The Wiser Financial Advisor Podcast

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Re-fire, Don’t Retire! – Guest John Spencer

Host Josh Nelson talks with John Spencer, an accomplished professional and world traveler helping people understand the emotional component of retirement. John shares his story about retirement and how his 27 year career in helping and serving others opened the door for him to continue helping and serving others in retirement, pro bono.


Hi, Everyone. Welcome to the Wiser Financial Advisor with Josh Nelson, where we get real, we get honest, and we get clear about the financial world and your money.   


This is Josh Nelson, Certified Financial Planner and founder and CEO of Keystone Financial Services. We love feedback and we’d love it if you would pass it on to me directly at . Also, please stay plugged in with us and get updates on episodes and help us promote the podcast. You can subscribe to us at Apple podcasts, Google, Spotify, or your favorite podcast service. Let the financial fun begin!  

Today I had the opportunity to speak with my good friend John Spencer. John and I have been friends for probably 20 years. We’ve gotten to know each other really well over the years and in the early years, John was still at HP.

Josh: Hello, John. You were working at HP and had been in that career world for a long time and then you found yourself weaving in and out of retirement. So at this point you’re doing some really fun stuff. Please tell us how that all went.

John: Well, I got a chance to come to HP in 1976 after graduating from Texas Tech. My wife and I both got our engineering degrees and my only goal was to work for Hewlett Packard. I got my dream job and it really was a Cinderella job. For 27 years I designed integrated circuits or led teams that were designing integrated circuits until 2002 when the first enhanced early retirement package came along. It was like a year salary, access to lifetime medical benefits, and you could come back after a year. I said, “What can go wrong with this?” So I took it and decided I would do something else. So I did outplacement counseling.

We were all at a Wednesday lunch meeting where we’d do a round table and talk. After the meeting the lead coach said, “Have you considered coaching?” And I said, “I don’t know, what is it?” She told me to go to this website and check it out. So I went to the website of the Coach Training Institute. I trained to be a life coach over a six month period and became certified as a co-active coach in February 2003. Then I started building a clientele and found that really hard. I didn’t like charging people for things that I do naturally. At the time, my wife said, “I don’t want you in the house. (chuckle) Why don’t you get a nine to five job like you had? That would be better for both of us.” So I did. I got a position at HP in the workstation development team and I became an analog engineer for motherboard power.

I loved that. I mean, it was different than what I had done before, and that change brought freshness into my career. I pinched myself in the morning before I went to work and said, “I can’t believe they’re going to pay me to do this again today.” So I did that for another eight years. Toward the end of that, they built a Thailand Development Center and the manager left. They needed another manager. My boss said, “Why don’t you consider applying for the job?” I said, “Well, I’ll pray about it.” So I did and I really felt led to go there. I went over for a month and was selected to be the manager. So I came back home, put my things in order here, packed up my house and stuff. They moved to Taiwan in 2011, and I spent 2 1/2 of the best years of my life there.

Josh: What an opportunity.

John: I came back home in 2013 and I was 68. I couldn’t see how I could top what I had just done, so in 2013 I walked out the door. The rest is history.

Josh: Yeah, that’s amazing. And those relationships in Taiwan, you still maintain those relationships. Those are pretty deep.

John: Oh yeah, every Monday night I teach English to contractors over there in Taiwan and I go over 6 or 8 weeks at a time–to Thailand and Japan. I could be a tour guide because I’ve been so many places.

Josh: What a cool opportunity. And you’re still coaching now. Do you consider yourself retired at this point?

John: Repurposed.

Josh: I like that.

John: Yeah, I will coach for the rest of my life. I have clients in Istanbul and Taiwan and here in the US. I do all my coaching pro bono because I really don’t like to take money for it. There’s a good twist to it: I pick my clients. I find somebody that’s promising and really has the desire but doesn’t have the focus. I ask them questions to help them with their focus. And then they’re successful.

Josh: When we think about the coaching end of things and what you’re doing now–at this point you really aren’t doing it because you have to; it’s because you want to.

John: Yeah, it keeps my mind sharp and keeps me engaged, keeps me healthy.

Josh: Right, that’s where a lot of people struggle. We’ve worked together with a few different groups of people that are going through that retirement process or thinking about retirement or recently retired. Often, the focus on retirement planning just goes down to the achievement of having accumulated enough money and the mechanics of that. And of course for financial planners, that’s what we do for a living, but there’s a huge emotional component to this whole thing. And that’s some of the coaching you’ve done for some of our clients and in groups. Would you talk about that? About what people should be paying attention to when it comes to fulfillment.

