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Successful Aging: Do men and women seek same gender role models?

Last we week we discussed a conversation between a group of highly effective men and women focusing on retirement and transitions. The men are members of the Life Transition Group; the women are from Project Renewment. (Pictured left: Ron Dresher, Bernice Bratter, Helen Dennis and Brian Harris.)

Members of both groups are or were passionate about their work and intent on creating their next chapter of life to be the best one possible.

Our topic for discussion was role models and how do we maintain interest and enthusiasm.

Here are some highlights of our discussion that related to the topics and more:


The meaning of role model was up for debate. Such a person could be a teacher, trainer, coach, and relative, one who inspires inspiration. The consensus was that a role model is a high-level influencer.

Some preferred focusing on “turning points” and who was there at the time. Other preferred the term “mentor” instead of role model, particularly when it came to business decisions. Another variation was being privy to a role model of ideas that require being open to ideas different from our own.

We had erroneously assumed that everyone at the meeting grew up with a least one role model. Not the case.

An entrepreneur indicated he only wished he had one as a child, finding he had to create one for himself. He also found the traditional meaning of “retirement” and “consultant” less than useful.

During his retirement he focused on what he felt he was supposed to do and “became a wreck.” He broke out of what he believed society expected and found his own pathway. Using the word “passage” rather than “retirement,” he helps people do what makes them happy by assisting leaders and CEO’s of small businesses develop their interpersonal skills. He never uses the word “consultant” and instead refers to himself as a supportive guy or helper. He clearly developed his own role model.


The question came up if women seek female role models and if men seek male role models. The answer is, “It depends.” For example a female theater producer grew up in a family of male lawyers. Yet her role model was her “Aunt Fritzi,” who advised her, “Don’t be like your mother,” who as a suburban housewife played cards most of the time. This special aunt “who died when I was 22, opened my eyes. She let me believe that I could be whatever I wanted to be and asked me the key question which I had never thought about: ‘Where do you want to be in your life?’ ”

Aunt Fritzi became a lawyer and was the first woman to serve as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission. She was described as glamorous and out in the world.

“I also wanted to be out in the world and perhaps for that reason I never see myself retiring,” said this theater producer.

In another case, a retired executive director and therapist sought out a male role model and mentor while serving on her first corporate board. And yet it was a female mentor who told her she was talented and would make a great psychotherapist or college professor. This mentor was an inspiration for her to pursue her career path.

Who becomes one’s mentor or role model may depend on the environment. One woman, an executive of a fashion institute, found women as her mentors for a good reason. The organization was run exclusively by women.


There was the discussion of what we do to be of interest to others. One motivation is to avoid being boring company. And why? A university faculty member offered one reason: Not wanting to be invisible. Older adults often are unnoticed; we fear and fight that destiny.

Having something to say that is of interest to others can help avoid the invisible syndrome. One approach is storytelling: how we tell our story and those of others. We learned from a participant who taught a Dale Carnegie course on organization communication that effective storytelling has a formula: Describe the incident; make the point and describe the benefit.

Our discussion varied between influencers in our lives and staying in the mainstream and avoiding being invisible. Both required us to be somewhat reflective and appreciative of those who have been our role models or mentors, our role to do the same for others while taking responsibility to keep our lives rich for ourselves and for others.

The theme of personal growth, passion, pleasure and giving back prevailed.


A reader from last year commented that she was irritated that this group of professionals couldn’t figure out what to do with their lives. She wrote: “If the retired and highly effective folks are not capable of figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives, why don’t you invite some ‘empty nester’ stay-at-home moms to help you out?” Some of us have been successfully navigating our lives, sans professional careers, quite productively with our identities fully developed.”

Here is my response: Great idea. Let’s do it! We should have a joint conversation. Additionally, I think the folks from these two groups are looking for enhancement, to be the best they can be and are committed to explore this new life stage, growing, learning from one another and continuing to contribute their best to their communities.

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