“Who are you going to be without your business card? When everybody else is working Monday through Friday, what the heck is going to be taking up your time? How are you going to use your skills and talents?”
There are millions of women, right now, who are wondering what their life could look like after leaving behind their successful and hard-won career. They know they want to retire, but with decades of life left to live, the fundamental question that’s ever-present as they get closer to that last day of work is, “What’s next?” In this episode, we cover how to navigate this crucial transition and design an exciting and purposeful post-career life.
Today’s guest is Retirement Options Coach Autumn Nessler. She is the founder of An Intentional Life, LLC, which assists women in the creation of a lifestyle plan through educational workshops, research-based assessments, and one-to-one coaching. Autumn works with her clients to create a non-financial retirement plan by helping women in hard-won careers deal with what she calls the “choice overload” that comes when they leave that job, so that they have the full confidence to forge their path going forward and live life on their own terms.
- What Autumn does for work and who she works with (1:38)
- Autumn’s own “ah-hah” moment that led her down her current path (5:07)
- Answering “What lies ahead?” for high-powered women thinking of retirement (10:45)
- “Why does it have to be a crisis for us to take care of ourselves?” (16:12)
- How to be intentional (18:51)
- Why we’re living in one of the best periods of history (21:56)
- Rethinking retirement (26:58)
- An example of a client’s success story (28:28)
- The idea of a post-pandemic world should inspire you to be creative about your future (32:02)
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Stephanie: 0:06 Welcome to Take Back Retirement, the show for women 50 and better facing a financial future on their own. I’m Stephanie McCullough. And along with my fellow financial planner, Kevin Gaines, we’re going to tackle the myths and mysteries of quote unquote retirement. So you can make wise decisions toward a sustainable financial future. Through conversations and interviews, you’ll get the information and motivation you need to move forward with confidence. And we’ll be sure to have some fun along the way. We’re so glad you’re here. Let’s dive in.
Stephanie: 0:40 Coming to you semi-live from the beautiful Westlakes Office Park in suburban Philadelphia, this is Stephanie McCullough and Kevin Gaines of Sofia Financial and American Financial Management Group. Say hello, Kevin.
Kevin: Hello, Kevin.
Stephanie: Today, our guest is Autumn Nessler, a Retirement Options Coach. Now, I didn’t even know retirement options coaches existed before I met Autumn. Sadly, Kevin wasn’t able to join us for this interview. Autumn works with her clients to create a non-financial retirement plan, which is kind of the other side of the coin from what Kevin and I do with our clients. She says she helps a lot of her women who are in big, hard-charging jobs deal with what she calls the choice overload that comes when they leave that job and look to forge their life afterwards. So let’s hear what autumn has to tell us.
Stephanie: 1:33 I’m so happy you’re here. Can you explain to us the work you do and who you do it with?
Autumn: Absolutely. So, first of all, Stephanie, today, there are millions of women out there thinking about if or when I leave the big job, what could my life look like? Right? And these are the women that I coach. So my coaching practice focuses on assisting women when they realize that they have decades of life left and they want to decide what’s next. These are women who are struggling to leave hard-won careers. And they want to get off the merry go round. They want to live life on their own terms. They want to decide what’s next. That’s really where I come in. So, I assist them with the design of what’s next, the design of that lifestyle.
Autumn: I help them navigate all of that and help them deal with the choice overload because they can become overwhelmed with all the possibilities. So I help them look at that and kind of get through all the choices that are out there. And when I work with a woman, by the way, just as a side note, the outcome of my work with her is a 12-month intentional life plan. Because anything longer than that is just too overwhelming. And it becomes too much of a burden to think about, Oh my gosh, we could spend in our post-career lives 20 to 30 years. Imagine trying to plan for that all at once. So I assist them with the designing of a lifestyle plan for a 12-month period.
Stephanie: I think that’s great. Years ago I was working with a woman, we’ll call her Louise. And we were looking at her retirement accounts and I said, Louise, what is this money for? She said, retirement. I was like, well, what does retirement look like for you? And she was like, Uhh, I don’t know. Right? Everyone just told her to save her retirement, but she had never allowed herself to sit down and think, what do I want that to be? Do you feel like that’s a common issue?
