From the time she was a little girl growing up in Virginia, Veronica McCain always wanted to live at the ocean shore. She dreamed as a young girl how wonderful it would be to live at the beach. Her family took vacations along the Virginia coastline. As she became an adult and built her career, her retirement dreams included a place at the beach.
Lo and behold, as Veronica started her early retirement, she found an apartment on the waterfront in Virginia Beach. And boy does she light up when talking about spending time at the beach.
Veronica and I met at a conference in northern Virginia and struck up a conversation about retirement. She was all smiles. Turns out, it’s for good reason. Veronica is someone who saw one of her retirement dreams come true and has embarked on so much more.
Was it a difficult decision to retire?
We talked about retiring after a long career. I wondered if she had found it difficult or challenging to walk off the job. One day she was important in a large government agency. The next she had nowhere to go, no pressure to meet someone else’s demands.
Veronica said it was not a difficult decision. She had been working for the same Federal Government Farm Credit Administration for over 30 years. She worked her way up from the accounting office to Associate Director. This role came with a lot of pressure, responsibility, and employees. Plus, working on many different types of contracts. All with hot deadlines.
A clear advantage to working in the Federal Government system is that the benefits package includes a pension. Eligibility for a partial pension starts after 30 years. Veronica and her colleagues would use this as a benchmark: “When eligible, will you be ready to go?”
While she could have worked longer, Veronica’s retirement dreams were suddenly on the top of her list. She was ready to go when eligible. She retired at age 56.
Having a plan helps with the transition
Veronica shared, “Having a plan really helps with the transition to retirement. And I’m not talking about a financial plan.”
Veronica and her husband, whom she met on the job and married in 1995, do have a financial plan. But she is talking about having a plan for what to do when you do retire from your long-time job. Her days had been scheduled for 30 years. What would she fill her days with when there were no pressures and deadlines?
Veronica was in tune with the idea that you can’t just have retirement dreams that are lofty and hopeful. Those are nice but she needed to invent what her retirement would be like. What would she be doing each day. Her husband continues to work full-time, so she knew her days would be empty. And spent alone.
For an accomplished, successful women, sitting on the sidelines was not a plan.
Starting with what she already knew
One of the roles she had in her job was to provide executive coaching to employees. She was good at this and built a solid skillset over the years. When thinking about her days in retirement, she thought she would leverage her coaching background. She could offer various levels of individual coaching. It was a good plan and gave her a clear and somewhat familiar vision of her days.
But, after a few months of executive development coaching, Veronica felt like she was back on the job. The same issues and challenges she found while “on the clock” were present in her new independent business.
That was an unexpected situation. She thought she would leverage this skill she knew, but frankly, it was boring. Time for a new challenge!
“I need more fun and new challenges, not the same-old, same-old”
Veronica focused on what she does well at a higher, more thematic level. At her core, she inspires people. She is at ease in conversation and in offering advice. Her girlfriends and colleagues readily seek her out for advice.
In fact, after she retired her friends asked a lot more questions. Especially about their retirement plans from their jobs and how they work. Several friends asked Veronica to research the details of their retirement documents. Her friends didn’t understand their complicated financial options.
At that point, Veronica had an ah-ha moment. “They need a class.”
So off she went to try out a new idea. She invited a group of retired ladies to a discussion group. They all had many questions and Veronica enjoyed talking to them about retirement and finances. They’d cover topics such as retirement budgeting, health care costs, and how to take money out of their retirement plans.
Before she knew it, she had become the local “go-to resource” for deciphering those ridiculously long and intricate retirement plan documents. She loved helping her friends and their friends. Maybe there was a business model here?
Why not start a business?
Starting a business? Doing what she loves to do? And helping women have a more fulfilling retirement? Yep, sign her up!
Veronica’s many interests and her decades of work all converged into a business model that would give her what she was looking for. Starting her own retirement coaching business wasn’t one of her retirement dreams, but rather the result of trying a variety of paths until she found the right one. This would be a challenge, but one that built on her skills, knowledge, and passion. And offered her new, fun opportunities.
Like many entrepreneurs, Veronica dove in with both feet. She didn’t talk to anyone in advance or look for permission. This was what she wanted to do. She’d figure out the logistics along the way.
Key to her new business endeavor was anchoring her plan in a central deliverable. For Veronica, it was creating a retirement planning workbook that focused on the non-financial side of retirement life.
When we met, her book had just gone to the publisher. She was waiting excitedly to see the finished product of her hard work.
Realities of becoming a solo businesswoman
Now it was time to amp up outreach efforts and marketing. One thing Veronica found early on was how difficult it can be to stay motivated. Working by yourself to develop a business and write a book can be a lonely road. She found she could be more productive with a little accountability.
