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Advice for Successful Career Women Transitioning to Retirement – Helen Dennis

What retirement advice for women would an expert offer?  Helen Dennis has helped thousands prepare for the non-financial side of retirement planning.  She recently celebrated the 18th anniversary of her popular weekly column Successful Aging. In this episode of our retirement podcast we asked Helen to share her views on a range of topics that can help you retire smarter:

  • Why the term retirement needs to be retired
  • The backstory of Project Renewment ®
  • The key themes she’s seeing in Project Renewment®  groups
  • What the different issues are that men face in this phase of life
  • What gets in the way of freedom in retirement
  • The pros and cons of a busy retirement
  • What Joy has to do with retirement
  • Her advice on how to navigate the transition from a full-time career to retirement

Wise Quotes

On Life Purpose and Retirement

“I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for retirement. Because when you’re working, you don’t have to think about purpose. You know exactly why you’re there. You know what you’re supposed to do, you know the expectations and you know the rewards. So, someone says, what is your purpose in life? As you’re working 50 hours a week, you say: my purpose in life is I get to work, do my job to support my family. So now we take all of that away and said, you know, it’s almost existential. You say, well, who am I now? Why am I on this planet? What is meaningful to me? And if you’ve never thought about that for the past 35 years or 40 years of your career. This is possibly a new thought and a new conversation. I think it is absolutely fundamental to have a meaningful purpose in retirement,  to have some sense of purpose – and it can be a journey.”

“Your purpose in the first five years may be a different purpose in the next five years. I think it’s a journey. I think talking about it in groups, in conversation groups – even with your book group – is very helpful. I think finding purpose can be hard as a solo activity. I think it’s one of the biggest challenges in retirement. You could be busy, you’d have a full calendar, but that sense of purpose may be missing – and a big piece of purpose often is giving back. That can be a very fulfilling aspect. It’s a challenge. It’s a process.”


On the Freedom of Retirement – and Life Changes

“Well, I think there is this feeling, particularly if you’ve had a high-pressure job, if you’re commuting in Los Angeles, and if you’ve had 12 changes in management that now you can breathe and say, Oh my God, I am finally free. I can sleep longer. I can breathe, I don’t have to hyperventilate. And so, there is this great feeling of freedom and then the unexpected occurs.  The unexpected like your adult children move home for whatever reason. We have grandparents raising grandchildren. The biggest one that seems to move into this space of freedom is caregiving. So, I think what we need to prepare for it is that freedom is not 100% of everything. We may have freedom and spirit, freedom of movement, freedom of thought. But we do have responsibilities. And the biggest one that seems to come in is caregiving.”


On Joy and Retirement

“We have a lot of environmental influences that can creep into our joy. And I love the definition of joy is the feeling of grinning inside…There are a lot of complexities of life and people go through their own struggles and yet you say, okay, this is a joyful time of your life.”

“Joy is not a word that is usually associated with aging and you don’t usually hear joy and retirement. So, it’s trying to shake that paradigm a little bit to say this has the potential to be the most joyful period of our lives. And when people are looking for joy, you’re saying, all right, how do I make myself joyful?”



Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. She has received awards for her university teaching at USC’s Davis School, Andrus Gerontology Center and for her contributions to the field of aging, the community and literary arts. She has edited two books and written more than 100 articles and has frequent speaking engagements. She is the weekly columnist on Successful Aging for the Southern California Newspaper Group and has assisted more than 15,000 employees in preparation for the non-financial aspects of retirement. In her volunteer life, she has served as president of five nonprofit organizations. Fully engaged in the field of aging, she was a delegate to a White House Conference on Aging and is co-author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, “Project Renewment®: The First Retirement Model for Career Women.” Helen has extensive experience with the media including Prime Time, NPR, network news, the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee and Christian Science Monitor. She recently has been recognized by PBS Next Avenue as one of the 50 Influencers in Aging.

Project Renewment is available on Amazon




Project Renewment

Sucessful Aging column


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Interested in starting a Project Renewment®  group and have questions? Contact Helen Dennis at [email protected]


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