Marianne Oehser discusses her new book, Your Happiness Portfolio for Retirement- It’s Not About the Money. Creating your ‘Happiness Portfolio’ involves looking at eight areas of your life and look at how each of these areas can be what you want it to be in retirement.
Marianne shares various areas of the book and we discuss how the book is laid out in parts, the topic of each part, and how the parts come together to help the reader create their ‘Happiness Portfolio.’
RS: The topic for today’s episode is Your Happiness Portfolio for Retirement- It’s Not About the Money. My guest is the author, Marianne Oehser. Marianne and I are members of the Retirement Coaches Association and she did a recent episode on the podcast called Your Mindset Matters In Retirement. And during the process of getting to know Marianne, both from being members of the Retirement Coaches Association as well as from doing the previous episode, I found out that Marianne was wrapping up this book and was close to releasing the book.
And so, I wanted to have her back on to talk about the book and I’m really excited to have her on because the book just came out a few weeks ago. So again, I’m very excited to have Marianne here to discuss her book. You can find the book on both Amazon and Barnes and noble and you can learn more about Marianne’s retirement coaching as well as her book at RetireandBeHappy.com. So welcome Marianne. Glad to have you here to talk about your book.
MO: Thank you Reid. I really appreciate being here. We had a lot of fun last time, so I’m sure we will this time too.
RS: We did, and I think that was a really good episode, Your Mindset Matters In Retirement. And I know that you have a chapter on that similar topic in this book because it is such an important topic. So we covered that last time. Now what I want to cover is the book and I want to share with the listeners and the readers both, not only the content of the book, but the format of the book so that they can understand what they will get from reading the book and how it can help them as they transition into retirement. So when I, when I interview an author, the question I always have is, wow, that’s a lot of work to put a book together. So what inspired you to write the book?
MO: Reid, as you mentioned, I’ve been a retirement and relationship coach now for over seven years and the beginning of my career I spent doing all one-on-one coaching. And during that process I developed a system that has worked from very many people. And I have to tell you, it’s enormously gratifying to me when I see the kinds of transformation that people are able to achieve and how they can go from sometimes being very confused and unhappy about retirements, to truly thriving. So I wanted to reach more people. And this book is one way.
I also know that as powerful as coaching is, it’s not for everybody. And so this book is for the person who may not be sure they need coaching. Hopefully it will inspire them to reach out to someone as they do stumble. But it’s intended to guide people on a journey that I have found to be extremely important and very valuable to the people that are willing to walk it.
RS: Good, good. So how does the book, (or how do you think the book will) help readers or what was your goal for the book when you wrote it?
MO: Well, actually my goal is summed up in the very first sentence of the introduction (in the book), which I’ll read to you just real quickly. “It is, the purpose of this book is to inspire and guide you to design and live a happy and fulfilling life in the new chapter after your career. In other words, it’s to flourish.” That’s really the goal of this book is to guide people through the process of building and designing the whole life and making it happen so that they truly can believe this is the best time of their life.
RS: Good. So in chapter one, I found this interesting, you talk about your dad’s journey and struggles with his retirement. And I really related to that a lot because, and I think a lot of us, both the listeners and viewers can relate to this because when we look at retirement, I think a lot of times we look at retirement through the lens of somebody that we know. And a lot of times it’s people who have retired before us. Of course, our parents or grandparents, it might be friends or something like that.
And I had a situation with my dad where my dad retired from his original career as an educator and opened his own business. And I never really, it never really kind of dawned on me that connection with that until I became a retirement coach… on perhaps some of the reasons that he may have done that. I actually wrote a blog about that awhile back because I thought it was a fascinating topic.
So, tell us a little bit about your dad’s retirement experience, and then also from watching that experience and what he went through. How did that shape your view of retirement and perhaps your view of how you relate with the clients that you work with?
MO: Well, my dad’s, my dad’s retirement was a very traditional one at the time. He retired as a senior officer for Sears Roebuck when Sears was really a great, strong private company. And, and his life, his happiness portfolio, if you will, consisted of only two things that people focused on at that time. One is having fun- in my dad’s situation it was playing golf. And the other was a lot of social activities. There wasn’t anything else in the mix. He had no hobbies. So, relatively quickly he gravitated to learning to cook. And he was a wonderful cook, chef I should say. But he didn’t, he had a little bit of volunteering but not much. A few corporate board things, but not much. But that faded quickly. And what happened to my dad is that something unfortunately that happens to a number of people in retirement and that is, he slid into depression and it really became pretty bad.
