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Finding My Purpose in Retirement

Patricia in Boat on Lake Pend'Oreille, Idaho

Retirement is one of the hardest jobs I’ve had.

I’ve had a lifetime of being extremely productive and busy. My career path, starting in the 70s, was an explosive rise to the top. I made a ‘how-to’ film in college: “How to Have an Orgasm,” which was distributed to every US college campus.

Patricia with George Lucas While at ILM
Patricia with George Lucas (bearded, closest to camera,

By 1976, I started working on Star Wars as a production assistant, then to head of production at the very successful Industrial Light & Magic company. By the time my three children were born, I had started the first marketing department at the company. I stayed at ILM for over 20 years and then moved to ABC as an executive producer and marketing director, then at Rhythm & Hues, followed by a stint at Tippett Studio.

And that was before earning an MBA at UC Berkeley and Columbia later in life. I’m sure I had the lowest math score of anyone they ever let into the MBA program. By that time I was newly divorced and in my mid 50s and I hadn’t had a math class in 33 years. Regardless, my much younger classmates awarded me the “Distinguished Service Award” at graduation. And although I joked that I was hoping for the Best Dressed award, I was deeply moved and proud of this honor.

Patricia graduating from Columbia
Graduating from Columbia

Immediately upon graduation, I went back to work at the spinoff from ILM, Kerner Optical. We worked on some huge film projects, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, and Terminator. I was Executive Producer for about five years until management changed and the company went bankrupt. Rolling with the changes, I switched careers. I began to work as the Marketing/Sales Director at a private golf course in Richmond, California. I loved it for a while until my political beliefs clashed with some of the members and staff. That’s when I quit, sold my condo in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved into my sister’s home in Berkeley.

For a while I stayed busy as a grandmother, watching one set of grandchildren on Mondays and another set of girls on Fridays. But the need for my babysitting contribution diminished as the kids started school, and I began to feel adrift. Then there was a Covid pandemic, and some right hip pain which led to a hip replacement. No wonder I was getting bored and feeling useless.

During Covid I kept busy by writing my second children’s book based on the adventures of a family that grew up on my cul-de-sac. The main character, Bikini Bonini, is all about self-esteem. Although she is 6’ tall and 170 pounds at the age of 11, she believes her body is a work of art and wears nothing but bikinis. She sews them for every occasion. My granddaughters love Bikini, her wild three brothers and their Great Aunt Meanie (a real witch) who looks after them while their parents are pursuing the trail of the stink bug through Africa.

Now, post pandemic and post hip replacement, I’m busy again.

I’m swimming. I volunteer as an Ambassador at Tilden Golf Course two afternoons a week. I volunteer in the Berkeley Public School system once a week, and until recently, I responded to life questions from young people who wrote to ElderWisdomCircle.org. Recently the letters and messages seemed very troubling and suicidal, which is simply beyond my scope of advice, so I quit. Still, even though I absolutely love being a Golf Ambassador and working in the classroom, I’m still bored much of the time. I’m finding being busy isn’t enough. I still need to find my purpose in life, post-retirement.

Cover of Berkeley Hills Living Magazine May 2022 featuring Patricia with group housemates
Group Housemates on Cover of Berkeley Hills Living Magazine – Patricia far right

What is working for me in retirement? I’m three years into a group living experiment. I moved into my sister’s home with three other women. It’s affordable because we split the expenses, and socially it’s so much healthier. If anyone is feeling down, the others lift them up. We rotate cooking when we’re all at home and we all try to outdo one another so every meal is delicious. We have friends to eat with, watch tv with, support each other. I believe we are part of a trend toward group living by choice, not because we’re too old to take care of ourselves.

We know that there is an expiration date on our living arrangement. We’re aware that one in four elders will get a form of dementia. When (and if) that happens to any of us, we’ll reach out to the family and give them a date by which they need to make arrangements. We have agreed that none of us are capable of dealing with that type of caregiving situation.

