes and my peppers, a lot of flower plants, probably 50 of them. My property and maintaining it and raking all the leaves keeps me busy.”
Gardening was also a popular new pastime for folks during the pandemic, and there have been studies that link gardening to increased longevity. All that fresh air and sunshine can be invigorating, especially after we’ve all been cooped up so much. But Irene has spotted an even more basic reason why gardening and other activities have her in better spirits than some of her peers.
“Most of them don’t move,” she says. “They don’t exercise, they don’t work. Once my feet hit the floor every morning at six o’clock, I’m on the go. Sitting does not do you any good. I just think that you have to keep moving. You can’t stop.”
“Every Monday is a volunteer day, 100%.”
When she’s not in her garden, exercising, or painting her son’s house, you can probably find Irene at her church.
She says, “Religion is very important, but also the camaraderie with the people. Before Christmas I spent two weeks, 24/7 almost, at my church and I don’t get paid for it. I always say, if I’m an employee I have to do it their way. If I’m an individual and volunteer, I can do it my way. I clean the hall, the offices. Every Monday is a volunteer day, 100%.”
As Irene says, the great thing about volunteering in retirement is that you can find a specific niche that you can really make your own as you give back. Some folks, like Irene, pour their energy into helping an established group that they love. Others, like my good friend Joe Ratterman, repurpose their lifetime of business expertise to organize and build out new charitable missions. Finding the right outlet for your skills and a new routine that you’re excited about every day is one challenge of retirement that can help you gain purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.
“Why am I wearing heels? Because I can.”
In her working days, Irene was one of the first female executives at Wright’s Liquid Smoke in Kansas City. You can imagine the kinds of challenges a determined woman like Irene faced as she climbed the corporate ladder in the 1950s. Back then, she didn’t like being told what she couldn’t do because she was a woman. Today, she doesn’t like hearing about what she shouldn’t do “at her age.”
“I always wear high heels to church,” Irene says, “and I put a dress on and look like a lady. People will say, ‘Why are you wearing high heels?’ I say, ‘Because I can. The day I can’t, I will wear flats.’ My life has not changed that drastically other than it just takes a little bit longer to do things, and I get angry with myself when I can’t pick up this big flowerpot of dirt that I used to be able to. I have to struggle with it now rather than ease through it, but you still got to keep doing it until you can’t do it.”
I hope that listening to Irene will remind anyone who’s anxious about retirement that this life transition isn’t an end. It’s a beginning. Once you stop working, you’ll still be you. With a little forethought and some prudent financial planning, you could have decades ahead of you to keep learning, growing, travelling, giving back, and, yes, wearing heels.
Thank you so much, Irene, for joining me on this special episode. For more stories of successful retirement living, check out my conversations with Kansas City radio legend Darcie Blake and my friend Dick Blaisdell.
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Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with nearly three decades of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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