What Do You Do All Day? Women’s Stories of Retirement

21 August 2015

What Do You Do All Day?
by Miriam Hoffer
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$21.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-25-6

Before reviewing Miriam Hoffer’s book What Do You Do All Day?: Women’s Stories of Retirement, I considered perceptions of retirement, then realized, through reading, how different perceptions often are from the realities. Do you view retirement as a desert of time? A period of loneliness, failing health, and disconnection from social and intellectual life? If you believe retirement is ”the last sad chapter” in one’s life, prepare to have your perceptions shaken up, for Hoffer-and the 25 women she interviewed about the “retirement journey”-paint a rosy picture of post-employment life.

Common to all in this engaging nonfiction book is the sentiment that they “have no trouble figuring out what to do with [their] time.” They volunteer, work out, take classes, travel, provide childcare for family members, and engage in activities ranging from meditation to piano lessons, from clowning to seeing the world. Hoffer, a retired dietitian, says her own launch into retirement was one of “delirious enjoyment”. She viewed it as “a never-ending vacation from obligation.”

Several in the book express a dislike of the word “retirement.” “Liz,” considers retirement “changing directions.” “Marnie,” a retired teacher, concurs: “I still don’t like the word retired at all because it makes me think of golf and funny hats and people my parents’ age when I was 30, whiling away the time with bridge and mah jongg and getting your hair done.” So what does “Marnie” do? She runs creative circles and mask-making workshops. She’s writing a book, and “travels to places that draw her spiritually.”

What one has done pre-retirement can influence happiness in retirement. “Gail,” a former teacher, experienced much variety in her professional life, and had wonderful models for aging in her active parents and grandparents. No suffering from identity loss in her story! Now she now teaches yoga, belongs to the Academy for Lifelong Learning, and, at 71, is still playing tennis.

“Katie” was a physiotherapist. She prefers to call retirement “a change in focus,” and says, “The day I die is the day you can call me retired.”

Hoffer explains that this book is for those “who can afford to retire.” In some cases, her subjects went on trial retirements. Some realized they were just not enjoying themselves at work any longer. They’d become tired, or had health issues. Some retired when 65 was the mandatory age of retirement, others stayed longer, continued part-time work in another field, or retired very early, like “April,” who had fully retired by 52. She assessed her life and decided that “once you’ve paid off your debts … quality of life is more important than having a new something.”

We are an aging society, and thus Hoffer’s insightful, upbeat and highly-readable book is also a timely one. It’d make a great gift for women friends, retired or not.


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