Patricia graduating Basic Training US Army at 26
Graduating Basic Training US Army at 26

But with all that is good going on in my life, I still crave more activities. There is so much civic duty that needs to be done and I feel guilty that I’m not doing more and contributing more. My grown children recently told me that they think I should travel during my ‘still healthy’ years. So, with that in mind, I plan to do a river cruise through Europe in 2024 to see Vienna and the Prague.

Helping others continues to be key to my happiness. When I took a course on Happiness from Yale University, it reminded me that money, promotions, marriage, winning the lottery, none of these bring long-term happiness. Just a short-term bump. So, a friend of mine is a driver for Meals on Wheels, delivering hot meals and having a short visit with each of her clients. I might try that. It sounds satisfying and being of service to others is the best shortcut to happiness.

I have had a great career. I have three beautiful children and five marvelous granddaughters. I can remind myself that Hilary Clinton ran for President at my age, and that dynamic aging means I can reject the idea that I’ll never be the leader that I once was. I just don’t know what that will look like yet. It’s no wonder retirement has been challenging if I think my contribution is over. Now at 71, I’ll have the time to reconsider what kind of dynamic force I’ll be as I continue to age.

Patricia in group photo at ILM for movie Return of the Jedi
Patricia 1st row, 2nd left of ILM sign
Star Wars Wrap Party - Patricia with John Dykstra, special effects lead on movie Star Wars and Academy Award Winner
Star Wars Wrap Party – Patricia with John Dykstra, special effects supervisor and Academy Award Winner

Patricia Rose Duignan

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P. Rose Duignan was told at the age of 18 to become “the woman’s voice in media.” She did not. Immensely curious, she saw a picture at the age of 26 of a young military woman reaching for an M-16 while handing off her baby to her mother. This image inspired her to enroll as an undercover journalist through basic training with the first unit to train men and women together at platoon level for the US Army. She was offered a commission at the end of the training. Rose’s books are available on Amazon--Bikini Bonini: Queen of the Cul-de-sac and Bikini Bonini: On the Trail of the Stink Bug at https://www.amazon.com/Bikini-Bonini-Queen-Cul-sac/dp/1719052433

12 Responses

  1. You are a rockstar! But why didn’t you talk about your greatest accomplishment of all? Babysitting the Krumboltz daughters in the cul-de-sac next to yours on the Stanford campus? We didn’t influence your life in some profound way?! I love all your posts, your thinking, and can’t wait to hear about your next chapter! You go girl!

  2. Love your story, you have achieved incredible accomplishments! Looking forward to hearing about all your future chapters….your travels and other great new adventures❤️

  3. Rose, I absolutely love your post. This is an inspiring story of a book that keeps springing new chapters.

  4. Rose, i am so glad to know you and to have worked with you. Your story gives me A push to keep on doing what I’m doing! Writing children’s books and swimming. Still trying to get that New World Coffee table book going to demonstrate that ILM can design theme parks too! Not just Disney. Keep on going lady!

  5. Rose. I was lucky enough to get to work with you for a brief stint and to be in your incredible and dynamic presence. I, too, recently retired and my new passion is, at age 65 – teaching DANCE of all things?! I am a licensed Groove Dance Faciltator. Who would have thunk it? But I am passionate about creating an environment of permission, play and self-expression for all participants. It’s an absolute joy and my students range from their 30s to 80s. I hope I get to hang out with you sometime in the future. I’d love to reconnect. Your story is so wonderful. It makes me miss you!

  6. Rose, so glad we went out for lunch in L.A. before I moved back to Germany with my wife (3 years ago). We keep on following our dreams of untold stories and “Uncharted Territory” in our old home country at the coast of the Baltic Sea. And you are of course still kicking the tires and lighting the fires!
    Thank you for sharing your story. I just have to turn my head to the bookshelf on my left, and there you are: “Into the Digital Realm”.

  7. What a lovely group of replies. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading and for taking time to respond. Truly honored. Rose

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