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Paul Burri: Retirement and the Difference Between Men, Women

Women value relationships, while a man finds his purpose and identity in what he does

You know about people watching, but how about people “listening”? I do both, but recently I’ve started to pay more attention to what people say rather than what they do, and I’m finding that frequently what they say is stranger than what they do. I am also finding that what they say dramatically emphasizes the difference between the way men and women think.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

I recently overheard one woman say to another: “You must be feeling much better. I can see it in your hair.”

“I can see it in your hair”? I suppose that makes sense to most women.

It seems to me that women are greatly concerned about their hair, and that a woman’s hair often reflects how she is feeling about herself. But can you imagine one guy saying to another guy, “Oh, I love the way you are doing your hair”? I can hardly imagine one guy saying to another, “You must be feeling much better. I can see it in your eyes,” or “in your face.”

As a matter of fact, most men I know would hardly ever ask another guy how he is feeling unless they knew he was recently in a motorcycle accident or fell off a mountain — but never about his emotional feelings.

Guys are “not allowed” to talk like that or even think like that. We have been taught from childhood that “big boys don’t cry” and, by implication, that we’re not allowed to have emotions — much less show them.

There is another huge difference between the way men and women think and feel. Ask the average woman, “Who are you?” and you’re likely to hear, “I’m a mother, a wife, a homemaker, a daughter and (eventually, perhaps) a bookkeeper.” Ask a man the same question and he’s likely to answer, “I’m an engineer (or an attorney or a truck driver or a plumber).” Notice that a man thinks of who he is by what he does rather than his relationship with others.

Is that important? Well, I’m sure it’s important when the time comes for a man to retire. When a man retires, he loses his identity. He is no longer an engineer or an attorney or a plumber; he is now nobody. Or at least there’s the danger that he might feel that way if he doesn’t find something to do with his life that will give him back his identity. He could become a mentor, a counselor, a docent or a volunteer.

I am convinced that for men, this is the secret of a successful retirement. Without a new purpose (and a new identity), he will gradually begin to believe that now he is a nobody, and that’s the kiss of death.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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