Keeping motivated is a real challenge when you rely only on you. The reality of becoming less and less productive sneaks up on you. All of a sudden one day you find you aren’t terribly excited about your current project or any new ideas.
Veronica temporarily ran into that wall. She wanted to be excited about life and her new business idea, but it was slipping from her fingers. She quickly regrouped, joined a Mastermind group, and was back on track. Until…
The opposite side of being a solo business owner is heaping way too much on your plate. So many ideas cross your desk. And one fun idea leads to another and another. You want to promote your book and business through every social media channel. Marketing, promotion, public relations, interviews are key to success. And let’s not forget, you must run the business and handle the administrative “stuff”.
Structure and planning are key elements to the success of many retirement dreams
Before she realized it, Veronica had gone from not being as motivated as she wanted to be to being overwhelmed. “Every idea was a good idea!” she said with a laugh. “There was just so much to do everywhere I turned.”
She didn’t realize just how much she was doing and how much time it all took.
Like the best small business practices, Veronica is taking a small step back readying for her book. She’s focusing on the release of her new book and all that goes into that. And she’s taking a few months to lay out a five-year plan.
What she’s found is the importance of creating a structure into her days and weeks, followed by planning. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, comprehensive plan like she did when working for the Farm Credit Administration. But, having a clear path of where she wants to go and some key ideas for getting there are essential.
Speaking of Veronica’s book…
Veronica was struck by the sheer numbers of people who had retired but hadn’t spent any time asking, “What’s next?” How do you just quit your job, jump out of your routine, and leave life to chance?
Talking to her girlfriends and others, she found they struggled with how to get started. That was the jumping off point for her book. My Retirement, My Way gives the reader prompts for how to think about life after work. Up to the point of retirement, most people are focused on the transaction of retiring from their job itself. Not about their future years.
Following the sections in this book, along with bringing Veronica on as a coach is just the kind of support so many new retirees need. There is no reason to think you would know all there is to know about an unknown future. Having someone to help you think about the possibilities is a great resource. And worksheets she’s included help you navigate the complexities of living in retirement.
When pickleball and bowling aren’t enough
One of the women Veronica worked with has a story that is familiar to many. She retired and was busy “doing stuff” for about a year. There were lots of activities swirling every day. But this lady wasn’t finding joy or meaning in these activities. There was no zip, zing, or excitement in her retirement life.
At one point she tried the hottest craze for retirees: pickleball. And she started bowling once a week. After a couple of months, she realized that while playing ball games was fun, it didn’t bring any sense of accomplishment. She wasn’t training for the Olympics. Just trying to find new ways to fill her time.
The problem Veronica helped her identify was she had no central focus. Nothing anchored her days. She felt like she was always moving but accomplishing little. Working to find a main focus would concentrate her energy and deliver a more fulfilling outcome.
Between the workbook and her coaching sessions, Veronica provided just the structure her client needed.
The focus on the money misses the mark
The last part of my discussion with Veronica was enlightening. I asked if she felt comfortable about her financial future as she retired so young. She shared that she and her husband had met with a financial advisor before she decided to leave her job.
She was quite disappointed that he only talked about money and how her federal pension would work. These are important topics, of course, but not complete. He didn’t ask about what she was going to do or if she would be working. Let alone if she would be spending a pretty penny starting a business!
It is impossible to build a meaningful or accurate retirement income plan if you don’t have this information.
This was another key reason Veronica decided to launch her retirement coaching business. You can’t only look at one side of the coin.
But you can have a book signing if you write a good book!
Retirement dreams are extra special when they come true
What started out as one of her retirement dreams happily came true. Veronica loves spending time in Virginia Beach at her home right on the ocean. It’s hard to believe the dream she had as a little girl did come true.
Now Veronica has a new retirement dream. In addition to selling her books, she’d like to offer weekend retreats to talk about making retirement everything it could be. Right on the beach in Virginia Beach! Maybe start with a morning walk with the tide coming in, followed by some roundtable discussions. Add in some time to fill out some sections in the book in the afternoon. Then, a dinner on the water and a chance to hear each other’s ideas.
Taking the time to brainstorm and build on one another’s ideas for retirement joy is all part of a good retreat. Veronica’s retirement dreams got bigger in her first five years of “retirement.” She’s excited to see how far she can take her new business. I’m cheering her on!
Additional Resources to help you plan your retirement dreams
Cookin’ Up Your Retirement Plan – my transition planning book with a different approach
One Boomer’s attempt at retirement took three tries! Read Leslie’s story