MO: And I think that the depression was sparked by the fact that he didn’t have any way of replacing that identity he had as the senior officer for a major corporation. He also had never replaced the sense of purpose in his life because of course when he was raising, I’m the oldest of nine children. And so in the process of raising and nurturing our family, but also all that he contributes to his successful career. And also, to have nothing then.
So, his happiness portfolio was very out of balance, and the depression- he was able to beat it a little bit. And he was wise enough to seek some professional assistance from doing that. But unfortunately, it took a toll on his health and he went downhill very quickly and died way too young in his late seventies.
MO: And so the impact that that had on me was to say, first of all, if we look at what’s happened, what’s unfolding for our generation right now, it’s certainly a very different opportunity. So for example, when my dad retired, there was no such thing as lifelong learning programs. There wasn’t an easy way for him to keep his mind stimulated and active and he didn’t have a way, he didn’t see a way to do that. And it also, as I look at the difference between how it’s unfolding for us and how it unfolded for my father. I think that certainly one of the things that it shaped was how important it is to be aware of what might be a long (retirement), what might be coming up for you, because that awareness helps you to open up your mind and say, okay I get that what I’m going through might be a little painful right now. But it could be- it’s just temporary.
And that awareness allows you to open your eyes and see both the challenges but also the opportunities that lie ahead. And my dad didn’t see any of that. And so it profoundly impacted me and saying that it’s the- part of the purpose of this book, is to help people to be aware of what the opportunities and challenges are as they move down this path. So, his retirement is very different than what we have to face today, fortunately.
RS: Yeah. That’s a good point. And being aware of the challenges is just part of the planning process. And again it’s, it’s a planning process that people need to take on to prepare for retirement, not only the good things and the opportunities but also the challenges.
MO: Very true. Very true.
RS: So, the next question Marianne is…and what I enjoy about your book, both as somebody who is a retirement coach and someone who has a background in the financial advisory business and working with in financial planning firms, as well as reading a number of other books about retirement, is how you compare having a financial portfolio on one hand to having a happiness portfolio on the other hand. And that’s actually part of the title of your book. So, the happiness portfolio is a big part of your book.
So, I really wanted to dive into that with you and talk about, we’ll actually talk about happiness portfolio because that’s part of one of the sections in the book. We’ll talk about that a little bit later, but just more broadly, because it’s important to have plans for both financial and nonfinancial parts of your life. And retirement is… tell us about the concept of building a happiness portfolio and why that is as important as building your financial portfolio as you prepare for retirement.
MO: Good. Well, so many people as, as you said, don’t plan this part of their life at all and… In fact, they think that the planning is creating a bucket list. And, so in your happiness portfolio, a bucket list plays an important part. But the reality is your happiness portfolio is looking at each of the important nonfinancial aspects of your life, understanding what it is that you really want that area to look like and how much of your time you want to invest in it. So, it’s all about the planning process.
We’re making sure that your happiness portfolio is balanced and diversified, just like your financial portfolio is. And then my dad’s case, for example, and sadly, too many retirees today, their happiness portfolio isn’t balanced and diversified and that that creates problems.
RS: Yeah. Yep. Exactly. So the book is divided into four parts. So I want to give listeners not only an idea of the content in the book, but also a little bit about how the book is structured and how that they can work their way through the book as they read the book. I think the book is very readable. It goes very fast. It’s just shy of 300 pages. So there’s a process and a layout to the way you laid out the book that kind of moves people along a path. Right? And so the book is divided into four parts and each part includes several chapters. And what I really like about the book, in addition to what I’ve already talked about, Marianne, is that it includes worksheets, it includes questions for the reader to think about and answer as they work through the process.
RS: There’s an area to (for readers to) write down their thoughts and all of that as they work through this then ends up helping them create a happiness portfolio. So what I wanted to do was ask you about each of the parts, just in general, what each of the four parts of the book are about. And then again, as people understand each of the parts, then each of those parts help people create that happiness portfolio. I’m just summarizing what happiness… (in the book).
So, part one is The Retirement Landscape. Part two is Moving Through the Transition, part three is Building Your Happiness Portfolio, and that’s where you really dive into the sections of the happiness portfolio. And then I also like in section four you give people (provide), you call it Skills and Tools. So, you provide people with some other resources to help them.
