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Rebecca Milliken
Gaining Altitude -- Retirement and Beyond
Have you ever shuddered at the thought of retirement? Considered it a fearful, even inconceivable proposition? “Retire? Why in the world would you want to do that?” In Gaining Altitude, Rebecca Milliken tells the saga of her odyssey into retirement after turning 60; an odyssey that included changing much more than she had anticipated. She invites the audience to accompany her in this memoir as she recounts the highs and lows of laying the groundwork for retirement, making the leap, and finding her way to what lay beyond. The journey she describes is one without a playbook: the ambivalence and second-guessing, the leap and the limbo that followed – opening the way for the surprising and even exhilarating experience of free fall and freedom, then a “rewirement” – the discovery of an entirely new avocation – writing. This memoir invites the reader to think differently about retirement. It beckons those with long careers to imagine what might come next: the cultivation of unimagined possibilities in retirement.
In her debut, a hybrid work between memoir and self-help, Milliken deftly addresses the complexities and emotions of choosing to retire from full-time work. At age 63, after 30 years as a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., Milliken made the difficult decision to retire and reinvent herself as a writer—no small feat in a city that measures human worth by accomplishments. Shedding her longtime identity as a therapist amid criticism from others about her choice, she took a leap of faith into uncertainty.

After an uncomfortable start in which she questioned what on Earth she should actually do with all her new time (learn Arabic? Volunteer for the Red Cross? Take up pickleball?), Milliken began to relish retirement, learning to ask herself new questions: “What seems important now that wasn’t before?” “Who am I if I am no longer who I used to be?” One of the most liberating aspects of retiring, she writes, was the opportunity to learn by doing and not to fear the possibility of making mistakes. “Mistakes are mirrors where we get an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly than usual,” she points out, as encouragement to those facing similar fears and thoughts. Milliken also celebrates the freedom to let her thoughts meander, to allow the random and the trivial to float through her head as a means for sparking creativity.

Milliken’s expertise as a psychotherapist is evident both in the introspective way that she chronicles her journey and in her wise and measured words—words that will strike a chord with readers contemplating their own next acts. A helpful list of books for more on the topic will also guide readers as they prepare for the imposing life change that is retirement, though readers will likely feel that Milliken’s own account, centered on how “this freedom invites me to be, not do qualifies for such lists itself.

Takeaway: Anyone with mixed feelings on the precipice of retirement will gain insight and comfort from this wise account.

Great for fans of: Gene Cohen’s The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, William Sadler and James Krefft’s Changing Course: Navigating Life after Fifty.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-