How do you transition after a successful, high-powered career? With creativity and forethought, women can overcome outdated attitudes and remain valuable assets. As the founders of Lustre, Karen Wagner and Erica Baird are redefining what “modern, active” retirement looks like for female Boomers. They share tips on laying the groundwork for a purpose-filled second chapter in life. For more advice, visit Lustre.net.
00:03 - 00:13
Welcome to Women & Wealth, I'm Beata Kirr, the Co-head of Investment Strategies at Bernstein, and this show aims to educate and inspire women to make the right choices for their wealth.
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Earlier this year, I had a chance to sit down with Erica Baird and Karen Wagner, two women who are fighting to redefine retirement for modern career women as the founders of Lustre. Obviously, a lot has changed in the world since we spoke. So we delayed the release of this episode for a number of months to pivot on the crisis at hand. But we do think the time is right now to continue to come back to this message and this focus on transitions.
00:51 - 01:13
Their message in particular is about women remaining vibrant throughout a long period of retirement. And that message absolutely resonates today, especially at a time when society's needs overall have skyrocketed. So I hope you enjoy this episode. Well, welcome, everybody.
01:13 - 01:30
Today, I'm excited to be with Karen Wagner and Erica Baird, who are the founders of Lustre.net. I feel the need to spell that for you. So it is L-U-S-T-R-E.net. Now, what is Lustre.net?
01:31 - 02:00
Well, they're going to tell us a lot about it, why they launched it, and why it's important. But the very big picture is that this fits squarely into our transitions discussions. We've talked about how women are making all kinds of transitions throughout their life. Some of them chosen transitions, some of them unfortunately not chosen transitions. But this is a transition that is a happy transition, but is not always the obvious path for people. It is really the transition to retirement.
02:00 - 02:11
And how do you define yourself after you have spent so many decades building a career? So kudos to you for building the website. Welcome and thank you. Thrilled to be here. Awesome.
02:12 - 02:33
Well, so why don't we get started and talk about this concept of the modern and active retirement? I want to hear about how you got together and how Lustre came to be. Well, Erica and I have known each other since law school, which was many, many decades ago. So we got to be friends and we practiced and we loved our jobs.
02:33 - 02:50
And then one day we retired and we had not prepared even one second for retirement. And we were dismayed by some of the things that happened right after we retired, one of which was we lost our identity to a certain extent.
02:50 - 03:14
We have been very identified with our jobs and our firms and what we have been doing for 40 years. And now we had not the institutions, not the jobs, not the friends, nothing. And we had to rebuild everything for ourselves. And we felt that other people were going through the same transition. So we decided once we figured out what we were going to do about it, that other people could have the benefit of it.
03:14 - 03:21
And let me stop you a little bit, because you talked about a long career, but I want to get some clarity on where that career was.
03:21 - 03:52
Well, I was at a big Wall Street law firm. I was the first female litigation partner at the law firm. And I had a just fabulous time for the whole time I was there. And I was, I started out as a litigator at a law firm and then decided that that really wasn't for me. And was lucky enough to be one of the first women that went inside. Now, that's a big thing. But back then, there were very few people that were even thinking about going to be inside counsel.
03:52 - 04:17
So I was the first woman at one of the then Big eight accounting firms, and then I retired as a partner in one of the big four accounting firms. So you were really pioneers in your industries. And I would argue firsts in many ways, whether it was Wall Street firm or as a general counsel. And so that's a very big transition to go to.
04:17 - 04:49
I think, as Karen said, what was so surprising is that one day you're busy and everybody thinks your time is valuable and the phone is ringing and you have an office, and you're kind of have a place in the world. And then the next day you have none of that. When somebody says, what do you do? You don't have any sentence that doesn't begin with the past tense. I was you know, I was I no longer am anything, but I was something.
04:50 - 04:53
So you're kind of at sea.
04:53 - 05:19
And I think while people prepared us for this notion that, it didn't prepare us, but we were aware of the notion that you could go and be retired and play or play golf or do any of those things. Nobody really even mentioned to us, much less told us to think about the identity piece of it. So neither of us had problems finding stuff to do.
05:19 - 05:32
I mean, you can go to museums and you can drink wine at lunch and you can do a whole bunch of stuff you never did, because that was really good for six months. And then you say, I can't do this for the next 30 years.
05:32 - 05:35
I've got to find some way through this.
05:35 - 06:09
And that's really how we started saying, OK, we can't be the first people to think like this. No. And then we trolled the Internet and said, OK, we're the role models. Where's the website that's going to tell us about all this? And there were zero for women that had worked that we're facing all these kinds of issues. And so we said, why is that? And the answer was we were the first large numbers of women that entered the workforce and stayed until retirement. Exactly.