So, I’d like to get your thoughts on each of these sections just briefly. So give us a taste of what you talk about in part one, which is The Retirement Landscape, and it’s important I think for people to understand why retirement is changing and to kind of set the stage for the rest of the book.
MO: Yeah, part one definitely is establishing the context within which you want to look at your happiness portfolio. So it challenges you to look at what might be ahead. Again, it’s that awareness thing. So the first chapter, and you mentioned, that’s where I talked to him about my dad’s retirement. And that, you know, that talks about some of the things that, the myths about retirement and how it’s different today and how we might want to break through, um, thinking about things in an old way and look at it from a new perspective.
Also, the second chapter talks about four stages of retirement and there’s a graphic that helps you to understand and that it talks about it because I found that when you have a picture of what might be ahead, it’s much easier to see what the opportunities might be.
MO: And so those stages are of course the first beginning part of retirement, which often is very euphoric, but it also can be…so it’s either you go down the honeymoon path or you can slip into, sadly a gloom-and-doom or a less happy (state). But once you can move through that and move through a transition, which I’ll talk about because that’s part two (the second part). That’s when you really are living your life to the fullest in this time after your career. And that’s a lot about what the happiness portfolio is. But then it’s also, I have found in working with people, that it’s important to know that there are two other stages after that. The third stage is a slowing down and downshifting where you’re still very involved in some of those things. But maybe at a little bit slower pace a little bit.
MO: You might want to eliminate some of the things from your busy life. And then it’s not until you get way into your late eighties or nineties that you are old, because you know, even though it used to be you were considered- clinically considered old- after 50. That is certainly not the case anymore. And that “old” doesn’t have to happen until the very, very end of your life. And so, part one is all about talking about what the picture- what the landscape looks like.
Some of the things that we fear, some of the real threats like depression… as my dad… or gray divorce, which is a very real threat. And it’s all about… there’s also a chapter of if you end up having to retire at a time that you didn’t choose, whether it was you were caught in a downsizing situation or you had to become a caregiver or for whatever reason… it wasn’t your choice. And the intention here is to provide them (readers) some suggestions and insights into how you might overcome some of the challenges that you face. So that sets the context for them (readers) to begin the rest of the book.
RS: Yeah, and I think that’s interesting too, that you talk about these various stages in retirement because I don’t think a lot of people think about that. They think of retirement as kind of one big stretch of time. And back in previous generations, that stretch of time was very short, right? Because people didn’t live long. But now when people retire, their retirement could last 25 or 30 years easily. So there is this transition into different stages before we slow down and want to really cut back on things. So I think that’s really an important part of that chapter or that section.
RS: So, part two is Moving Through the Transition…it talks about the transition from a career into retirement. So give us a few of the highlights, the most important points for people to consider when making this transition from career into what we’re calling retirement.
MO: Well, I know you know Reid, that any big change in your life triggers this process called transition. And quite honestly, until I started working as a coach, I didn’t realize how difficult transitions can be when you’re not aware that they might happen. So the first and most important thing is to know that, when you realize that so much of your life changes when you move out of your career and in that change triggers a transition, which sometimes begins with happiness, because you don’t understand that that’s going to happen.
So, the purpose of this section is to make sure that you are aware that you are very likely going to go through something like that. And when you’re in the midst of this transition…typically are three components to it. And they’re not stages because it’s not chronological.
MO: But one of the big components is a time when everything is confused. You know the picture of what you thought retirement was going to be like isn’t necessarily unfolding that way. And now you begin to say, oh, I don’t know what are the next 20 or 30 years going to look like? It’s all about,…many times people say…I think I made a mistake retiring at all because this isn’t what I wanted. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when people say, I must be feeling this way because there’s something wrong with my relationship. Which um, you know, sometimes there is a little bit, but also, it’s not necessarily that, but it’s an easy thing to blame and it can be… it can lead down that nasty path to gray divorce.
And so it’s all about knowing that this might be a time of confusion and instead of looking at it as, I made a mistake or something’s wrong, it’s really an opportunity to say, this is my time to reflect, to reflect on what do I want this time of my life to like, what is important to me? Who am I as a person now that my business card isn’t any good anymore? You know, answer some of those fundamental questions that can help you to design what you want the next part of your life to be like… the next stage. And so, it really can be an opportunity if you look at it that way.
