Joan’s Story: Lessons on Adventure, Travel, and Retirement from a Project Manager

The following is from a conversation in September between retiree Joan Gurasich, at Little House Activity Center in Menlo Park and 70 Strong Lead Navigator Theodora Kyle-Singer.

What struck Theodora was Joan’s warm demeanor and her approach to transitioning from a high level Product Management and Marketing executive in the heart of Silicon Valley to a lifestyle of retirement. Joan graciously agreed to sit down over coffee to reflect on her life, decisions and philosophy on entering this stage in her life.

Joan’s story, for this purpose, begins with years of experience in the computer software and telecommunications industry, as one of only a handful of women in the field early on. She was fortunate to have benefited from 45 years of experience in the workplace with respected colleagues and a husband of 37 years. After losing her husband she returned to familiar roles in order to cope. She traveled alone or with college friends. Following change in executive leadership, she lost her job in the summer of 2013.  While emerging from this situation, Joan spent a year reflecting on what was most meaningful to her and what she would like to do next.

Joan created a goal-oriented plan, set in the familiar structure of project management, handwritten, where she established topic areas with a plan in each and a time frame for completion. These areas centered around keeping her mind active, physical exercise, and engaging with others, her values for thriving gracefully and well. While developing her approach to this new stage in her life, she drew upon experiences of many others including three 95-year-old mothers of friends who inspired her to engage in trekking travel, as part of exploring cultures, geography, history and language, in an active way.  “Adults learn by doing.”

Among the questions she asked herself was “What constitutes good quality of life?”  The result: Joan began to seek out groups for hiking outings and exercise classes, classes in topics ranging from comparative religion to neuropsychology to mythology to Japanese block prints. “Things I didn’t take in school,” she says.  She sought out operas and concerts, speakers in community forums and bookstores, and decided to travel four times a year to hiking destinations, beginning with the Inca Trail, New Zealand, Bhutan, Antarctica and northern Norway above the Arctic Circle.

Hand-written monthly goals include areas labeled:

  • New destinations
  • Visits with friends & family
  • Education
  • Events
  • Health
  • Maintenance (home environment and self-care).

Joan also includes reflections on “disruptions,” which identify reasons she may not have met a goal, a type of self-assessment of her efforts. Some goals are as specific as reading a book a week or cooking “real food” three times a week.

Joan reviews her goals at the end of each month to reflect on how she did, again drawing from her years of the Management By Objectives (MBO) model familiar to corporate settings. This approach allows managers to take essential work one step at a time to allow for a steady, yet productive work environment.  Self-reflection on these goals includes self-statements where they apply, e.g. “I did well at that.” A morning routine for Joan includes a daily reading that reinforces gratitude, reminds her of her husband’s influence, and positive self-statements while sitting in a quiet place in her home.

Joan stays on top of new opportunities to expand her horizons, takes up new challenges, and credits some local programs including 70 Strong for keeping older adults fit, sharp and healthy, as positive contributors to her well-being. She reads about good health and quality of life as it relates to aging. She makes a point of keeping her annual exams and addressing health issues.

Upon sharing with Theodora examples of her gratitude and inspirational writings that she reads daily, as well as her written goals, Joan says, “I appreciate your listening. It helped me realize why I do what I do. We are always growing and learning. Thank you!” And finally, her words of encouragement to others aiming to thrive as well as they age: “Figure out what’s important to you and start small and do something.”  Finally, she credits her Management By Objectives approach as “getting me to 70 Strong!”

May Joan’s example be one way for others to ponder goals they would like for themselves and help articulate what they value as they age well.

Look to this day…for yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision but today well-lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
–from the Sanskrit

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