06:09 - 06:30
Exactly. And as you referenced this before, we were some of the first in our kinds of careers and we made our way, pushed our way into where we got and we began to realize, OK, we're here again. Now we have to start again to figure out what are we going to do next? How are we going to shape it? We do not intend to be put aside.
06:30 - 06:54
Well, I want to thank you for being pioneers and the industry's first, even though I'm not in law. I recognize that law and finance still remain the two fields that remain the most male dominated and I would say arguably the toughest for women to get to those senior levels. And then I'm going to say a double thank you, because maybe one day I'll retire and then you will have forged the path as to how we transition that identity.
06:54 - 07:27
So one of the things you talk about in Lustre is that you feel that there's really these outdated attitudes about older women in retirement. So tell me more about that. Well, we think there's really no picture of retiring women. There was, of course, a picture out there of older women and usually women started getting to be older women when they were about 40. And then they became totally decrepit and either they fell over and they couldn't get up or they sat in rocking chairs looking vacant. I kind of feel like that now, at 45.
07:27 - 07:46
I feel like that sometimes, but that's not how I wish to appear. And so we said to ourselves, this is not a valid picture of this particular generation of women. This generation of women is active and we want to work, by which I don't mean we want to do what we were doing for 40 years.
07:46 - 08:04
We don't want to work 24/7. We are enjoying having some time to ourselves, but we want to do purposeful things and we want to be shown as people who are attractive and mobile and doing something, not sitting around looking goofy. Vibrant.
08:04 - 08:30
Exactly. Just add to that that the, it occurred to us that older men are perceived to be different than older women. I mean, I'm not by any means suggesting that men don't have the same problems that we do. They do in terms of agist... I mean, the society and ageism is an issue for everybody. But there is something different between how older men and older women are perceived.
08:30 - 08:45
If you feel like that's starting to change, I would just say what I've noticed in advertisements for financial services. First of all, I would say years ago you didn't even see women in the advertisements. That's completely, first of all. So thank goodness, that has changed.
08:45 - 09:06
And we know why we talk about it all the time, because women are controlling more financial wealth. But do you feel like that's changing for the generation of women? I think many of the images are of younger women. And if there is an older woman in the picture, very often she's sitting next to some gentleman who seems to be the one doing the talking.
09:07 - 09:21
So we think there's probably a little way to go, but we are very happy that it's starting to go in the right direction. The ordinary older woman doing something purposeful, as Karen said, in the world is still what's missing.
09:21 - 09:53
So, Erica, I've heard you mentioned purpose quite a few times, and that really resonates with me and certainly with our business in terms of making money meaningful for our clients. We talk a lot about making sure your money is going in the place that you want it to go, that it's not accidental, that it is intentional. Now in retirement, what advice do you have for women who are now preparing for retirement, when intentional moves should they make to help with either their identity and sense of self or their finances? I would say a couple of things.
09:53 - 10:26
One, I think it's very difficult to prepare for retirement if you have been working in a career that you loved. You can think about things that you want to start doing before you retire that you will continue to do afterwards. So you're not left with a blank calendar and all those other shocks and you can mitigate some of those shocks by filling in blanks, but there, you have to recognize that there will be a period of mourning because there's a loss of something that you care deeply about.
10:27 - 10:52
But in terms of doing things intentionally, I think from an identity perspective, you've got to start thinking that if you don't want to be done with the world in which you lived for so long, you don't have to be done. But for the first time, you really have to make that happen, you have to start thinking intentionally about what do I like about my life before I retired and what don't I like?
10:52 - 11:06
Maybe you miss the smart conversation, maybe you miss the learning. So how do you start thinking about those, you know, filling in those things that you now don't have so automatically but you need to create for yourself?
11:06 - 11:35
How do you, practically speaking, do that, though? Well, for example, if you miss being with people your, who are smart, you know, good conversation, then you have to think about where am I going to find that? So for me, I'll speak personally. I looked for classes that I would enjoy. So ultimately, I found, in fact, some of my closest friends that I travel the world with now are people that I met in classes.
11:35 - 12:05
So it's equally important to be in a place which attracts the kind of people that you want to be with. Similarly, if you want to do something purposeful, maybe it's a mission at a nonprofit, maybe it's not. I just say quickly, with respect to money, I think it's important to recognize how much disposable income you have too and where you want to spend that. So I think you've got to think about where you think your money can make a difference and what gives you pleasure.
12:05 - 12:27
Mm hmm. And once you have retired, you may not have a full-time purposeful activity. So you can do something entertaining if you have some money. What I did was I got a pilot's license, which was very time consuming and very amusing and very much unlike anything I've ever done in my whole life. And it certainly was a brain-clearing activity.
