How do women reinvent themselves later in life?
Thelma Reese’s journey as an author followed a career as a professor of English, and then as director of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on Literacy.
In 2013, she and Barbara M. Fleisher, who died in 2016, wrote The New Senior Woman: Reinventing the Years Beyond Midlife (Rowman & Littlefield), a complement to the blog they had started a few years earlier, “ElderChicks.”
Reese, now 84, started the blog because “we were looking at women around us, many of them faking it. What was taking up their time? Playing bridge? There wasn’t much else. And many of them weren’t happy doing all that.”
So Reese, one of the founders of Philadelphia’s Young Playwrights, joined with longtime friend and writing partner “Bobby” Fleisher, an author and retired professor of education, to launch ElderChicks.com. The site is now geared toward mature women “including those well below 50,” Reese added with a laugh.
This year, they published The New Senior Man, a companion book (available in bookstores and online) about how men cope with later life and explore new opportunities.
“Men are getting a lot of bad press this year. They need some good press – especially the good men out there,” Reese said.
“This whole brouhaha about the work environment — that’s what has changed since we wrote the first book. It’s good that it’s all coming out, although I cringe when I think there will be plenty of overreaction, too.
“For women in the workplace, facing this kind of stuff is a power play.”
Reese was at a political convention some years ago when a friend was physically assaulted by a popular Democratic senator — she won’t say who — but “I’ve never been able to look at him without thinking about that. It was horrible.”
What about the men in their new book?
“The men in the book are really good people; they need their stories to come out too,” she insisted.
Stewart depicts “that time of late life I call the October years, when many of us face a new, challenging landscape — a place where tried and trusted answers may no longer apply.
“That universe of aging, often-solitary seniors is larger than you might think. Those October survivors have spent decades dealing with life ‘up close and personal,’ creating experiences that lend depth and texture to their stories,” he writes. “Each of them is coping with unforeseen, life-changing circumstances — a spouse’s infirmity, financial realities that threaten their very relationship, incompatible priorities for their future, and other challenges.”
Reinvention sometimes means coming back into the workforce, rather than leaving it for retirement — and that’s what Apres Group specializes in for women.
Ellen McNamara, an art educator, left the classroom when she had a family. Now 49, she longed to use her skills in a way that still gave her time to be with her children.
The Ridgewood, N.J., resident joined the networking website ApresGroup.com in May 2016 as a way to network back into work outside the home — although at first, she wasn’t sure it would apply to her field.
“I was on LinkedIn, but that’s more social than professional. And I hadn’t been working in the corporate world, so it was tough to use effectively,” McNamara recalled.
She heard about Apres through a mother connected to her kids’ playgroup.
“I was nervous as anything going into an interview. But Apres understands where women are coming from — they understand the space, or skill set, in your resumé,” said McNamara, who “aggressively” volunteered around her town and kids’ schools. The Apres job-seekers package costs $49 a year.
“I taught art for 10 years, so I channeled that and got a name for how I set a table and style my own home. That led to styling for house tours, fund-raisers, and event planning. All of that was cumulative, and Apres got that.”
She was hired by VIYET.com within a month as a curator for the website, which sells high-end consignment furniture and home designs. Other employers, such as PFM, an asset-management firm in Philadelphia, also signed up with Apres Group to diversify their hiring pool.
“Some women aren’t out of work as long as I was, but many want to change direction. I pivoted, and Apres allows that as well,” McNamara said.