The other thing that’s important to know about a transition is that there’s no set time for how long it lasts. Jane Pauley wrote a book called Your Life Calling, when she was a famous TV journalist. And when she retired she was facing this time, she called it…like a time of groping in the dark. And the way that she reflected on it was to interview, I think 150, people to find out about their retirement. And when she talks about this transition time, she said for her it took four years.
MO: Now for somebody else it might take four months and it may not feel like groping in the dark, but it definitely feels like confusion. But the important thing is to say, it ends. It’s not the way that the rest of your life is going to be. It’s a process that you’re going through. As you decide,… as you determine what the rest of your life is going to be like. And this part talks about that. This part of the book also talks about how you can rebuild your identities since it’s totally changed, and it talks about the importance of having meaning and purpose in your life. I said earlier that that was clearly one of the things that was missing from my dad. And I do believe that it is one of the fundamental reasons why he died.
RS: Yep. That’s a, that’s a good section. So let’s move on to part three, which is Building Your Happiness Portfolio… and that looks at each of the areas that create what you term ‘your happiness portfolio.’ And the final section of part three is titled Putting It All Together. So briefly explain what part three is about and then how we can pull all of each of these together to create our happiness portfolio.
MO: Great. There are eight areas as you mentioned, Reid, and I depict that as a simple pie chart and I’ll happily send you the graphics (see below). But the reason that I use the pie chart or… first of all, the eight areas are Professional. Do you or do you not want to include work in this part of your, of your life? Some people do, some people don’t, but it’s also self-development. What are you going to do to keep your mind active? It’s about Health and Aging and not, and yes, we all need exercise programs. That’s not what this is about. It’s about the mindset of aging and how you can, in fact, by designing your happiness portfolio and building a lifestyle, promote it so that you will, as Dr. Landry, the author of Live Long Die Short, says so that this time of your life is a healthy, happy time. And that the decline is only short part of it. And so that chapter talks about that. It’s about your Primary Relationship and it’s about your Friends and Family and it’s about Spirituality and Leisure, and Giving Back.
Graphic courtesy of Marianne Oehser
And the important part, and the reason I use the pie chart, is that not all pieces of that pie are necessarily equal. So for example, the Professional one, do you or do you not want to include work and your life? We now know somewhere between 58 and 75% depending upon what study you look at… 58 to 75% of people who are about to retire, want to include some component of work in their life. But there are a lot of people that don’t. My husband is one of them. And so therefore, for somebody like me who this labor of love that I call them coaching and authoring and educating is a big…that piece of my pie is big. For my husband it doesn’t exist.
It’s the same thing with Social. Some of us are more social than other people. My sister is a huge… she just, it’s really important to me for her to be always with her friends and doing things, and so her piece is real big. Mine not so much. And so the point is this section is about looking at each and every one of those areas. The chapters are written to provide you information. Most of them are complex enough that there are whole books written about each of them. And that might take… this is my attempt to just summarize them, to put it into perspective so that you can think about how you want that to play in your life. Not only what do you want in it, but how much of your time do you want to invest in that section.
But it’s important because we now know from research that the happiest retirees are the ones that have a combination of activities, combination of activities, in their lives. Some of them are high energy, some of them are low energy, some of them are high social interactions, some of them are low social interactions. It’s all about figuring out what mix you want in your life so you are flourishing. Another thing is figuring out what flourishing means to you.
RS: Yes. I think the other important part of that too is to make sure that people look at each one of those areas because each one of those areas are important, but how big of a piece of that pie each one of those areas (plays in our retirement) is what we have to figure out. But, we do need to make sure that we look at each one of those areas because they’re all important. It’s just how, like you said, how important is each one of those as a component of creating that happiness portfolio (for our retirement).
MO: And then you asked me, Reid, about the last chapter which is Pulling It All Together. Each chapter has, at the end of it, asks you to think about the actions that you want to take… because this isn’t just theory here. This is an action plan in order to actually bring it about. And so, the Pulling It All Together really says, all right, let’s take all those actions, those things that you thought that you wanted to do, and put them into an action plan.
