Productive (!) Retirement

retirement_relax_lakeThe culmination of a successful career is retirement, right?


Susan Lowrey-Flaherty should know.  She has been an Occupational Therapist for 50 years and has retired three times.  There’s a story here.


For many folks, retirement is an administrative process of receiving benefits that were hard-earned.  For others, it is a career change.  The days of a single retirement event signifying a transition from work to leisure are somewhat rare.


Susan has retired for different reasons each time.  Because Susan speaks in witty and profound sound bites, I’ll let her words tell the tale.


You are never too young to retire but may be too old to enjoy it.


Susan retired the first time in the 1970’s – relatively early into her earning years.  She had been working at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.


For two years, she traveled the world.  Susan spent some time as a migrant worker and housemaid-waitress with brief stints as an Occupational Therapist.  Her most memorable experience was being an assistant to a medicine man in Thailand.  She lived on $3.00 per day.


Susan wanted to see the world.  She retired early and did just that.



I forgot to retire in the 90s.


Susan’s second retirement was in the 1980s from Mercy Hospital in Chicago.  This retirement was punctuated by relocation to Savannah, Georgia.


Susan went back to work at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital.  In the 90s and early 2000s, she worked hard and squeezed in household chores on the weekends.  She made lists and crossed things off her lists.  I can certainly relate to this lifestyle.  Can’t you?


Susan was in her prime working years and had a stellar career.  But…



I made a New Year’s Resolution to listen to my shoulds and wants.


Susan felt guilty when she didn’t get everything done on her weekend to-do list.  Her frustration with herself grew to a point when she decided that something had to change.  While making her list one weekend, she estimated the amount of time that each task would require.


Susan had scheduled 40 hours’ worth of household work in one weekend.


So, Susan resolved to let go of the guilt.  She paid more attention to the things she wanted to do and acknowledged that there were some “shoulds” on her list that she could let go of.


Susan’s most recent retirement took place in 2014.  She still works two to three days every few months.



Question:  What do you do, Susan?headshot_lowreysusan1
Answer:  Anything, everything, and nothing…and not always in that order.


The Q&A above took place when I met Susan at a Chatham Commerce Club lunch.  She definitely captured my attention with her response.


When I asked her to elaborate, here is what she said:

  • Anything – What I feel like. I usually have a mental plan.  I was a list-maker years ago, but I don’t make lists anymore.
  • Everything – I am more engaged in the community. Besides exercise and yoga, I attend fundraisers, art gallery openings, and festivals.   Savannah has so many things to offer. 
  • Nothing – I decided to not feel any guilt. It’s perfectly acceptable to do nothing.



Melissa’s Thoughts


Guilt is not productive.  I see this play out with my clients often.  They retain books and magazines and to-dos and emails and surround themselves with guilt.  Letting go of these low-priority undone tasks is cathartic and leads to success in important areas.


Susan took intentional actions to remove the likelihood that she would be racked by guilt in her retirement years.  A planful person, Susan didn’t just abandon all responsibility and decide to live for the moment.  Susan confronted her own feelings of “should” and remembered the importance of “want” when planning her future.


I think that all three of Susan’s retirements have been quite productive.  Don’t you?


This article is a part of my #ProductivitySuperheroes series where I profile people who are exceptional at managing their time, tasks, information and/or life in general. If you’d like to nominate yourself or someone you admire, please email


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Janet Barclay

    That is quite a remarkable story! I am 60 with no plans to retire in the foreseeable future but our differences are what keeps life interesting, right?

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      I hear you, Janet. Susan has really incorporated the concept of “Letting Go” into her career quite profoundly.

  2. Seana Turner

    Retirement is an interesting word. I love that you point out that the idea of working all your life in one place and then coming to an abrupt halt is really uncommon. Most of us come and go into jobs and life stages. I actually find this concept refreshing and appealing. Not everyone has the ability to completely step away from work, but there may be another way to earn a wage and still explore a new lifestyle.

  3. Olive Wagar

    Isn’t it wonderful to be able to capture the essence of each season of life! We need to allow ourselves time to think about what really matters and what really makes our hearts sing. That will be different in each season of life. I made a big change to start my organizing business when I was 58, but I have such peace of mind about what I am doing that it doesn’t seem like work. It is my ministry to others.

    • Barbara Townsend, M.S., OT, FAOTA

      Susan played a significant role in my career. She mentored, pushed, encouraged and offered opportunities to me and to so MANY occupational therapists. I am forever thankful to her for modeling a meaningful career. I know that wherever she is, she continues to contribute powerfully to the world we live in. Best wishes, Susan!


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