Autumn: Oh, it’s…I tell people all the time, if you take on average, a woman will spend 20 to 30 years in a post-career, and I hate the word retirement. I say post-career. But they will spend on average 20 to 30 years in a post-career life. That equates to 57,000 plus hours of unplanned time. And yet most women, I talked to have spent more time thinking about planning for their last two week vacation than they ever think about 20 to 30 year period. So, I think that’s what happens, is because the task seems insurmountable. I don’t even want to deal with this. I can only deal with like a two week vacation that I can plan for. Because remember, we’re wearing lots of different hats, we’re juggling lots of different responsibilities. We don’t put ourselves first. We’re caregivers. We’re doing all these things that we think we should. There’s that word again. Should be doing, but that never leaves us time to be me first.
Stephanie: Autumn, when we first met, you told me one of your stories about that kind of aha moment. Could you share that with our listeners?
Autumn: 5:08 Well, I always have that tongue in cheek commented. I referred to it as lessons learned in the ladies room mirror. I am my own best board of advisors. I have some of the best one on one consultations with myself. So, I tell people to join me in a company restroom where I was a member of the sales team. And I had just lost a major sale, as you can imagine, was feeling pretty low at that point and a thumbnail about me at that moment. I was 35 years of working, four very different careers. The last 10 plus years have been in sales. And so part of losing a sale, it was not only financially, but emotionally and socially, like everything played into me, not feeling so great.
Autumn: And like so many women out there, I was working 40 plus hours a week, right, for my employer, coming home and doing another 40 plus hours as wife, daughter, stepmother, grandmother. As I tell people all the time who had a life, I had no life, I was exhausted. The conversation that I had at that time was, and I’ll paraphrase what I said, but basically I said, so this is it. Your whole life is going to be tied into whether or not you get the next sale. I need a life. , is my tombstone gonna say she worked? And I realized, is this all there is of you really, is this what my life has become? I was 50 plus years old. That was another aha moment for me, but then the other of my head said, okay, so if you leave the big job, quote, unquote, the big job, who are you going to be without your business card, right?
Autumn: When everybody else is working Monday through Friday, what the heck is going to be taking up your time? How are you going to use your skills and talents? All these questions. And, like so many women, I had worked really hard to get to that point in my career. And so the idea of leaving, brought up all sorts of insecurities about I’m going to be less than I was, who am I going to be? I’ll have no identity. And aren’t I letting women down as a whole. So needless to say, I don’t have to tell you what part of the conversation went out because on went another coat of lipstick, back to the office, I went to work on the next sale. I wish I had known then what I know now.
Autumn: And it was a very different conversation that I had, and we won’t go into that, but know that another conversation I had few weeks later, because of a personal crisis, got me totally rethinking everything. And now that conversation said enough, you’re done. You need to move on. How many more times is this crisis going to happen without you taking some decisive action. That was the conversation in that mirror that led me to doing what I’m doing today. So, again, like so many women, I thought I was going to do it all until I was a hundred. Until somebody told me to go away. I thought that I was going to work. So, very different conversations.
Stephanie: I think we sometimes need to go through that evolution. The first kind of like, wait a minute, is this all there is, but that doesn’t mean we’re ready to make a change yet, right? Sometimes, there has to be a few of those aha moments before we can make the change. But, you brought up the, kind of the worries about if I leave behind this identity as a working woman, then what the heck am I, can you talk a little bit more about that?
Autumn: As women…I think about that old Enjoli commercial. I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man because I’m a woman. I think for so many of us, and if you’re a woman, I say of a certain age, because a lot of times I’ll talk about the Enjoli commercial and people will go, what the heck is that? But for a lot of us that know that commercial, we realized that we were expected to do it all: career, marriage, motherhood. Oh, all the time being one high heels. And that was the expectation, and that we could do it perfectly, we should ourselves to death. Right? We should be the perfect employee. We should be the perfect mother. We should, should, should, should, should.
Stephanie: Oh yeah.
