Judith, you’ve had such a rich and meaningful career. Tell us a bit about it.
I grew up in a stable and traditional home in Queens NY, but entered my teenage years as the hippie generation hit its stride. Although I had a talent for art, I lacked the passion to be an artist. Being an outgoing person did not really jive with being alone in a studio. I dropped out of college after 3 years, did a lot of menial jobs, found a great career counselor and finished my degree with a major in Psychology and Art. I then headed for a Master’s degree in Art Therapy. I always knew I wanted to work with senior citizens, possibly from the loving relationship I had with my grandparents. After graduation I worked in nursing homes and then got the career changing job of working in the first adult daycare program in NYC for people with dementia. It was a great program, with an extraordinary staff and institutional support. I also started teaching other professionals about recreational therapy with persons with dementia.
After that I became a consumer advocate for nursing home residents and their relatives, attempting the Sisyphean task of trying to make some change in a very dysfunctional system. Other jobs were with the National Center for Jewish Healing, a start up in the mid 90’s trying to help Jews use tradition and ritual as sources of strength during illness. I took 3 years off to birth and raise my daughter Emma — probably my greatest accomplishment of all. Then, some more development work and the opportunity to train volunteers to visit with people who were near the end of life. Whew. Then I was downsized from a very large non-profit after the 2008 recession.
As I started looking for new non-profit opportunities, then in my 50’s, it was hard to get the salary I deserved. I was also so burnt out from working for bad bosses and poorly run organizations. I found an article in the New York Times about a relatively new field, Senior Move Management, helping seniors downsize and relocate. I gave it a try and 10 years later, I am retiring from my successful company Judith Moves You. Working for myself was a revelation. Both very challenging, but totally liberating. I’ve learned so much but it’s also been physically and emotionally exhausting. Building and running Judith Moves You has been the most rewarding part of my career.
You’re retiring now — congratulations! How did you come to this decision?
It’s taken about 18 months to come to this decision. I’m 64. Running my company during the pandemic was not easy. I started getting tired and just not feeling as much excitement around the work. I ran the numbers and I realized I could retire financially, and over time started to envision a new chapter.
What does this phase of life mean to you?
I think it’s very exciting and precious. Exciting in that I can decide what to do every single day, do new things, and see what my natural rhythms are. I will be the only one determining what the day brings. I married for the first time 4 years ago and I look forward to sharing this time with my husband as he also retires. I think it will be so wonderful for us both to be relaxed each day.
This time is precious because we don’t know how much we have left and if we will have good health. I really want to cram a lot of travel into the next years if global health issues allow it.
You’ve spent so much of your career, working with people in this phase of life, or transitioning into this phase of life. How do you think that has impacted your own thoughts on retirement?
I am so hyper conscious of how our strength changes, mentally and physically. Since I’ve mainly worked in situations where people are ill, it probably has skewed my vision of this next phase. I’m trying to change that, acknowledging where my perspective is coming from. I know that I must take care of my body in order to have a long and active retirement.
Based on your professional experience, what advice would you give other women transitioning into this phase?
I think each person is really unique in this way. Certainly our individual finances greatly influence our options — it’s important to be realistic about that! Getting one's financial life in order allows us to make smart decisions about how long we work, where we live and what our options will be if we become ill. It’s important to be educated about housing or homecare for seniors if you need help, because it can be quite costly. Since women live longer than men, for those who have been coupled for a long time, it’s important to envision what being single might be like. It’s important to make sure that there aren’t parts of your coupled life that only one partner knows about - like finances, or how to turn off the water if there’s a burst pipe!
Talk to people who have retired and see what has worked for them. Many people find their identities through their careers. Explore how you might see your identity if you choose to retire or transition to a different type of work. As I contemplated this change, I envisioned saying to people, “I’m retired” and how it made me feel.
What does retirement look like for you? What are your plans?
The pandemic has given me the opportunity to imagine life outside of NYC where I have lived my whole life. For many New Yorkers, this is heresy but I can feel it’s right. My husband has changed countries several times, each time starting from scratch. Reflecting on that, I think I can be brave enough to change cities. I want to be closer to nature. We are going to move to Florida for most of the year, heading north to be near our children and grandchildren during the summers. I’m very excited. If you had told me even 5 years ago that I would be moving to Florida, I would have said “no way!” But, I am glad this will be our last cold winter.
Change can prompt such mixed feelings. Is there anything that you’re nervous/concerned about?
During the process of deciding to retire I was quite anxious, but I took my time until it felt right and now that I have done it, I am feeling pretty relaxed and excited. I am going to miss being in relatively close proximity to our children and grandchildren, but I think we will actually have more quality time with them when they come to visit for extended visits.
Taking a moment to give a shout out. This series is all about seeing and celebrating women in our midlife and beyond. We are honored to feature you and hear your story, but we also would like to offer you a moment to honor someone in your life that you are moved/inspired by. For big reasons or small, tell us about a woman who you’d like to recognize and why.
My daughter Emma is 24. Since graduating college and really coming to her own we have been working on our adult relationship. Being a single mother by choice, our dyad has been intense, and her teen/college years were not easy for either of us. But now, our work is really bearing fruit as we get comfortable sharing with each other. She has become my hero because I see how hard she is working on herself. I think she is emotionally brave. What more could a mom ask for?