Retirees in bloom

“After a 38-year career, I’m happy to announce that I’ve officially decided to retire and begin a new stage of my life,” wrote Westchester County insurance supremo, Markham Rollins III, on his blog, back in December 2018. Until his recent “retirement,” and I put the word in quotation marks advisedly, Rollins was a fourth-generation insurance broker, working at the Rye Brook insurance company founded by his great-grandfather in 1910. Rollins and his brother in turn bought their own father out of the business when he retired at 65, and together the brothers kept the business going.

But when his father passed away, aged 80, Mark Rollins really started to think in earnest about his own retirement, because, frankly, his Dad’s hadn’t gone too well. “He struggled with it,” says Rollins touchingly. “He lost his identity, his huge community of people, and he wasn’t really sure of what to do with the 40 hours of free time, which came his way each week. He lost his way.”

Mark’s wife, Jody, whose corporate background was a good foil to his own less structured one, was starting to think about her own future, too. “I was always told that when you retire, you sit back, you take it easy and you enjoy the fruits of your labor,” Mark says. But he and Jody quickly discovered that the opposite was going to be true, – and from that realization flowered Retirement Transformed, a coaching service to help retirees get the most out of the next chapter of your life.

Jody herself spent 30 plus years in a Fortune 200 financial services company, managing teams, driving strategy, managing profit and loss and dealing with customers and claims.

The couple married 10 years ago and have six children between them, Jody’s three daughters and Mark’s three sons, from former marriages. And however hard they have worked at their respective careers, what is clearly evident from Mark’s Facebook page is all the hard work that has also gone into making theirs a harmonious, happy family. (At least one key to success in pre-COVID days, offers Mark — Sunday dinners where mobile phones are banned from the table.)

The couple retired officially, rather endearingly, on the very same day (Dec. 31, 2018) and jumped into their new project full-time. “Well, I say full-time,” says Jody, “but while we are working together building this business, I am also involved in a company called SheEo (a global community of women radically transforming how female innovators are financed and supported), and I also mentor at a nonprofit called Women in America.” And as if all of this were not enough, Jody has decided to go back to school and is getting her applied cognitive psychology degree at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Mark mentions how he and Jody bring different skill sets to the table. “I’m an entrepreneur,” he says, “so I build things, make things happen — trial and error, trial and error.” That was the way he grew his business. “I was a salesman. We ran a great company, great strategy. But Jody, on the other hand, comes from corporate America, where there’s got to be a process, an order and things have to make sense. So when we sit down to discuss the business, I’m like, We’ve just got to try this, and Jody is like, But what if doesn’t work?” And, somehow, they thrash it out until conclusions are reached and strategies devised.

Mark says Jody brings skills to the business, skills that he doesn’t necessarily have and, because of their distinct talents, they’re not trampling on each other’s feet. Each has his or her own particular area to deal with.

When I suggest that they are “masquerading” as retirees, since indeed they are busier than ever, Jody is quick to point out that, given they have six kids between them, she doesn’t feel that anyone would say they are “busier than ever.” However, she does acknowledge that traditional retirement (which they tried briefly) didn’t really work for them. They found that aimless days, “every day a Saturday,” didn’t play well in their health and well-being mindfulness, that as they connected with prospective clients, both older and younger people considering retirement, the typical image of floral shirts, shorts and margaritas held little appeal. And as they went out to focus groups and looked at surveys and came into contact with people with similar mindsets, in situations like theirs — people about to retire or just retired — it only seemed to confirm a need for the Retirement Transformed product.

Mark expressed how the word retirement originally implied the end of one’s working life and therefore the end of one’s usefulness. The first known use of the word in its current sense was in 1550, he told me, and was almost a synonym for expiration, or death.  Jody added, “quite honestly, we wanted to remove the word ‘retirement’ completely.” She likes the Spanish word for retirement, jubilación, which conveys joy, celebration and a certain richness in one’s later years, but admits they are stuck with the word “retirement” because of search engine optimization and “all the other ways people find you around the world.” That said, she would like to create a movement, where people aren’t looking to retire traditionally, but instead share wisdom, stay active, grow their minds, search out new friends and experience, travel and, of course, spend time with family. While this might seem obvious to many, the Rollinses are convinced that in most cases it has to be taught.

The Retirement Transformed program itself can be accessed in several ways, including an online course, for purchase, which can be done as self-learning, at the client’s own pace. It comes complete with hours of video, dozens of worksheets and practical “How Tos.” Online teaching goes through several phases, including reflection, physical wellness, relationships, spouse/partner relationship and mental wellness. Then a vision is defined and a plan developed.

The Rollinses also do one-on-one coaching, an even higher-end product for clients who really want a one-hour-a-week call, every week, for 14 weeks, to go through the same process but also to be held accountable, with pretty strict guidelines, supplemented by additional material and insights not found in the online course. A live workshop which they used to offer has been temporarily replaced by Zoom calls but will likely return once the pandemic is over.

Still incredulous at their energy and commitment, I probe again to see what motivates the couple. “I realized that after retirement we might have another 30 years ahead of us,” says Jody. “And if we were to have had written our obituaries right then, they would have been robust, what with our careers, managing a blended family, our involvement with philanthropy in the community — all of those buckets would have been filled to the brim. But if we took a traditional form of retirement, then 30 years from now — going out to lunch, playing golf, having a few vodkas tonics — we weren’t sure what our children would be able to write about us.”

As things stand, the only problem their kids will have down the line, is fitting it all in. Because Mark and Jody Rollins, it strikes me, will achieve as much or more in their very fulfilled “retirements” as most of us will manage to achieve in a lifetime.

For more information, go to retirementtransformed.com.

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