Autumn: 9:55 There’s never a time where caregivers, there’s never a time when we put ourselves first. I don’t want to say we’ve been sold a bill of goods, but I think for a lot of us out there, we’re of a certain generation that with the women’s movement that we were given this opportunity, but that did not mean that we had to give up all of our other roles in order to pursue it.
Stephanie: So, tell me this, if there’s a woman out there listening, who is just starting to have those thoughts about, maybe I don’t want to work this stressful job forever. Maybe there is something else out there for me. Do you have some guidance around how she can start to formulate those thoughts and even where to start?
Autumn: Something has ended. Something has changed that then prompts us to really rethink what was, is no longer. And now we’re kind of faced with this uncertainty of what lies ahead. I use the visualization for my clients of the tight-rope walker. So, we’re standing on that platform. Something has happened. So, the last child leaves for college, we get laid off from a job, we or our significant others have health concerns that we have to address, we go through a divorce or become a widow. If we think about it as women, we go through numerous changes in our life and we’ve been successful, right? Because we’re here talking about it. So my first message I tell them to give themselves is, I’ve got this. I can do this. That’s first. That’s got to get your head in the right place. The next thing we have to do is really reframe what I call our perspective. So I mentioned earlier, we should ourselves to death.
Autumn: We should be able to do all these different things and do it well and do it on high heels and all those things. But what about putting me first? When is it time for us to get off the merry-go-round look at all the roles that we play and really think about how we might want to recreate repurpose, redesign all those roles, including work? Okay? And then of course, part of that is, you need to really invigorate your thinking. I always start with these two phrases with women, I’ll say, when you think about what’s next and designing that new life, start thinking about it by using the phrase, “What if I?” “Imagine if I.” Using those two phrases opens up an opportunity to be so creative and it invigorates us because the questions that we ask ourselves will determine the response.
Autumn: Imagine asking yourself that question, “Imagine if I.” “What if I?” What life could be, if I. Then of course, always the thing that I work with these women hard on is to clarify timing. Don’t keep putting it off because if not now, when? When’s it gonna happen?
Stephanie: You talked about putting yourself first and kind of, “Imagine if I,” and I have to say, my gut reaction, and I think that of a lot of women is like, wait a minute. I can’t put myself first. That’s selfish. That is like that terrible shameful label that we stick on ourselves. Talk to me about that.
Autumn: Well, I guess it’s hard because like I mentioned before about the Enjoli commercial. About doing it all and doing it well, and being the best at whatever we were having to do. And you’re right. As women, we have a very different emotional, I guess I don’t even know if the word’s temperature, what it is. But, you’re right. We think because we are always taught to be selfless and take care of… Even the language that is used to identify women in their roles, uses words like, selfless and caregiver and nurturer and…(so on). And with all those things, again, if I now say, now I’m going to put me first after I’ve played all these different roles, it does come across as being selfish.
Autumn: But at the end of the day, this is kind of off topic a little bit, but I remember Suze Orman saying one time, always remember pay yourself first. There are plenty of loans out there for colleges, but not for retirement. So, I think that we got to start early and often to think about our needs. It’s very, very hard for women to do. It is. And I wish there was a magic answer for that. I think it just takes time and sticking our toe in the water and maybe taking little baby steps to doing those things for yourself, like having a weekend away with your friends and leaving somebody home with the kids. Those kinds of things. We just need to do them consistently. Then it doesn’t feel as wrong, I believe, if we start small and continue to build upon it.
Stephanie: 15:29 That’s a good point. I have to say, I think on the money side too, some women have a reaction against the idea that I want to make more money. I want to accumulate more money that feels wrong too, or dirty somehow or selfish. And I pushed back and I say, Hey, I believe that if there, if we lived in a world where more women controlled more money and had higher income, the world would be a better place because women are proven by research to do more things with their money, right? They take care of themselves. They take care of their families. They take care of their communities. They do good things when they control that money. So, kind of same thing with your time and your life planning, taking care of yourself is not only about yourself. It benefits everyone around you as well.
Autumn: And what do they say on airplanes? Who do you put the oxygen mask on, right?
