One of my biggest fears, and I'm sure it's one that we all share as we age, is that I become incapacitated in some way. Sometimes, when I'm in the middle of a simple daily routine, I imagine what it would be like to live with diminished capacity in my limbs, or to have to endure chronic pain or paralysis -- making that small action incredibly challenging. When my mother lingered (briefly, thank God) after the stroke that ultimately took her from us at the age of 89, I got the chance to hold with her in those final days, and experienced her frustration and sense of being trapped inside her body.
Dealing with a similar situation prompted what became a career reinvention for Mary Tennyson, whose 92-year-old mother had become less and less mobile, but still wanted to enjoy her life. The paraphernalia of aging doesn't leave much room for practicality or elegance. Mary's mother still wanted to go out, but her walker was not capable of accommodating her handbag and accessories, making it awkward for her to go out in public with even a modicum of self-sufficiency.
"I looked all over for something that would make mom's life easier during outings that can be important time with family or just good for her health," Tennyson explains on her website, www.stashall.com. "I didn't want this struggle with her walker and her purse to be a deterrent to these trips that give her so much pleasure. When I couldn't find anything stylish enough to replace her purse, I just decided to make it myself."
The StashAll® was Mary's solution to this problem, born out of an important personal need, but developed with professional rigor and attention to detail, making it a viable commercial product, not just a handy workaround. The product was tested by seniors and caregivers alike who provided feedback that went into the final version. Mary assembled focus groups to work with and discuss the product, and these interactions proved essential to its roll-out. While the StashAll® was initially geared to women, Mary also introduced versions that work for men who face the same problems. She also created a version that is designed to be used by caregivers. Mary launched the Stashall® website in 2008, going directly to consumers, demonstrating how Boomers can take advantage of 21st century business models and readily available e-commerce technology to successfully leverage their ideas and expertise no matter how old they are.
A Purdue graduate with a MBA from USC's Marshall School of Business specializing in accounting and finance, Mary's career had been spent in information systems and technology, working for Xerox, Unitronix, and then her own Orange County-based ERP reseller/consultancy, Basix Business Solutions, which she successfully sold in 2000 at age 64. Since then, she had her husband have participated in a number of local non-profit organizations, and have taken a familiar path for many Boomers: focusing on giving back and making the world a better place.
Mary's story is another simple example of how there are resources and outlets available to all of us at every turn. Many of my fellow Boomers are struggling to follow a narrow career reinvention path that they believe is all they can do -- but that path is merely shaped by their past experience. It does not at all reflect the many avenues open to them. Maybe all they need to do, like Mary Tennyson, is look around them and dare to solve a simple problem close to their heart.