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These Women and Men Compared Notes on Success

A meeting of two transitions groups found similarities and a difference

By Helen Dennis

Recently, I brought together in Los Angeles one group of women and one group of men — all in their 60s and 70s and who’ve had highly accomplished careers — to talk.

The subject for discussion was: “What are the influences that have shaped our current life?” A key theme shared by the women and the men was the motivation to succeed.

What fascinated me was how much the views of both genders matched — and also a key difference I noticed.

(MORE: Creating A Career Transitions Group for Women)

The women’s group is a local chapter of Project Renewment and the men belong to the Life Transition Group of El Segundo, Calif.

I started Project Renewment (renewment is a combination of retirement and renewal) with my co-founder Bernice Bratter in 1999 as an opportunity for career women to meet monthly and discuss their transition to retirement. Today, there are 30 chapters around the country that have grown virally; Bratter and I also wrote a book about the forum and movement we started, Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women.

The Life Transition Group began several years ago when Ron Dresher and Brian Harris, both long-time successful marketing and advertising professionals, went for a bike ride along a Southern California beach and talked about what they’d do after their dynamic careers. Knowing that there was more to life than working and wanting to be more knowledgeable about this time of their lives, Dresher and Harris formed their group of like-minded men.

The Life Transition Group is guided by what its members call “CHAIRS,” which stands for Charity, Health, Achievement, Independence, Relationships and Spirituality. The acronym helps them define new identities and establish balance in their lives.

(MORE: I'm Retired: So Who Am I Now?)

The women and the men repeatedly noted two key influences that shaped their current lives: their parents and fear.

Parents A former chemical engineer and businessman who identified his parents as drivers to his success noted that because his family were farmers, they were able to avoid internment in World War II. The message from his hard-working parents was: “Do your best, stay calm and do the right thing.”

One female engineer and program engineer said her “tiger father” was partially responsible for her success. When receiving a “B” in school, her father would ask, “Why isn’t it an A?”

(MORE: When Men Should Handle Money Like Women)

Fear One of the men, a consultant to CEOs of family-owned and mid-sized businesses, said fear was a strong motivator in his life. Born in New Orleans and growing up in South Central Los Angeles, he knew that if he didn’t change his environment, he’d wind up like most of his high school friends — either dead or incarcerated. Knowing he didn’t want to die as a teenager, he said, “fear was my torch.”

A former marriage and family therapist and executive director said her fear of poverty was her motivator to success. Her father was an immigrant, working seven days a week to survive. In her case, hard work was an essential value and a prerequisite to succeed.

What Else The Groups Said

As you might expect, this meeting of the women’s and men’s groups led the conversation to other interesting topics. For example:


Travel demands and career decisions  A female software engineer said that after she was away for as much as 35 weeks a year, she modified her work schedule for more balance in her life.

A male engineer and management consultant had a wakeup call when his son asked: “Daddy, where do you live?” He subsequently left his career for a less demanding one, a decision that eliminated extensive travel and gave him both more time with his son and an opportunity to take a leadership role in a nonprofit organization.

Giving back  A powerful statement on this theme came from the management consultant to CEOs. Reflecting on his humble beginnings, he said: “We don’t just give back; we do what we need to do…it’s a moral obligation.”

He quoted the famous Mark Twain line, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you found out why.” This man knows why he was born. His volunteering now includes being a Big Brother to three UCLA graduate students from Nicaragua.

Freedom This word came up quite a bit but meant different things to different people.

A retired female university educator said that financial security provides her with a sense of freedom and a feeling of external independence.

A male business owner said he gives his employees the opportunity to take time off from work to see their kids play soccer and participate in other family activities. “Give them freedom and it all will come back to you,” he said.

One Key Difference Between the Groups

Based on our rich discussions, it was evident that our common experiences and responses to them shape who we are today, rather than our gender.

That said, I did notice one difference between the women and the men that’s worth noting: Women raised their hands to be recognized; men just spoke.

Ladies – we still have a way to go.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and retirement. She co-authored Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women and writes the Successful Aging column for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group. Read More
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