John: Well, in 2018 we started up having live meetings at Keystone early in the morning. We started with “Bridging the Emotional Gap into Retirement.” It was all about how to make the best of your retirement age. Josh, you brought in this book by Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz called Refire, Don’t Retire. You had a stack of them, one for everybody in the in the room and passed them around. It’s an easy read, written in a parable form. There’s a story about a couple that went to their high school reunion and saw all those old people and said, “Are we going to be like that? No, we are that.”

They met a professor, a PhD who was doing studies on aging, and they became part of his case study to refire in various ways. Refire emotionally. Refire intellectually, refire physically, and refire spiritually. This book provided the greatest foundation for our “Bridging the Emotional Gap into Retirement.” It’s an easy read, and it paces the work through the four week sessions. It worked great. And this last one was held on zoom because of COVID and that actually was even better than the live meetings because people didn’t have to get up early and come in so the attendance was better. The engagement was really good, so I think maybe going forward we might choose to do these in zoom format because that’ll include people who live in remote areas away from Loveland.

Josh: Yeah. Would you encapsulate maybe one or two points for somebody who’s going through that struggle, or maybe they’re going to be retiring soon, or they’ve recently retired and they’re asking, “Gosh, what now? What am I doing here emotionally?” Maybe they’re struggling with that transition; what are one or two pieces of advice you would give them?

John: One of my biggest concerns about people going into retirement is that they’ve been working all these years and their whole social group is around work. They might have a social group at church or maybe some friends, but mostly because of the number of hours spent at work, there’s a big emotional disconnect when they leave work.

So I’m concerned about people who quit working and then they’re in free form and don’t know how to handle it. It’s a new skill. It’s a new job. Your job is to learn how to live the rest of your life. You need to learn how to refire emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. I highly recommend Refire, Don’t Retire to anyone listening to this podcast.

Josh: Yeah, absolutely. And one of the authors, Ken Blanchard, wrote The One Minute Manager years ago. He always writes in parable format. I think he’s in his 80s now, a great role model of this whole process because he’s still active. He’s still going out. With Covid it’s a little more difficult, but he’s still doing public speaking, still teaching, and he feels exactly as you do, that he plans on dying doing what he’s doing.

John: Yeah, I’m following his model.

Josh: So shifting gears a little here, something we’ve visited about that you’re very open about is that you’ve had ADHD and mild dyslexia. How have you been able to use that to your advantage?

John: ADHD is really my superpower. I remember my coworker who became boss and lab manager once told me, “I cannot believe you can procrastinate so long until the last minute and then pull the project out of the fire with grace and ease. I don’t know how you do it.” And I said, “Well, I kind of require the pressure to get me motivated.” That was before I knew I had ADHD, back in the 70s. But I’ve been this way all my life and didn’t know it. I felt a lot of shame around it too. I really did, but once my son was diagnosed with ADHD and I was filling out the questionnaire so that the psychiatrist could know about the parents, I said, “Oh my God, I’m more ADHD than he is.” So I started learning about it when I went to coach training and decided that my niche would be coaching ADHD clients. It turns out I didn’t actually go out and look for ADHD clients. They found me. I think we attract people like ourselves. They see something in us; so I named my coaching business addED Potential Coaching. That’s what I feel called to do, is to help people bridge their challenges in this area to become more successful.

One of the things I can say about “Bridging the Emotional Gap into Retirement,” is that people discover as they go through that process that their greatest satisfaction is serving other people. That’s the only thing that brings lasting fulfillment in retirement.

Josh: You say ADHD is your superpower. Talk more about that, about how that’s your superpower.

John: My energy level has always been really high and I’m not a person that naps.

Josh: There are lots of examples of famous people like Richard Branson and others that have struggled with pretty severe dyslexia, things they’ve had to overcome, but it also forced them to be a lot more creative. Then they came up with something that was probably a lot better than they would have anyway if that had not been the case. So when you think about failure or an apparent failure, how has that set you up for later success and do you have a favorite failure of yours?

John: In the 1980s I was privileged to be on a focus team at HP and we designed the world’s first 32 bit microprocessor. We would go to international solid state circuits conferences and we would fill the hall when one of our speakers would talk, fill it with people from IBM and Dell and Sun. They were all very interested in what we were doing, even people from Palo Alto who felt these upstarts in Colorado had no right to be doing what they were doing. They have no computer experience. How are they doing this, you know?