And that’s what that chapter is about. It gives you the space to record what you want those actions to be so that you can pull it out later, you know, six months later and you know, and look at it again and say, does it need to be tweaked? Am I doing what I said I thought I wanted to do? If I’m not, why not? It truly is making this part of your life, not just reading a book and then putting it down and not having it change your life. It’s about changing your life.
RS: Yep. And then part four is the Skills and Tools, which you provide additional information to help guide the reader. So tell us a little bit about this part of the book, maybe why you added it to your book and then what readers can get from that Skills and Tools section of the book.
MO: Okay. There are, there are really four things in that section. The first one is you may or may not need help. And that’s about recognizing that there are times when you do need to reach out. And in the case of this, it might be reaching out to a retirement coach, such as yourself, Reid. It might be reaching out to, um, take a class that’s going to help you think it through. It might be reaching out to a support network. And one of the things that I suggest in this is that you identify a couple of people in your life that are your support in terms of making sure that you take the actions that you’ve decided you want to take. It’s like an accountability. It’s about making… because your chances of actually implementing something when you tell somebody that you’re going to do it and talk to them about it is significantly higher than if you don’t. And so that’s an important part.
The other three, the first one is about resilience… because I think it’s, it’s not everything that happens in your life is going to be rosy in this time of your life. There are pitfalls. There are things that might come up. A health challenge might come up that, you know, you might fall into that depression. It’s all about the fact that one of the great skills of life at any time of your life, that is particularly important here, is the ability to be able to bounce back when something bad happens. To fall down, pick yourself up and move on. There’s a Japanese proverb that says fall down seven times, get up eight times.’ And that’s what resilience is. And it’s a skill that can be learned and that’s really the message.
MO: It’s not just to say, okay, I’m just not a resilient person. That’s a bunch of baloney. You can learn to be a resilient person. And I referenced a great resource in there (the book) that’s called The Resilience Factor. And the first part of the book is about the whole concept of resilience. In the last (part) are actual tools that you can use to build and develop your own resilience.
The next one is happiness. And that was important to include in my book from the perspective of, it runs through the whole concept of what this (book) is about. It’s called Your Happiness Portfolio, right? So what does happiness mean? It looks different to everybody. It also means… the other thing I talk about in that chapter… is how you can impact your happiness set point. We all have them and it’s not cast in concrete and there are ways to influence it. And that chapter talks about it.
And the last is about flourishing, because that’s what this book is all about. And so what does it mean to flourish and how can you flourish in this time of your life? So they are the tools to implement your happiness portfolio after you decide you are going to do it.
RS: Yeah, that’s perfect. Because people do need different ways of (receiving) help and some of that could be working with somebody like us as a retirement coach. Some people can read a book and kind of work through it themselves. Some people, like you said, could use a support group. And any way that they can be held more accountable and have somebody else kind of saying… hey, are you, are you doing what you need to do to get to the point that you want to be at in retirement, I think is helpful. So I think that the Skills and Tools section is really important for people. So it seems like a good way to end your book with giving people those tools. So the last question I have Marianne, before we sign off today’s episode… is there anything else you’d like to add or mention about the book? Things that we maybe didn’t talk about that you’d like to share about the book?
MO: Yep. Two things. First of all, we’ve talked about the exercises… and you know, again, they’re designed to provoke your thinking and help you to figure out what your action… what action you want. And you can do those exercises in the book, as you mentioned, Reid. You can certainly do it in a separate notebook, so you should write it down. But it’s really important… I want the readers to know that there’s also a free workbook that you can download. The workbook is all of those exercises in one place with room to fill them out. So, it’s another way to make it easy to do the exercises, and then to keep them someplace where you can reflect on them from time to time.
And the second thing I wanted to mention is that until… the next couple of weeks… specifically until July 24th and that’s a month after the launch of my book. If you buy my book, just send me an email with a copy of the receipt in it and I will send you the information on how to access my free… my do it yourself workshop. It will be free to you. It’s $97 to people that buy it. So it’s a $97 value that you get for free for buying my book.
RS: Oh, nice. Good. That sounds like a good way too, for people to work through the process along with…
MO: One of those support things (tools) too, right?
RS: Yep. Perfect. All right. Again, the book is Your Happiness Portfolio for Retirement- It’s Not About the Money. And my guest today was author Marianne Oehser. Again, Marianne, thank you for being a guest today and listeners and readers, you can find her book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Until next time. Thank you, Marianne.
MO: Thank you Reid.