Dorri Raposa had a big job. A senior vice president at HDR, a firm with 10,000 employees who provide engineering, architectural, environmental and construction services around the world, she was the first woman and non-engineer to attain that position in the company’s 100-year history. She was responsible for all business development and sales for the firm’s $1 billion transportation business line, which handled such major projects as designing bridges and subway systems, primarily in the U.S. and Canada.
“We had about 110 offices in North America alone, and I was on the road three or four days a week for at least the last decade of my 25 years at HDR,” she relates.
“I used to get on the plane and work from the time I sat in my seat until I got off the plane,” she continues. “Then I’d return the 30 emails that had come in while I was in the air. But as I approached 60, I began to feel the job taking a toll on my body. I’d get on the plane and just sleep.”
It was a wake-up call to begin thinking about retirement.
“Around this same time, the company was going through an evolution,” Dorri says. “Our senior leadership team was between the ages of 58 and 64, and we could hear rumblings from mid-level managers in their forties about when they’d have the opportunity to advance. We’d started transition planning, developing ways to help the up-and-comers step into senior roles when we retired—but we weren’t retiring!
The job responsibility was “mentally exhausting”
“There were so many competent women coming up through the ranks,” she continues. “If one decided to leave, I was the ‘fixer’ who talked to her and brought her back. It was mentally exhausting, taking on that responsibility on top of everything else.”
Another factor that brought the idea of retiring front and center was Dorri’s husband.
“He’s two years older and had retired at 62,” she says. “We knew we wanted to have more time together…we’d both worked long, hard hours during our careers. Sure, we took vacations here and there, but we canceled as many as we took due to work demands. We’d spent 40 years putting family and friends on the back burner.”
“And, who knows what the future holds?” she says. “I lost my sister, my best friend, a couple of years ago, and it makes you think about time being fleeting.”
As all these considerations converged, Dorri decided that the time to retire was nigh.
“My husband and I were in a good place financially—we’d planned for this and didn’t have kids,” she says. “But my biggest concern, bar none, was having no idea how much my sense of self-worth was wrapped up in my role as a corporate executive. What would be left of me when I’m not ‘Dorri from HDR’?
“Would I be able to let go?”
“Sure, I had closets to clean, book clubs to join and yoga to enjoy, but I wasn’t sure if that would satisfy me” she admits. “And I was so engaged in corporate goings-on, I wondered if I’d be able to let go.” There was only one way to find out.
Dorri made the decision to retire about 18 months before stepping away from work. She told her boss about a year out—he was slated to become the firm’s next president and she wanted him to know she wasn’t going to be around. She also wanted to make sure whoever succeeded him knew she wasn’t walking out because of that.
Her retirement was officially announced to the company about six months before her scheduled departure.
“My new boss asked me to stay a little longer—he said he needed my institutional knowledge—so instead of leaving in April I left August first,” she says. “During that time, I went to three-quarter time, then half-time, and it was like death by 1,000 cuts. Downshifting was hard for me because I’m either all in or all out. But I mapped out what I wanted to accomplish in my last two months and did just that. It was okay in the end.”
And since then?
Time to rediscover herself, her husband, her interests
“It has been a wonderful experience,” Dorri says. “My husband and I downsized to a condo in the city, and we’re exploring our new neighborhoods in a way we never could before, walking five miles a day together. It’s been so positive for us to rediscover each other as well.
“I now sleep at least seven hours a night—before it was five-and-a-half or six hours—no wonder I was tired!” she continues. “And my days are full…I’m doing yoga and taking barre classes via Zoom—I’m in the best shape I’ve been in in 25 years. I joined the Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass and am taking online classes and seminars. I’m doing lots of reading and it’s fun again. I’m rediscovering things I’ve always been interested in but had no time to engage in.”
She regularly reaches out to her great-nieces and -nephews over Zoom as their “favorite auntie.” She joined a committee in her condo association, and she serves on two boards: that of a small woman-owned engineering firm and HDR’s charitable foundation.
“My days are full”
“I don’t want to take on anything more,” she says. “My days are full, and I couldn’t be happier—even with the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus.”
The best thing about being retired?
“I love getting up when I want to,” she says. “My husband sleeps in and I get up and have a quiet 45 minutes or so to just drink my coffee and figure out what to do for the day—nothing big. I used to get up at 5:00 a.m. every day, go to the gym, shower, then run to the plane. I never noticed things around me. But now, on the walks we take, it amazes me the things I never noticed. I took a Mass. Horticultural Society seminar on trees then bought a book on bark. It may sound like nothing but being present and mindful like that is everything.”
After being so career-driven for so long, what gives her a sense of purpose in retirement?
“Being a good friend, a good spouse, a good aunt, a good sister,” she replies. “Just caring for people, and finding ways to be kind, like helping a neighbor with a debilitating disease take out her trash.”
Dorri’s advice for other women facing retirement?
“Don’t fear the unknown,” she says. “I really think there’s bliss to be found in exploring this new phase of life. I’ve bristled when people think you need to have a road map all laid out every day. All I wanted to do at first was sleep! But now I’m finding parts of myself I haven’t seen in years—and it’s wonderful.
What about you? Have you found that “less is more” in retirement? If so, in what ways?