Dr. Lisa Cowley and her husband, Victor Westgate, have spent about 15 years researching, self-exploring, traveling, and interviewing hundreds of people to be able to answer one question insightfully: What to do after retiring?
It’s a problem faced by millions of Americans each year, and one that will only get more common as more people reach retirement age in the coming decade. You spend years, decades, working towards the goal of one day not having to work anymore, and when that day finally comes, a crushing question usually comes next.
Dr. Lisa Cowley and her husband, Victor Westgate, have spent about 15 years researching, self-exploring, traveling, and interviewing hundreds of people to be able to answer that question insightfully.
Their efforts have resulted in a book, “Pack Lightly: Making Sense of the Second Half of Your Life”, and their experiences will provide guidance to anybody of any age interested in finding out that answer for themselves in an upcoming series of free workshops (called “Joy in Aging”) at the Rogers Free Library in January and February.
Cowley, 67, retired from her career as a chiropractor when she was 54. Westgate, 71, retired after 35 years of teaching American history and government at 55. What followed was a journey that involved multiple cross-country treks interviewing retirees, and a developing understanding that retirement can mean many different things to each different individual experiencing it.
“We found out their sense of purpose changes,” said Westgate. “They retire at a certain age and think, ‘This is what Im going to do’, and what that is ends up changing and becomes something different from the path they thought they would follow.”
“That’s what we want to express when we talk to people,” added Cowley. “You have that ability to be elastic, vibrant and constantly renewing.”
The couple uses their own retirement journey as a good example. First, they sold their Long Island home and moved to upstate New York to help care for Westgate’s aging parents, and started a shiitake mushroom farm. In the off season, they traveled the country in a mobile home with their dog, interviewing people aged 50-75 about their own retirement experiences, which provided insight for their eventual book. When his parents eventually passed, the couple found nothing tying them to the area anymore, and they eventually found their way to Warren in December of 2021 to be closer to Westgate’s son, who teaches at Johnson & Wales University.
“You’re lucky if you can be in an area with people of many ages, doing many things with lots of people in close proximity and plenty of things to do nearby. That’s Warren,” Westgate said. “Our neighbors are so outgoing and we feel we’re already very connected.”
And having a series of conversations on retirement in Bristol also fit the bill for the couple, as it was recently touted by AARP as an “Age-Friendly Community.”
And the secrets to retirement are?
Without spoiling too much of their series, Cowley and Westgate said that the basic tenant of their book rings true for most: that people navigating retirement should strive to be fearless in the face of unfamiliar uncertainty, and willing to shift and adapt as necessary to find what makes them happy in this next chapter — even if that path doesn’t become apparent right away.
“Instead of rushing to fill the empty void after retirement, allow time to let things come to you,” Cowley said. “Have some quiet time and if you get an opportunity while you’re examining life’s menu…if the choice isn’t a strong ‘yes’, then it’s a ‘no’. It’s not as if that strong ‘yes’ won’t occur if you revisit it some time in the future, but at that moment, if it doesn’t really stir some passion within yourself, then better to just put it on the side until it really does.”
“It’s true that you need to know when to hold tight and when to let go,” added Westgate. “‘Joy in Aging’ doesn’t mean everything is rosy, but you learn with all the changing, you can find good in it. We want to share that with people and give them encouragement.”
The series, which Westgate said will be much more conversational than a traditional lecture series, will be held on Jan. 9, 16, 23, 30, and Feb. 6 at the Rogers Free Library (525 Hope St., Bristol) from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Attendance is free and no registration is required. The series will also be available on Zoom to view remotely by visiting RogersFreeLibrary.org/featured-programs/.
You can find Cowley and Westgate’s book on Amazon or in your local library.