Monday, July 18, 2016

Profiles in Third Thirds: Sharon

Let me tell you about Sharon. Sharon is my hero (and role model). For all the time I’ve known her, she has put her energy into improving the world. She just reminded me that we first met when she was teaching workshops on training nonprofit boards and I was in one of her classes. But after that, Sharon went on to start the YWCA in Anchorage. She took it from a tiny, little one-person operation to a major force that owns its own building, positively impacts thousands of women’s lives, and is thoroughly sustainable even when Sharon left after many years.

During all this, she served on the School Board for 7½ years and, not to go unmentioned, was a BizBee judge for TEN YEARS. (We both love spelling and grammar.)

So now Sharon is 75 and retired. Her Third Third? Pursuing her domestic hobbies: mostly wool appliqué and cooking. She has a sewing room dense with projects and hundreds of cookbooks (a thing which totally mystifies me – I can’t even imagine how one would begin to peruse that many cookbooks. Sharon says looking through a cookbook at the end of a day is her reward for getting some of her to-do list done.) Sharon even batches all her out-of-house appointments and errands so she can stay home most days with her projects.

As Sharon puts it, “I gave up trying to save the world and being personally responsible for ‘empowering women and girls and eliminating racism’ and am content to play a very small part.” But she still registers new voters at citizenship ceremonies and donates her sewing work for nonprofit auctions. Friends receive her gifts, and I love her rhubarb chutney on salmon.
During her professional life, I tried to learn how Sharon balanced it all. Now, in our Third Thirds, I’m trying to learn about contentment from her. She says it took her seven years to “come down” after retiring and give herself permission to enjoy it. She tells me wise things like:
“What is the rush? Have you taken some days to just do nothing since being employed? Taking a day with no goal in mind usually ends up being a day where you end up doing something that you like to do….”
“I’m learning to accept that there are only so many hours in a day and what doesn’t get done today, bar some catastrophe, will get done tomorrow.”
“We realize that we gave it a shot but we can’t save the world so it’s now OK to focus on what makes us happy….”
This is what I’m trying to learn from Sharon even though I still hear a nervous calendar clock ticking away in me: I still don’t know what my next Big Thing will be. What passion will drive me? Do I even know what makes me happy? And besides, is that too selfish to pursue? What makes for contentment?

But Sharon knows – and now has the time for – her passion. Her passion is sewing. She calls it her dessert. In the fall, she’s teaching her first class on wool appliqué at a local quilt shop, but she’s always experimenting with new techniques and tools. She couldn’t show me any of her work – she gives it all away – but we went through photos together.
Sharon made this purse out of ties for her husband’s daughter. She said, “It’s made from his old ties (since he doesn’t wear ties anymore). She loved it and I cried when she told me that she could smell his closet on them when she opened the present.”
Her sewing connects Sharon to the women who came before: “My grandmother had her own little sewing shop and my mother at one time did sewing to bring in extra money.” She’s made pincushions that fit in vintage teacups, folk art designs, and wall hangings. She’s made table runners, placemats, and many, many pillows. She’s even made a crown for a princess. They’re all given away as gifts.
Yes, Sharon finds that her time often just dribbles away with projects getting deferred by the “shoulds,” by errands and appointments and watering the garden. And now, her time is getting squeezed because two big tasks have been added to her to-do lists: cleaning up her sewing room jumble of projects and purging her cookbook collection. It’s the de-cluttering albatross. As she puts it, “I don’t want to leave a mess.”

Sharon tackled the big jobs in her Second Third and is now devoting her Third Third to more personal pleasures. Is it so different? Sharon thinks she’s run out of steam, but she’s still giving of herself. Maybe before she used her talents to empower, to fight racism, to save the world. Now she’s using them to add affection and kindness to those around her. The world is still a better place for having her in it.


  1. I saw this blog entry on the Facebook page of a mutual friend and instantly recognized Sharon Richards! I knew her when she was on the Anchorage School Board and the board of directors for the school board association I worked for in Juneau. This piece is not only a wonderful tribute (and beautifully illustrated and well written) but reflects pretty much my exact feelings about retirement. I was fortunate to have work I was passionate about but in my "third third" I've found a passion for pottery and deep contentment in the time I spend with my family and in my garden.

    Good for Sharon!! Your report on her "third third" has made my day! Please tell her hello for me when you see her again. She's still a role model.

    Sharon Young

    P.S. I intend to follow your blog and suspect it will become a favorite. Keep writing!

  2. What a nice post. I really enjoy quilting and reading and playing bridge, and I often wonder whether I should be doing more to help others. I like what you said about adding kindness.I am going to think about how to do that in my day-to-day activities, without being on a board or something.


Sharing Button