Carol Orsborn

Why we don’t jump

The end-of-year earnings statements are trickling in — and that is the operative word: trickle. Forget abundant words, like burgeoning, swelling and proliferating. Instead of compounding, our retirement savings—along with most of my friends’ — have simply been pounded.

But while the nightly financial news reports a stream of high-profile male jumpers, the latest being (former) billionaire Adolf Merckle, we just pour ourselves a cup of nice hot tea and talk about moving in together.

I think we’re joking. But it’s not out of the question — at least down the road. At this point, many in my circle are just beginning to talk about putting their weekend homes up for sale, cashing in their timeshares and the like.

For many, this downturn marks the death of decades-long dreams of a particular vision of retirement. Grandmothers who had previously hoped to spend part of each year in cozy homes in multiple locations, one close to each geographically-scattered grandchild, now busy themselves with researching and buying the best video cam in order to attend birthday parties virtually.
Executives, who had been counting the days to retirement in order to devote full-time to their favorite cause, or writing their first novel, now redouble their efforts to be indispensable to the corporation for as long as possible.

One of my good friends, a well-known artist plying her trade in these hard times, recently confessed that she was thinking about supplementing her income by taking a job at Starbucks—primarily for the health insurance. And then, the Starbucks in her neighborhood closed its doors.

And still, we don’t jump.


Women 50+ are a resourceful and resilient lot. Despite the blows that are dealt us, we always believe we will figure something out.

As a generation, we’ve never easily put our trust in institutions, in the first place. Not since the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK and the betrayals of Nixon and Watergate. We knew we would ultimately have to take care of ourselves.

In our formative years, many of us rejected the materialism of our suburban upbringings and sought meaning through the creation of an alternative culture. We experimented with food co-ops, hitchhiking, communes and spiritual lifestyles that privileged the sharing of love over the accumulation of possessions. We spoke a lot about fulfilling our human potential.v
As we explored this brand new terrain—especially those of us who chose to exercise new muscles in the arena of work—money came to us, as a side-product of the growth of our capabilities. While perhaps we should have set aside more for a rainy day—we were the kind of women who preferred to put our boots on and play in the puddles.

And so, when we open our earnings statements—and see how easily our investments went away—we sip our tea, figuring out what accommodations we will need to make—some not so difficult, others painful. But we don’t jump, because while the years may have dimmed our youthful vision, and dampened our dreams of a particular retirement, we have never been tempted to equate our self-worth to the size of our 401k’s.


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