Retirement Rebels: Helen Hirsh Spence

by | Jan 6, 2021

Retirement Rebels: Helen Hirsh Spence

Our first ‘Retirement Rebel’ interview of 2021 features Helen Hirsh Spence of Top Sixty Over Sixty, which provides businesses and individuals with the resources necessary to thrive in today’s rapidly changing and ageing world. A for-profit social enterprise, Top Sixty Retirement Rebel Helen Hirsh Spenceadvocates for age diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

I’m really looking forward to sharing Helen’s responses with you. In the meantime, if you’re a rebel too, and you’d like to be part of this series yourself, email me at [email protected].

1 Do you consider yourself retired – and if not, why not?

No, I don’t consider myself retired and, frankly, I have grown to dislike the term ‘retirement’. For me it connotes an end stage of life that belongs to a previous generation, but definitely doesn’t pertain to me. The word has baggage, negative baggage. Retirement has become associated with the concept of “a waiting room for the end of life” – at least for me.

2 How do your thoughts on retirement differ from most people – in other words, what makes you a retirement rebel?

I think I answered that above. I am still working, albeit in a new venture.

3 Do you have a typical day? What does it look like?

I don’t have a typical day any longer. My life used to be a lot more structured during my 35-year-long career as an educator, which I Ieft over 10 years ago. Up to that point, my life was dictated by the sound of bells indicating class changes. I now relish not hearing that sound.

Prior to COVID, I was actively involved with Board governance of various Not for Profits and had regular commitments with friends and family. I also travelled extensively. My new venture required a lot of structured time with colleagues, but it still never resembled work in the same way as when I was in school systems

Due to COVID, my current life is a lot less scheduled. The only firm appointments today are scheduled around workouts with my trainer 3 days/week. Everything else is more fluid.

I spend most unscheduled time researching, meeting people (now online), learning and writing, blogging and speaking engagements related to Top Sixty Over Sixty. I love spontaneity when possible.

4 What’s been your proudest moment since you turned 50?

This is a really tough question. I will break it down into 3 parts…

Physically: Summiting Kilimanjaro and trekking in the Bhutanese and Nepali Himalayas.

Mentally: Starting a social enterprise in my late 60s, Top Sixty Over Sixty. This has been an entrepreneurial and learning challenge which is multi-faceted. I am exposed to something new daily. It’s exciting and although it’s work, I am totally engaged.

Emotionally: Becoming a grandparent. This is one of the highlights of my life. I am proud to have such wonderful children – and now, grandchildren.

5 Do you have a favourite quote that inspires you?

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” Bernard Shaw

6 What’s your favourite social media channel, and what was the last thing you posted on it?

I love LinkedIn. This is where I am able to connect with ideas and people globally. I post daily and believe our last post was about how COVID has been a double whammy to women, especially older women!

7 If you could tell your 18 year old self one thing, what would it be?

You shouldn’t go into relationships with the expectation that you will change the other person. You only have control over yourself and your reactions.

 8 When did you last belly-laugh, and what was it about?

I don’t belly-laugh easily but when I do, I do so hard. This doesn’t sound funny at all but it was funny! I was getting onto a raft in a river, and trying to stabilize it for my 4-year-old grandson. Instead, I tipped it over and almost drowned him. This was witnessed by 10 bystanders who saw the humour in it as well. My little grandson also found it very amusing – once he caught his breath again!

9 Do you have any regrets?

Not many – but definitely a few. I wish I had been more compassionate with regards to the challenges of ageing that my parents had to face (mostly alone) because I lived in another country. I also didn’t fully understand the importance of the bond between children and grandparents until I became a grandparent myself.

Getting together was always an undertaking either for me or for them due to the distance. I wish I had been more generous with our time with them, and now realise that no matter how much time one has with grandchildren, it is never enough.

10 What are your aspirations for retirement – how would you like to see the way the world thinks about life over 50 change?

My life’s work now is dedicated to reframing the conversation about ageing. With the Top Sixty, I want to help people reinvent themselves with confidence and agency; and, provide a wake-up call to society to consider the value that older adults bring to the workplace, community, and voluntary positions.

None of this is meant to diminish the value of younger generations, but rather advocate for all ages.

Ageism is detrimental to individuals, society and organisations/business. It is the only “ism” that is still socially acceptable and therefore, it is rampant in Western culture.

Our youth-centric focus has to change. The largest demographic shift to “older” is upon us and yet governments are not paying enough attention to it. I could go on and on but won’t.

George Jerjian
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