Transitions Network Helps Women Take the Leap into Retirement

By Susan Olp

Chris Easton taught school in Billings for 27 years, and spent the next eight working full-time as education outreach coordinator for the Montana National Guard.

When she retired in 2013, Easton found herself at loose ends. So much of what had occupied her time for so long was now behind her.

“It’s amazing to me the amount of time and energy that goes into your professional world and also your family world,” Easton said, sitting at a table in the Billings Public Library. “And then all of sudden the kids grow up and they’re gone and you’re retired and you start to lose social interactions from
people in the work world.”

Chris Easton discusses a book at Billings Public Library in Billingsin Billings May 18, 2016.

Chris Easton discusses a book at Billings Public Library.

So Easton, 61, was thrilled when she found a new way to connect with women who shared similar interests. Through The Transition Network (TTN), she discovered specialty groups that interested her and brought her together with other women.

On a day last spring, she spent an hour with seven other women at their monthly book club in the library’s cafe. The group is one of many specialty groups offered through the network.

Easton sat with seven other members around a pair of small tables pushed together. They chatted about their most recent pick, “The Book Thief.” During a lively discussion about the book set in Nazi Germany, the women dissected the plot and the characters, mentioning their favorite moments in the novel. By the hour’s end, all agreed that the book was worth reading, and then chose their next selection and went their separate ways.

That kind of gathering feeds Easton’s soul.

“I seriously needed it,” she said. “You can only clean house so much. All those things you think
you’re going to do, weed, paint, garden, read a book — but where’s the social interaction?”

Easton also meets for lunch once a month with another specialty group. She volunteers at the
Billings Clinic, as well as at Global Village. And sometimes one things leads to another, Easton said. That happened with the book club, whose members normally only see each other at the library.

“But all of a sudden we decided to do the Women’s Run, which turned into a brunch at Kara’s house,” she said. “It starts relationships beyond the groups that we’ve signed up for, via email or on the phone.”

Network launch
That sort of connection makes Susan Collins happy. Collins is executive director of TTN, a nationwide
organization based in New York. She traveled to Billings in April, to help celebrate the formal launch of the Billings chapter, which so far is the only one in Montana.

Collins said the organization has a simple mission: to support women, mostly in their 50s and 60s, in transition. The main focus is on women who are looking toward retirement or those who have already
taken the leap.

“The first thing we want is women to connect with one another on lots of different levels,” Collins said. “In social interaction through activities maybe around an interest — just anything to bring them
together because when we leave our jobs, a lot of us leave a network of women.”

The second goal is to help women discover what’s important to them at this stage and, how they want
to live their lives.

And the third is helping them figure out the impact they want to have, on their families and their communities, in this next phase.

Some women decide to pursue a new career in an entirely different field than the one they left
behind, Collins said. Others pick up an interest they left behind.

“A woman I knew in New York revisited her early love of being an artist, painting,” Collins said. “Now
when she’s asked what she does, she doesn’t say what she used to do, she says ‘I’m an artist.’”

Thinking about retiring

Jean Palmer, national board member of The Transition Network during the "Women in Transition" workshop at the Billings Public Library on Friday April 22, 2016.

Jean Palmer, national board member of The Transition Network during the “Women in Transition” workshop at the Billings Public Library.

Groups like TTN are gaining more traction, especially as female Baby Boomers have retired or begun to move in that direction. The composition of the 13 TTN chapters found in the U.S. vary, Collins said, from ones mostly made up of retired women to those who have a greater percentage still in the workforce.

“What’s interesting is the change of age and when that move is made,” Collins said. “In the late ’90s
women in their 50s were doing this. Then (the financial crisis of) 2008 happened, and now it’s
women in their 60s.”

Regardless of when women start contemplating retirement, or if they’ve already reached that point, there are ways, beyond finances, that they can help prepare themselves. With that in mind, TTN chapters offer “Women in Transition” workshops to do just that.

In Billings, 20 women attended a workshop in April held in conjunction with the official launch of the chapter. Put on by national and local TTN leaders, it was billed as “a workshop for women 50-plus who wish to navigate change successfully and create a meaningful life.”

During the four-hour gathering, national board member Jean Palmer talked about the difference between transition and change. Change is what happens on the outside, it involves external events, she said. Sometimes they happen to us and other times we initiate them.

“Transition is what happens inside of me, how I come to terms with change,’’ Palmer said.

“In both instances, we have internal reactions to it.”

She said it’s a time of letting go of things that were and reorienting ourselves to the way things
are, and then moving forward.

Women at the workshop completed what Palmer called a Wheel of Life, “a snapshot of where you are today.” Participants rated their level of satisfaction in 10 areas of their life: their job; health, exercise and hobbies; finances, relationships; spouse, partner or family; learning and growth; spiritual support; and physical environment.

What to do next
Later, after the women shared the results of their wheels, Palmer noted some common themes: fear
of retiring and not knowing what to do next; being able to pay for retirement; and a lack of self-care.

“We’re not really good at that last one,” she said.

The women also spent time at the workshop developing a strategic action plan for how they would approach the transition in their life, or how they could better deal with it.

One of the workshop presenters, Evey Lamont, is a member of the Billings chapter’s steering committee and coordinator of the special interest groups. Lamont, 65, was a school psychologist for 38 years before she retired last June.

She’s also a life coach and owns a business called Prime Time Transition and Retirement Coaching.

Through it, Lamont helps both men and women with transitions, especially retirement. At that point in life, there are many issues to work through, she said.

“I think the biggest thing is ‘how do I feel purposeful, how can I still contribute?’ ” Lamont said. “That seems gigantic.”

It may not hit a new retiree at first. Some people who retire want to let the dust settle, take time to
relax, enjoy the lack of a regimented schedule. But often at about the year mark, Lamont said, they
start looking toward what they can do that will have an impact, maybe on their family or their community.

“Another thing is ‘who am I now, what is my identity?’ ” she said. “Whether you’ve actually been
involved in a paying job or not, I think it’s true for everybody.”

Defining your future
She asks her clients a question to help them clarify their thinking.

“I say, if you’re at a cocktail party, do you introduce who you were or who you are now? ” Lamont said.

Evey Lamont Transition Network in Billings, Montana, Tuesday, May 17, 2016.

Evey Lamont of the Transition Network in Billings is a transition & retirement coach.

Not everyone who retires wants to regularly volunteer or get a job. She recommends to some clients that they consider finding a special project over a limited time, which lets them be flexible. Women who worked full time may not realize all that they’re leaving behind when they retire. Besides the social interaction, it can be a place where they get what Lamont calls “atta boys or atta girls,” positive
reinforcement that boosts self-esteem.

She found other strategies to help her transition.

“As I was contemplating my own retirement, I was thinking ‘how am I going to stay in a routine?’ ” she
said. “I’m involved with a lot of different little groups, a film club, a couple of book clubs, a walking group, a movie film group and lunches with friends.” It helped her develop new interests and enjoy friendships. She is glad to head up that aspect of the TTN’s Billings chapter, knowing how much they help her in her life.

Lamont talks about a tool used in the TTN workshop that breaks the transition down into three parts: endings, a neutral zone and new beginnings. She equates the neutral zone as the moment when a trapeze artist lets go of one bar but hasn’t yet caught the next one. It can be unsettling, chaotic and
even lonely.

“They can’t put their finger on what’s bothering them, they feel unsatisfied or anxious,” Lamont said.
For that, a group like The Transition Network or a bit of life coaching might provide help in the midst
of a life change that can be both unsettling and wonderful.

Susan Olp writes for the Billings Gazette at: solp@billingsgazette.com

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