12:27 - 12:45
I learned all kinds of things I've never, ever would have learned earlier. But then there's other things you do want to do and you can start thinking about them while you're working. Like, what are the kinds of nonprofits you're interested in? I don't personally enjoy being on boards, but I do enjoy advising nonprofits in other ways if I can.
12:45 - 13:14
And one final piece of advice I'd give anyone is never commit to anything in the first couple of years, because if you start to panic and you commit to something that.... We've learned this lesson the hard way. Just wait. You're going to regret it. Everybody wants to get you to do something that they don't want to do. So just don't do anything until you know what you want to do. You know, that advice is actually consistent with our last episode in the transition series that we've been doing.
13:14 - 13:43
When I was speaking to the women who founded WealthWorks, who helps advise women when they either come into substantial wealth or going through a major transition around money and ownership. One of their key caveats and rules was wait before you make big decisions, because there's this overwhelming urge by everybody that's advising you and pressuring you to make decisions, in the case of retirement, maybe less outside forces pressuring you, maybe more in your head.
13:43 - 14:15
But very interesting. No matter what, whether you've been successful professionally or you just find yourselves in this big transition, I think there is this natural psychological tendency to resolve and move on. Absolutely. The only other thing I'd add, and I think it's important, is, you know, in a workplace, you have intergenerational people. You're working with young people all the time. And for us, I think part of what we missed so much was that world. We don't want to be in a world with just older people. It's not interesting. We don't learn enough.
14:15 - 14:24
So when Karen took flying lessons, you were with young people, young people. And when I took my some of my classes, very young people.
14:24 - 14:57
And you continue to find ways to make sure that you're not segregated. I have to just just say that everything that you're saying is really resonating with me so much. My mother retired now five years ago, and I think you would all get along famously. So my parents took up tango lessons, postretirement after a trip to Argentina, partially because to stay fit, it was a great hobby. And they love being around younger people. I digress. But what you're saying is really resonating.
14:57 - 15:18
It's not an easy transition and it's fun to see all the different things that people discover that weren't in their past. So what are the other retirement possibilities that you have seen Lustre really help women pursue? And tell me more about how Luster plays a role with connecting women or what was your goal or how do you see it developing?
15:19 - 15:35
Well, one of the things we really wanted to do with Lustre was to talk to people who are not in our cohort to say, listen, this group of people has a lot of experience, has a lot of resources, and has a great desire to work and to stay in the world.
15:36 - 15:58
And you guys need to figure out how to allow them to do that. So, for example, we had an experience where we tried to get a job that we were going to share, being paid nothing to advise a nonprofit, not on the board, but on strategic issues, and the nonprofit could not figure out where to slot us into the organization.
15:59 - 16:23
So they decided they couldn't use us on anything except the board. And we, that caused us to realize people have to change their ways they are thinking about work. We don't want to run the place and we don't want to be interns. We do have a lot of experience that's useful for a lot of things. And so we want to sort of be on the side advising at high levels and we have achieved that now in certain kinds of job structures.
16:23 - 16:45
But we think that the rest of the world has to think about this and think about how to use people who are a bit older. And then, of course, we want our cohort to think about that, too. How do you want to work? And we want to then connect people up in either through the site or in gatherings that we have so that they can talk about and think about different ways to participate in the world.
16:45 - 16:53
Right. I mean, I think we we see it as an advocacy platform. If he really thought it through, you'd say, OK, the millennials have it right.
16:53 - 17:20
They've kind of convinced corporate America that an independent contractor, freelance model for those people that want to work that way is actually a good thing for them, too. And there's been a meeting of the minds between millennials and corporates that they can be integrated effectively into the workforce by working differently. But that independent contractor, freelance model works perfectly for us, too. Mm hmm.
17:21 - 17:41
So I think part of our advocacy is saying, if we don't want to work full time in the same way we did, but we want to work purposefully. And so what else are you, what are you, how else are you spending your time in addition to Lustre now? What were the things that you learned? And you said, this is what I want to be doing today?
17:42 - 18:16
Well, just like Karen is into flying and got her license, I had a lifelong passion for design for spaces. How do people design their spaces and live in their spaces and what does it say about them? So I have been taking design classes since I retired. So that's, so that occupy some of my time and it's fun. And I love going to artist studios and I love how design reflects history.
18:16 - 18:45
So it's really a way into, you know, why is this piece of furniture designed and made the way it is? And it turns out it's a way into the history of the time. Karen and I both have spent time reinventing how and where we live. So we have spent years kind of moving out of old places and into new places. So that's been kind of fun. We both have children.