But we got the money and we were very successful and we launched the world’s first server and they actually used them on Navy ships because they were so reliable and so compact and powerful that they’d use them for doing targeting drills and stuff. Well, it was a commercial failure pretty much. It led us to the next generation but when we first started the biggest chip at the time was about 16 kilobits and we needed more like 256 kilobits. So we were going to design a memory chip in this technology, but we found it impossible. We failed. So we thought through it and we thought we can do a memory chip that’s half of 256. So we built a 128K memory chip. It took a year. We were a year late with the memory chip because we had to completely start over and redesign. We got it done. So that was a favorite failure. I have some not so favorite failures.

Josh: (chuckle) Well, yeah, but pretty much every invention came as a result of a mistake, right? Of people trying different stuff and making lots of mistakes.

John: New paths.

Josh: Right, and I think that’s one of the blessings of Covid. There have been lots of blessings in that it kind of forced everybody to think differently.

John: It’s been so good for me because of zoom.

Josh: We’re sitting here together today. We wouldn’t have been doing this six months ago before vaccines, so we got very used to zoom calls. We like to get together, obviously. So, you’re a big reader, especially recently. You’ve been devouring some books. What are three books that have greatly influenced your life?

John: Number one, the Bible. Certainly my life is directed by the Word of God. The next one is Develop the Leader Within You by John Maxwell which really helped me develop leadership in people in Taiwan especially. Recently, Doctor Jason Fung’s The Diabetes Code was really important to me because I am Type 2 diabetic and obese and that’s becoming less so. After I started the ketogenic diet and fasting, my focus became so acute that I was able to read for hours and hours and comprehend and remember what I read. That’s a big change. I’d say the books on fasting and healthy diet are the things that are really influencing me right now.

Josh: Yeah, that’s been a big game changer. We were visiting about that before, about the changes in your diet and what you’ve learned about what you’re putting into your body and when. It’s also a timing issue?

John: Yeah, time restricted eating.

Josh: So, in the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?

John: Well, while doing a visualization exercise, I clearly got a God message that the way God designed me was to be a blessing to other people. So serving other people is how I thrive. Without it, I become selfish, self-centered, and looking after myself and bitter. So I must give of myself, pour myself out continuously in order to stay healthy mentally and emotionally. It’s the biggest thing in my life. When I see somebody in trouble, I just naturally ask how can I be of help? Sometimes they say no and often they say yes.

Like I told you, I’ve lost 40 pounds since I came back from Taiwan earlier in the year. Nearly twenty of those pounds since May 1st after learning about intermittent fasting and ketogenic nutrition. My plan is to go down to 185. That will be a 60 pound loss.

Josh: Yeah, that’s incredible. So you’re two thirds of the way there already. Wow.

John: Two thirds of the way there, and as I think about how this is helping me, I can only think of all those people around me who are suffering, people with Type 2 diabetes. They have neuropathy in their hands and feet and they have lack of energy and brain fog and depression, all those things that go away once you start cleaning your body up. I can’t help but reach out. A lot of them kind of swat me and say, “Go away, pesky guy.” I’m kind of like a fly on sugar. I’m happy with what I’m doing.

On a more serious note, in the late 90s, my late wife Elaine had breast cancer and we ended up spending her whole retirement on high dose chemotherapy and bone marrow rescue. I was broke, pretty much. Mortgage, second mortgage and everything to pay for it, because the HP insurance wouldn’t pay for that process; it was just too new at the time. We had to pay a lot of money and we came out of that pretty broke. Then she died and I was still broke. I needed to build up that money again so I’d have something for retirement. That’s when I met you, Josh, in 2001 when you were at HP Credit Union and started giving me counsel on how to do this. And through the years I started doing more investment and put everything I could into 401K and I worked until I was 68. Not that I had to. It was a choice, but because I did, that really kept the pressure off my principal and kept adding to it. When I did quit HP in 2013, I did with sufficient money to last for the rest of my life. Maybe not splendidly, but certainly it’s securely and I really thank Josh and Keystone Financial Services because it’s a good decision I made to trust you and to trust myself in the process because I did not want to worry about money. And not to be worried about money is probably the best decision I ever made.

