Health & Fitness

Discovering new passions — and who you really are — in retirement

Evée Marie Miquel downloads her pictures with help from professor Joan Nurse at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
Evée Marie Miquel downloads her pictures with help from professor Joan Nurse at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.

For those entering retirement, opportunities abound to develop a second act in life.

“You can create a 20-, 30-, even 45-year plan,” says Miriam Moussatche-Wechsler, a licensed psychotherapist who teaches courses at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Miami on well-being, positive aging and positive psychology. “People should think of retirement as a new life with new potential. Do the work. Discover who you are today. It’s like being reborn. You can start a new life with no obligations or responsibilities for what others want you to do. Many good things can happen in this stage of life.”

The transition can also present unique challenges to individuals for the first time, whether they be financial, emotional, social or health-related. “Retirement is a special time,” recalls Ed Rosasco, 79, a retiree and former CEO of Mercy Hospital. “Every family has a story about what mom, dad, grandma and grandpa did. … You don’t turn a key and walk into a new life. It requires constant adjustment, and you don’t have control over the whole environment.”

Says Max Rothman, 77, a retired attorney who’s embarked on a retirement career as president of the Alliance for Aging, the Miami-Dade agency for elder issues: “Everybody does it a little bit differently. People have different interests, needs and desires for what they want to do.”

Some of the many options include pursuing passion projects, volunteering, mentoring, teaching, consulting, activism and lifelong learning.

Lifelong Learning

OLLI @ UM provides a multi-faceted curriculum for retirees who join the program’s 1,200 members, enroll in courses and possibly teach. With six-week sessions held continuously throughout the year, courses range from academics (philosophy, art history and law), to practical skills (computer basics and current events), leisure activities (mahjong, cards), the arts (chorus and oil painting), physical fitness and wellness (tai chi and personal development) and foreign languages.

Student Evelyn Larousse participates in the Italian class of professor Manny Rossi at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Miami in Coral Gables on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Sebastian Ballestas

While everyone is welcome, membership ranges from age 45 to 97 with the average age of 72, says OLLI director Julia Cayuso. About 30 percent of classes are taught by members and curriculum is driven by the membership. Social events, like a monthly lunch-and-learn series, are also woven into the program’s fabric.

History professor Robert Dawson teaches the triumph and tragedy of explorers at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. Sebastian Ballestas

“People today are so involved with work and often their social connections are through work, so when you retire you feel isolated and lose your daily routine,” Cayuso says. “This is a place where people find and make social connections. All of our classes are held in one building on campus, so you can stop by even when you don’t have class and have a coffee and build relationships.”

When Susan Rosenthal, 65, retired after 35 years of teaching in the Miami-Dade school system, she joined OLLI and enrolled in a Spanish class. Over the years, she’s also taken an investments course and yoga, joined the advisory council and taught canasta and book club.

For Rosenthal, OLLI is just one component of how she spends her time in retirement. “It happened on a Monday,” she recalls of her last day as a teacher. “I woke up Tuesday morning and said, ‘I slept eight hours. Now what do I do?’ 

After about a six-month grace period that she promised her husband, she went back to work part time at Nordstrom before returning to the school system, where she now works as a part-time reading specialist during testing preparation, putting to use her master’s degree.

“I love teaching and being with people. If I didn’t go back to work — I was forgetting things and losing track of time — it scared me,” says Rosenthal. “The kids make me younger. It’s really enjoyable.”

Passion Projects

For Rothman, working at the Alliance for Aging in retirement was a natural progression of his lifelong career in law and human services. Serving Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, the agency is an administrative funding hub for $35 million in state and federal money for home- and community-based services for older adults, especially those who are low income, disabled or living alone.

Their SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) program is staffed by volunteers and offers free counseling on Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance options.

On his decision to continue working through retirement, Rothman says, “I wanted to be engaged and challenged, working with a cadre of professionals interested in doing the same kind of work. There’s also great satisfaction in helping people. We’re socialized to participate.”

When Linda Quick, 69, retired as CEO from the South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association, she promptly launched her own consulting business. “I thought I’d go from working an 80-hour week to a 40-hour week. In reality, I’m down to about 60 hours,” she says with a laugh. “A lot of what I’m doing now as a consultant I’ve done for the last 40 years.”

She also volunteers for various boards, committees and task forces, including the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Camillus House and FAU Business School.

She has some straightforward advice to new retirees: “Look at what you’ve done as a full-time job. What parts did you like best? Do more of that. Get a bunch of business cards made and have them with you at all times. You never know when you might bump into someone who could use your expertise. Learn how to use social media, especially LinkedIn. And finally, don’t hole up in a room in your house with the computer and forget to go places.”

Rosasco was 62 when he stepped down from Mercy Hospital, an age that he realized in hindsight, was too young. “I thought retiring to the pleasures of what I earned was what retirement was all about,” he reflects. “I learned it was about finding a sense of purpose.”

He eventually found his purpose by teaching at FIU’s master’s program in healthcare management, consulting with Baptist Health and serving on various boards.

“If you’re not comfortable giving up the satisfaction of work and contributing to the world, don’t do it,” Rosasco warns. “Be flexible as you enter the early period of retirement. Let it evolve properly and look for ways you can be helpful.”

Volunteer Opportunities

Ricardo Casas, 65, spent about a year organizing his affairs and settling into retirement from Exxon Mobil as a marketing executive before volunteering with SCORE, a national network of 10,000 volunteer business mentors with 300 chapters, including Miami-Dade.

SCORE provides free mentorship and board of adviser services, as well as low-cost workshops to clients who register online. About 60 percent of SCORE volunteers are retired while the remaining 40 percent are still in the workforce.

After a career traveling internationally and supervising people in 30 countries, Casas was eager to find a way to become more involved in Miami’s community in retirement. Last year, he logged about 85 business trips across South Florida working with SCORE clients.

Ricardo Casas explains to his mentee Mayala Lanza the processes in business negotiation at the SCORE offices in Coral Gables. Sebastian Ballestas

“It’s very rewarding to see a client’s growth from the initial meeting to putting pencil to paper and solving a problem — probably more so than I expected,” Casas says. “I’ve learned a lot from clients and other mentors. It’s an opportunity to continue to grow personally and professionally without the pressure of a job.”

Ted Dieffenbacher, 72, retired in Miami with his wife, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, four years ago. After spending 30 years as an educator in eight different countries, he volunteers for two local youth programs.

At Coral Gables High, he’s a mentor with Take Stock in Children, where he meets with three different students individually about 20 times over the school year. He also volunteers with Empowered Youth, where boys and young men in trouble with the law learn entrepreneurial and culinary skills and eventually work to run a food truck and earn an income.

He served in the Peace Corps from 1967 to 1969 as a teacher in the Philippines and connected with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida when he moved to Coral Gables, which helped him get involved with the local community.

Recalling an old piece of advice from his travel — When you arrive in a new place, never turn down an invitation, unless it’s illegal or immoral — Dieffenbacher encourages new retirees to “get out and do something. Don’t wait for it to happen.”


Osher Lifelong Learning Institute @ UM


Alliance for Aging


SCORE Miami-Dade