Nine years ago, one of our executives who happens to be a marketing genius, walked into my office with an idea that I thought was completely crazy. He said we should try to get Betty White to be a spokesperson for our company. As a lifelong fan of the The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the The Golden Girls, I smiled widely and then told him he was nuts. White was a household name, and I was running a growing but still small company. How do we even get a meeting, I asked? How could we afford her?
Interestingly enough, at that time, Betty hadn't yet had her latest renaissance. This was after The Golden Girls but before Hot in Cleveland, the Snickers Super Bowl commercial and the grassroots effort that landed her on Saturday Night Live. Those elements worked in our favor as was the fact that she wasn't super busy. Most importantly, at that time, I didn't know Betty like I know her now. In the past nine years, she has been featured in our advertising, starred in our music video and even let us animate her for an explanatory cartoon about our product, life insurance settlements.
At the time of the initial idea, I never thought she would agree to any of it. But today it all makes sense as Betty has taught me more about retirement than any book, seminar or financial planning guru. Here are three of the highlights:
Keep Working. Betty is 92 and she's still working. Yes, that means she was a spry 83 when I first met her. At marketing shoots and events, she regularly says that she is so happy to still be working. I'm always amazed by this because she's incredibly successful and has earned a wonderful living in show business. I'm pretty sure her house is paid off, and she doesn't need to retire any gambling debts. (Yes, it's ironic that we are discussing retirement even though Betty hasn't really retired yet.) Perhaps the up-and-down nature of the entertainment world has taught her to take work whenever she can get it, but it also keeps you active, gives you another reason to get up in the morning and helps keep you sharp. Staying in the workforce also bolsters your social security wages, which can have a major impact when you finally do retire. Many of us envision a time when we will no longer have to work, but that doesn't mean you should stop. Seniors can work part-time or perform volunteer/philanthropic work for years beyond traditional retirement age, even if they can't score a job on a TV Land situation comedy.
Pursue Your Passions. Betty began her career in entertainment in the 1940s working in radio. She went from having bit parts to hosting her own show and then moved into television. Since then, as an actress, comedienne and writer, her success has been nothing short of legendary. Television series, game shows, movies and awards are too numerous to list. The common factor is that she was doggedly persistent about pursuing her passion for entertaining. And to talk about Betty and passion without mentioning animals is a major faux pas. She is a tireless advocate for animals: two-legged, four-legged or no-legged, it doesn't matter. (You should have seen her affection for a python in our music vid.) She has been a patron of the Los Angeles Zoo and many other animal welfare organizations for decades, and she incorporates her love of animals into her work life whenever she can. Betty will tell you that work and her love for animals keep her young -- passion personified.
Be Positive. In one of the highlights of my life, I was actually in attendance at NBC Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center when Betty hosted Saturday Night Live. I learned after the fact that producers of the show were worried that a then 88-year-old Betty might be overwhelmed by the rigorous 90-minute show. I don't think Betty sweated it for a second. She had fun, delivered some hilarious and memorable lines, and earned her seventh Emmy Award for the performance. We spend a lot of time worrying about our aging parents (I know I do), and many seniors develop major fears about their future and retirement. I have noticed that Betty is always positive, and I have spent time with her on and off the set. She's confident that she can achieve new goals and overcome challenges, despite her senior status.
Since we began working with Betty, I started working on a book about having a successful retirement, and I owe much of the inspiration to her. Change is constant when it comes to our retirement plans, and we all have to adapt. We can't all have a life as exciting and star-filled as Betty White, but I'm convinced that we can all have happy and healthy golden years if we follow her example and live our respective lives to the fullest.