Josh: Yeah. Dave Ramsey has Financial Peace University which a lot of people that I know have gone through. And when people feel that sense of peace financially, they can move on to the fulfillment side in other parts of their life. I think you’re a great example of somebody who has played catch up. Most people that I talk to, especially new clients, say, “You know what, we wish we would have started earlier.” I’ve worked with a number of people that feel like they got wiped out financially and had to start over. People have had some pretty incredible comeback stories where in a relatively short amount of time, we’re able to re-accumulate wealth and get where they want to be. A lot of it just comes down to focus and how bad they want it. I guess that’s the whole point here, that it’s never too late to start planning and accumulating. And we’ll kind of wrap up here in a second, but coaching has been a huge part of your life and your second career. So I’d like to ask, what are some bad recommendations that you hear in your profession?

John: If coaches get off track and start directing people, then they’re not helping because the energy comes from the coach and not from the client. So I’d say the worst thing is a coach that becomes a mentor. And it’s hard to resist that. What’s really important is learning how to ask powerful questions that you don’t know the answer to, and the client doesn’t know the answer to, but they need to know the answer in order to go forward. So you use your experience and your intuition to think of that question, which the client really needs to answer to move to the next step. I think the worst advice is to give advice.

Josh: What’s the difference between being a mentor and being a coach?

John: Let’s talk about learning to ride a bicycle. If you’re trying to learn to ride a bicycle and you have a mentor to help you, then the mentor tells you all his bicycling experience and all the things he did to learn how to do it and he will come alongside you and talk to you as you’re trying to do it and give you all sorts of tips and things like that. But you’re kind of limited to the level of expertise of the mentor. You can’t really go beyond your mentor until you gain your own experience. And then there’s the technical representative who can tell you all about bikes and how they’re made and things like that, but it has nothing to do with riding a bike. A coach asks you why you want to ride a bike, what’s your purpose?

And then the coach could ask more questions when they start riding the bike. OK, you see them looking down and they’re losing their balance and wobbling all over and you say, “What if you look down the road and focus your eyes on the horizon.”

And so they try it and say, “I’m able to keep my balance better when I do that instead of looking down.”

A coach keeps asking those questions that are necessary to enhance the experience of the client and they learn and they are motivated to learn because it’s their idea. You know, usually. Sometimes, like looking down the road, something is the coach’s idea. We’ll do that occasionally, but mostly you’re just going to ask why questions that they need to find answers to in order to be successful.

Josh: Yeah, for anybody who’s interested, the “Bridging the Emotional Gap into Retirement” sessions that John referred to before, we do those every now and again, right? We accumulate some folks and I have a feeling that’s going to be easier going forward simply because the zoom format has worked great.

John: After my summer in the mountains, we’ll probably do another one like in the fall when people are thinking about learning.

Josh: Yeah, so if anybody is interested, certainly let us know. Best way to reach out is just go to our website .Let us know you’re interested so we can get you on the wait list for that next session.

People who attend are in all kinds of different situations. Some have already retired, some are just thinking about doing some emotional prep for that day when they do retire and move into the next phase, a phase that can be really exciting, but can also be scary for a lot of folks as they get out of the mode where they may have been working for thirty or forty or fifty years and now it’s time to figure out what’s next.

So John, one last question that I always like to ask is for people who might just be starting out. What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the real world? What advice should they ignore?

John: They probably should ignore advice. Experience is the best teacher. What advice would I give? I’d start asking questions. Some of the questions I would ask: Is what you’re doing bringing you fulfillment? What would bring you the greatest fulfillment and what are you doing to reach that level? What is it you can do now that will pay great dividends later, even though it might be a little painful right now? I would like to ask questions that call for looking forward. Look up, get out of the moment and start thinking about what it’s going to be like when they get to my age.

Josh: Yep, that’s fantastic. And I really appreciate you taking the time today. I think this is going to be helpful for a lot of people and not just people that are nearing retirement or already retired, but those that are younger. Because you know, naturally when we hear other people’s stories, we’re always trying to interject ourselves into the story and figure out what does that mean to me. What role would I play?

So yeah, again, anybody who’s interested, let us know if you want to get signed up for that group. And as always, we want your help in promoting the podcast, so anybody who wants to pass on this knowledge, please share. At the Wiser Financial Advisor, the whole goal here is to skip trying to figure everything out by trial and error but rather to learn from other people who have walked before us so we can make our own lives better financially and otherwise.

With that in mind, let others know about the podcast and certainly hit subscribe as well so we are able to stay in touch with you.

That’s it for today. Thank you very much and God bless.

The opinions voiced in this episode of the Wiser Financial Advisor with host Josh Nelson are for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investment advisory services offered through Keystone Financial Services, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.