18:46 - 19:20
They take time, no matter how old they are, they take time. They do take time. And then we play. We travel. Yeah, and the other thing I think we have to mention here is through Lustre, we have met all kinds of people that we never would have met in our prior professions. And they have introduced us to all kinds of ideas and thoughts and areas that we didn't spend too much time in before. Women's health is a big issue that we're becoming familiar with, and other areas are just looming large and we're thinking about them and writing about them and meeting people.
19:20 - 19:31
And it's it's really broadened our horizons greatly. So we're enjoying that part of it, too. And yes, as Erica is saying, we play, we still occasionally have wine with lunch and we travel.
19:32 - 20:05
You have to continue to make me jealous with the wine with lunch comment. And it's great to to hear just how intentional you have to be about making decisions about retirement and how early you probably have to think about that. So I actually think I should be an avid reader of your site. Right. Even if I am 20 years away from retirement, to really identify the issues that you need to start planning for today. If you want to be on a board in 20 years, that doesn't just happen. You have to create that path to the future. And I don't want to put words in your mouth. I think I've already heard you say it.
20:05 - 20:24
But I do want to ask in a bit of a final question. You've been pioneers in your industries, respectively. You're now a pioneer in starting a conversation for your age group. Right. And gender group at the moment. What do you want your peers to take away from all of your efforts?
20:24 - 20:57
What wisdom would you like to impart? I think we really want them, our peers, our cohort, to understand that they do have power and they do not have to accept being put aside. They can stay in the world. They can exercise their power, especially if they do it with other people and they can become an important force in the world, which will keep them young and happy and healthy until that grand time when they seriously are going to retire, which is when they go to heaven. Mm hmm. Yeah, I would say the same.
20:57 - 21:27
I think we would be successful if people started saying that retirement wasn't the end, that for those people that aren't done yet, you can be the same interesting, energetic, flirty person you always were and continue to be that person. There's no reason to stop. It's just a new, the only thing you lost is your job. Everything else remains the same.
21:27 - 21:58
And if you start thinking, I have not five years like the old days, but, you know, 25 or 30 years, I have a whole another life span to do something really exciting with. You know what? I'm an asset. It's an asset. I can use it. Then I think we will have considered ourselves successful. That's wonderful. Well, I ask all of our guests about what funding your favorites means to you. And if I could just refresh what that means to us. We talked about intentionality.
21:58 - 22:17
We talk about, you know, quite literally getting the credit card statement at the end of the year, not being in the least bit surprised that the biggest category is what you meant to spend on. So I do try to ask all of our guests, how do you think about funding your favorites and what are some of those intentional financial decisions you've made that you're excited and passionate about?
22:17 - 22:41
Well, what are the things that I've learned in the recent past is that I could give all my money to my children and then they could decide what to do with it. But actually, I've decided I want to decide what to do with it. So one thing I've learned is I will give to the interest that I'm interested in now. I will, of course, have enough for my children to be happy, but I want to make the decisions.
22:41 - 23:12
So I would say that first and foremost, I think the city in which I live, New York, I'm passionate about. And it appalls me that there are so many underprivileged children in this city that have neither a good education nor food, for that matter. So a lot of my money goes to an organization called Friends of the Children that actually supports mentoring for those kids so that they see a different future than the one that is laid out for them.
23:13 - 23:30
Well, thank you so much, Karen and Erica. It's really been great to sit down with you today. You're really an inspiration, not only in terms of leading the path in your careers, but obviously in your next phase. And I want to just summarize what I've heard from you, that pausing makes a lot of sense.
23:30 - 24:01
It's a big transition and accepting the magnitude of that transition rather than diving headfirst, making decisions that you might regret is one of your biggest takeaways. And another big takeaway I heard is that you really have to plan early. Way early for laying the groundwork for what that future path in retirement looks like, that it is far from the end, is just a new beginning of hopefully 30 years plus where you're making a difference in a different way. And I think that's a great place to close.
24:01 - 24:18
So, Karen, Erica, I really want to thank you again for joining me today. It's been such a pleasure to sit down with you and hear about your journey. Well, thank you. Thank you. And for all of our listeners who are wondering where to find more insight like this, you can find that at Lustre.net.
24:18 - 24:46
So it is lustre.net. And if you want to connect with us at Women & Wealth, you can email us the old fashioned way at WomenAndWealth@Bernstein.com, or in a more modern way, you can reach us on Twitter at BernsteinPWM, and you can also reach me directly through LinkedIn. Bernstein: Making money meaningful for individuals, families, and foundations for over 50 years. Visit us at Bernstein.com.
- Beata Kirr
- Co-Head—Investment & Wealth Strategies