The path with heart

What is retirement coaching? Hint: It’s not about finances.


Since 2001, I’ve been a life coach. Many factors played a role in my decision to become my own boss: I needed a flexible schedule to parent my kids. But I was also inspired to help others move forward in their lives while making good decisions in line with their passions.

And now for the past 18 years, I’ve helped others follow their paths with heart.

Words can hardly describe the gratification that comes from coaching individuals seeking the best for themselves. I’ve seen the power of the coaching process and how it can increase self-confidence and result in deeper reflection to uncover what’s best, be it through acknowledging achievements, validating the numerous decisions life entails and/or appreciating one’s developed qualities and chosen values.

Finding well-being

My first clients right out of coach training asked me to assist them with their retirement life plans. 

And it wasn’t their finances that needed to be addressed. They wanted to be comfortable with their well-being plans. 

One of those clients was an elementary school teacher who was looking ahead three years. She knew she wanted to make travel a priority. Coaching with me gave her the opportunity to see more clearly that finding a life partner wasn’t a necessary goal. 

She chose to travel with groups instead of going solo. She also hired an organizer to help her declutter and organize. Getting and staying organized outside of the classroom was something she realized helped her embrace her retirement years more fully.

Another client had taken early retirement due to a medical emergency. He needed to find ways to quiet his mind as well as stay social and involved while still using the talents he gained as an attorney to contribute to his community. 

He came to the conclusion that he wanted to enjoy an aquarium in his home. But because his wife was opposed to this idea, we were able to find other ways to increase his well-being — that didn’t disrupt his relationship with his wife — through coaching.

Addressing vulnerability

People hire me to create a scaffold with them — a scaffold to hold them and guide them on their desired paths; to help them give notice to their bosses and move on to another schedule, one that better fits their desired lifestyle; to move them forward from their prime positions where they’ve been planted, perhaps a few months too long.

It wasn’t until attending a fundraising event for Youth and Family Services with my friend, Jean Houlding, who is on their board, that I decided to focus solely on being a retirement coach. 

The event speaker was Tony Buettner, brother of Dan Buettner of Blue Zones fame. His opening statement sparked something in me and added a sense of urgency to my work as a coach. He said that, according to one study, the two most physically vulnerable times of our lives — when we are most likely to die — are our very first year after birth and the year following retirement.

It wasn’t until that day, which happened to follow my own wake-up call after surviving a car accident, that I chose helping people prepare and manage their lives in retirement as the main focus of my work. 

The average person doesn’t often recognize when it’s time for a broader perspective. If you believe it’s time for you to make a change, yet you’re feeling stuck in your job or lifestyle, it’s probably time to broaden your perspective with the many resources available. 

I recommend Mary Lloyd’s book — Super-Charged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote and Do What You Love — because she admits missteps along her own path. She’s relatable and she also includes many exercises that will help you decide how much self-development you’re willing to undertake.

Super-Charged Retirement

Seeing more clearly 

Most people believe that when they have their financial plans in order, they’re ready to retire. As Buettner states, there’s so much more to it than wealth management. 

Coaching helps clarify ideas about the emotional changes one goes through at the point of retirement — grief, loss, excitement, fear, joy and freedom. 

It’s about seeing more clearly where you are and where you want to be, accepting the change that’s possible, and then taking productive action.
Some people will benefit from preparing for retirement months — or even years — ahead of time; some want to wait until they take a year off to prepare for their next stage of life; then there are those who find themselves scrambling for a focus and purposeful life a year or two after they’ve retired.

Each person has their own story, such as not wanting to do what their parents did, whether that was sitting around and watch TV or haunting their former workplaces. Others are simply looking ahead and want to nurture their independent spirits, interests and passions.

Ask yourself if you’re living the life you envisioned in retirement (aside from the structure of work hours) and, if so, you’re in a great position to continue that path. The path with heart.

Retirement tricks

First and foremost, define retirement. What does it encompass for you? Then take time to step back to envision options for you that align with that definition and your budget.

Remember your friends. Talking with your friends about their plans often leads to being inspired to step into something new. Plus, your friends know you, so they can give you honest feedback when it comes to your resistance to retire or remain in the workforce. Of course, they may not know your bottom line and how you truly feel satisfied spending your time. (Sometimes we don’t know this ourselves.) This is why coaching can help.

Finally, remember that self-care is vital to your health. Say YES to yourself before undertaking obligations in retirement. Many people take an entire “sabbatical” year to delve into the newest phase of their lives. And even then, it’s one step at a time.

You can reach Karen Carr, a Twin Cities-based retirement coach and active grandmother, at 651-426-5123, [email protected] or