Autumn: They tell you that all the time. Why does it have to be a crisis for us to take care of ourselves? They tell you what to do on airplanes. So I’m guessing that we could apply that to day to day life, but it’s going to take time. And I don’t want to put an age on it. I can’t say that women who are younger are better doing it than women who are… I don’t want to say that. I think it’s just gotta be something that has got to become of the status quo. That it’s just seen as doing that. And that we do co parent and we do things together. It’s not just all up to us type of thing. Yeah.
Stephanie: I like too, that you talked about creating the 12-month intentional life plan. When I work on financial planning and making projections with clients, I say, we’re making guesses here. We really don’t know what life is going to hold, but if we put some things into place and move in this direction, then we know we’re kind of narrowing the range of possible outcomes. And then if we pivot, we pivot, that’s great, but at least you’ve got more available to you.
Autumn: Yes. And the process that I…it’s really a design process. The process that I work with the women on is one that my expectation and their expectation should be that they’re going to revisit that on an annual basis. And I tell them, it’s almost like your meetings with your financial advisor. At minimum, you’re meeting on an annual basis, right? But, it should be something like planning your doctor’s visits. There should be something that it becomes part of the routine, the regular thing that you do on an annual basis to again, look at, reflect back. And like you said, Oh boy, I didn’t plan for that right. I didn’t have the financial pieces in place or whatever. Or it’s going to cost me less or more than I expected. But at the end of the day, this should be part of it too, because the money and the plan go hand in hand.
Stephanie: Yep. One of the other words that you and I both use a lot is intentional. Being intentional. And I talk about being intentional with your money and your dollars and where they’re going. And why don’t you explain how you use that word?
Autumn: Well, again, when it comes to being intentional…again, I keep going back to, when I work with someone things just don’t happen by default. You have to carve out the time, be committed to it, to really think through, think about what your life could include. What you want it to include? What’s the aim? What do you look for your life to include? What is the lifestyle you’re looking for?
Autumn: The best news about all of this though, is when you design An Intentional Life plan, you’re pulling on the best of your wisdom, your success and your experience to date. It’s not like starting from scratch. You’re just taking that time to pull from all those things you’ve already done. The lessons learned. All the things that have built your life to date, and now apply them to the years of life still left. And for many of us, I’m going to live to a hundred. That’s like 30 some years. So, I better have a good plan. And so being intentional about it is taking the time. I always tell people, bring out the journal, bring out the glass of wine, bring out the cup of coffee, but carve out that time with no other distractions.
Stephanie: 20:25 Yeah, I like that. I do feel like unless we step aside and take the time to think through things and make a plan, then life just goes on and it, and it happens. And the days go by and we haven’t done it. And all of a sudden we’ve gotten there. I like your idea, especially of starting early. If I’m thinking I want to the evil word retire, or I want to transition or do something different in five years, maybe I start thinking now about, or kind of letting myself think about it. It’s almost like you said, it’s kind of like planning a vacation. Okay. I’m going to give myself the time and space to imagine what it could be. And, and that morphs over time too. I work with clients who want to stop work and volunteer all the time.
Stephanie: I have clients who want to start a business, who want to sit on the beach. I’ve got clients who have a variety of different things they would like to do. One told me the other day, I just want to fold clothes at old Navy and make money and be able to go home at the end of the day and not worry about anything.
Autumn: Right. Right.
Stephanie: And all of that is okay. And all of it might shift and change over time. One of the things I’ll start with my clients is asking, like you were saying, right? What makes you happy? What do you love to do? What brings you joy? Because that’s what the money should be lined up to support. A life that you want to live.
Autumn: And you know what’s great? I don’t know about you, but I tell people all the time that I think we’re in one of the best, other than this pandemic, and all the other nonsense that’s going on in 2020, one of the best periods of history because the face of post-career life is very different than it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago. We have the opportunity to craft post-career life that is very different than what it always was. I mean, I know people that work seasonally. I know people that, they might work six months and off six months.
