Before retiring, Smallman worked in a construction office for 40 years. Upon her retirement, at 61, she picked up a pen. One year later she had published her first novel, "Margarita Nights."
"Once I no longer had to do what I needed in order to survive,” Smallman said, “I could focus on what I loved." In retirement, Smallman found she had the time to explore her craft. As it turns out, other people enjoyed reading her mystery novels too.
In 2004, Smallman was a finalistFinalist. Opens a new window in your browser. in the Debut Dagger Awards, hosted by the Crime Writers Association in the UK. By 2007, she had won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel and was approached by McArthur & Company to publish her work. Today, at 69, Smallman is working on her ninth novel.
“For me, retirement was about finally having time to explore my passion," Smallman explained. And while Smallman's creative success may feel like an outlier, research shows she's not alone.
Paving an Avenue for Freedom
Women across North America are saving more throughout their careers to enjoy creative liberties later in life. They're taking notes in new lectures halls, and exploring new philosophies, libraries, and museums.
Most importantly—they're showing the world that retirement is anything but a quiet cliché and instead demonstrating a new zest for life.
Today, 40 per cent of Canadian universities offer programs specifically targeted toward older adults. And, according to Dr. Bill Kops, Director of Education at the University of Manitoba—who is writing a book on education in retirement—almost 80 percent of the attendees are women.
Women are enrolling in courses ranging from literature and art history to neuroscience and foreign language and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are full. “Our registration has quadrupled in the last seven years," Dr. Timothy Pychyl, Director of the Centre for Initiatives in Education at Carleton University, said about his program.
According to Pychyl, investing in a lifestyle shift during retirement, like pursuing further education or developing a new hobby, is not only enticing, but it can also aid mental and physical stamina. Learning for the sake of learning, he explained, is very different than going through the motions of a job you've been doing for years.
“Learning about new things improves mental clarity," he stated.
Pychyl's findings are backed by 2016 researchResearch. Opens a new window in your browser. from Harvard Medical School, which found that the process of acquiring new information can stimulate brain cell growth at any point in a person's life. Having the ability to learn something new, the Harvard study found, can keep individuals cognitively strong. For those in their later years, this can also mean enhancing the retirement experience.
Money in the Creative Bank
Financial freedom, of course, can be a double-edged sword. While more North American women are saving enough to take advantage of retirement adventures, they're also putting in more hours on the job.
According to research by Statistics Canada, the employment rate among women over the age of 65 has grown rapidly in the 2000s. In 2005, 4.8 per cent of senior women were in the workforce. By 2015, this figure had climbed to 9.1 percent.
And while seniors working through their sixties and seventies can mean a commitment to careers and signs of longevity, it can also be a result of financial pressure. Statistics Canada also found that among Canadian senior women in the workforce, more than half—53.2 percent—were part-time workers. The vast majority of these workers were doing so voluntarily, however, it is important to note that nearly 8 per cent worked part-time out of financial necessity.
These statistics, while not alarming, are something for women to consider when it comes to planning for the Renaissance art history class they've always wanted to take, or tackling that half-finished screenplay that's been sitting in the closet.
The reality is that while both men and women need to be prepared for their retirement years, women tend to be less retirement ready than their male counterparts, relying on the advice of family and friends. Although 27 percent of Canadian men over the age of 55 do not have a steady retirement plan in place, 43 per cent of women face this same financial insecurity.
As women prepare for the retirement of their dreams, it's important not to be overwhelmed by these figures, but to instead keep in mind that creative freedom isn't always as simple as picking up a paintbrush. Most times, it's painting the luxurious retirement you want by first putting money in the bank and in thoughtful investments.