Autumn: I know people that their post-career life is, they might even… Like the sabbatical that we always hear about these kids taken out of college, you can do that as part of your post-career life. Why couldn’t you take a year to just take off, to travel to do whatever it is you want to do, and then come back to working at some point? Now I know your current employer might not take you back. There might be other things you want to do. But I think that’s part of it is it’s such an exciting time to be thinking about post-career because there’s so many more options out there. And I know people are saying the economy and pandemic and layoffs and all that. I still believe that you can design what that’s going to look like for you, even with all this stuff going on in the market and layoffs and all that.
Autumn: I still believe that. I do. Whether it means getting rid of a lot of stuff and living more simply, I don’t know. But at the end of the day, I think it’s really important that we think outside the box, because we have an opportunity. And I think, again, we’re the first generation that can do that. But you said something that made me think about how you and I are kindred spirits in a lot of ways. People come to work with you because left to their own devices, they’re not going to necessarily invest and know what to invest in and how to manage your portfolio and all that.
Autumn: They come to you to assist them with that because left to their own devices they’re not going to do it. It’s the same thing with the work that I do. We both know lots of women who would never think to carve out the time to do this thing for themselves. So that’s why they come to me because they need somebody who’s going to be their accountability partner, who will be their cheerleader, who will be the person who will hold their feet to the fire to do what they want to do. You and I, again, we fulfill a role because a lot of people out there on their own would not do what we work with them to do.
Stephanie: And I think we also bring obviously some expertise and experience that, this is their first time going through it. We’ve been through it with lots of other people, but also kind of a framework and a structure like: start here. This is step one, because like you said, it feels so big. How the heck do you tackle it?
Autumn: Yes. Absolutely. And that’s what I always say. I’m on this journey with you and you’ve got this. In fact, I have a tee shirt. I just ordered it and the tee shirt is, “You’ve got this.”
Autumn: 25:16 I’m gonna start wearing that on everything because my belief is they do have it. They do have it. I never expected me to be doing what I’m doing, but it was that conversation in the ladies’ room mirror, and here I am today. So I know that as women, we are capable of just amazing things, just amazing. How we’ve been living our lives and all the things that we’ve done to date. There’s nothing I can say that a woman can’t do if she puts her mind to it. And I actually have coined a term for the women that I work with and it’s WFLI, and it means women focused on living intentionally. So they’re my tribe. They’re my tribe of women. That’s who I work with.
Stephanie: I like that. The reason that we named the podcast Take Back Retirement is that we kind of pushed back too against that traditional idea of retirement is the day that you leave, hang it all up and go sit in a rocking chair on the front porch for the rest of your life. No, no, no, no, no. It really is about getting to the point where you have the options, right? That you can now choose what it is you want to do. And for some people that comes early for some it comes late. Like you said, it might involve some trade offs, but that’s okay. I think it’s so easy in our consumer culture to get caught up in, but I have to have the big house. I have to have the fancy car and the golf club membership. Well, you don’t really. You really should pursue your own passions and choose what is most important to you. And if some of those other things fall by the wayside, that might be okay.
Autumn: Right. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And it’s a very different mindset. I remember when my parents were alive, having conversations with them and my father thought I was…he’s like, what are you talking about? But again, it was that mindset, that generation, that thought very differently than we do.
Stephanie: So what would you like folks to know that we haven’t covered?
Autumn: I believe that there are a lot of women out there who are right this moment, rethinking what’s next and what life is going to be like for them. So I think that the pandemic has been a gift in some ways, because it’s enabled us to be home, be more reflective, be more in present with what today offers and being more kind of aware of all that our life includes already. So I think it’s just knowing that, again, that there is hope and that there is a plan, like you said. But it’s a step by step process. And you can’t just go into it thinking it’s going to come to you at some point, like six months out of leaving that last, full time role. Oh, I know what I’m going to do then. You don’t. You have to give it a lot more time and energy than that.
Stephanie: Is there a client story you can share, obviously totally confidentially, but, just as an example of someone who started in one place of uncertainty and got to a cool place?
Autumn: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. I was working with a woman who I met at one of my workshops. And she had said that she had been with a major company, 35 years, and got a great buyout package. She took advantage of it and within a year and a half, she was back working. Not with that old organization. But she came to me because…and what the aha moment was for her was her husband, who was an attorney, was now going to be leaving his practice within the next 12 months. And she was scared to death of 24/7 with him. They had a great marriage, don’t get me wrong. And his approach to this thing called post-career was, well, I’m going to just see where the day takes me. Where her hearing that, she would like want to run screaming from the room, because that was very different from her.
Autumn: So, fast forward, we worked together. Initially, when she started working with me, she’s like, but autumn, 20 to 30 years of life, how am I going to ever plan for that? And my comment was, how about if we just take a 12 month period, can you do that? She’s like, Oh yeah, I can do that. So, at the end of the day, she now has a great plan in place. She and her husband, like my husband and I do, we go on an annual retreat where we plan both as a couple and individually what our next 12 months is going to look like. So she’s now doing that. She has cut her hours at work and working I think two and a half days, last time I talked to her. And she’s taken on different volunteer opportunities and she didn’t carve out the time for before. She’s done a lot. She also has redesigned her relationship with her adult sons.
Autumn: 30:32 Which is also a big thing for her. One was getting married. And so she said, this is going to change my relationship with him. So, she’s very excited now about what her life…where it’s taking her and what’s next. And she also knows that she only does it 12 months at a time. And she also knows that I’m always there, if she needs to tweak it, get some additional insights, work with me for a few sessions. She’s like a poster child for my work because as I said, she was scared to death thinking about 20 to 30 years, especially with him leaving his practice and him having a very different mindset.
Autumn: I know you work with a lot of women who are solo retirees and retirement or post-career has a real, real dramatic impact on relationships. And most people, again, don’t think about preparing their primary relationships or even their family relationships for this period of time. And that’s another thing. I mean, we do a lot of different things when I work with her. So it’s something you need to think very carefully about is those relationships and how they’re going to change when you leave the quote unquote big job.
Stephanie: I feel like when we do maybe slow down and start to ask those questions, those, what if, and, start listening to ourselves, maybe some of these little voices we have been shoving down for a long time are going to come back up again. That’s neat.
Autumn: Yeah. And what I was thinking about too recently, again, I was thinking about the pandemic. And I was thinking that I think it’s also a really interesting time to be creative with what’s going to happen post pandemic and what are going to be the needs of your town, your whatever it is, and seeing different ways that you could fulfill those needs. And I think it can be a time of real creativity for a lot of people. So, I can’t wait to see what things are gonna happen as a result of this. The good things. That’s what I’m looking for.
Stephanie: I love that. I love the optimistic view. Well, Autumn, thank you so much for joining us on Take Back Retirement. How can people learn more about you?
Autumn: A couple of different ways. One is that I have one of the ways that they have questions about what I call the post pandemic life could look like for them, or just thinking about post-career, I set up one-on-one I call them clarity sessions and all they have to do is reach out to me and we can set that up. I use Zoom, it’s about a 60 minute, one on one time with me. And they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or certainly they can go on my website at www.designretirement.org and on my LinkedIn and Facebook pages I post articles and videos and all sorts of different things of topics that are relevant to thinking post-career so lots of different ways to to kind of share in some of the things that I talk about.
Stephanie: 33:38 I really enjoyed how autumn talks about using the design process to decide how each of us will think through using our skills and talents in the next chapter, whatever that might mean to you. Most of her clients are moving out of these big corporate jobs, but, for all our listeners, there are tons of possibilities in this next chapter, right? Kevin and I always talk with our clients about the range of possible scenarios that they could look at when they move into whatever quote unquote retirement might look like for them. So I really appreciated hearing Autumn’s experience both from her own perspective and what she hears working with her clients. Thanks so much for joining us today. It’s goodbye from me.
Kevin: Hey, sorry I’m late. What did I miss? And it’s goodbye from her.
Stephanie: Be sure to subscribe to the show and please share it with your friends show notes and more information available at TakeBackRetirement.com. Huge thanks for the original music by the one and only Raymond Loewy through New Math in New York. See you next time.
Disclaimer: 34:44 Investment advice offered through Private Advisor Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor. Private Advisor Group, American Financial Management Group, and Sofia Financial are separate entities. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual security. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. This information is not intended to be substitute for individualized tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor regarding your specific situation.