My road to Findependence: Guest Blog by Sheryl Smolkin

Sheryl Smolkin and Rufus

By Sheryl Smolkin

Special to The Financial Independence Hub 

Almost 10 years ago, at age 54, I took early retirement from my job as a pension lawyer and Canadian research director of an international benefits consulting company. I locked the door of my downtown office for the last time on a Friday; on the following Monday I started my new career as editor-in-chief of an industry magazine.

My new job paid only about one third of what I earned before, but I left with a defined benefit pension (albeit reduced by about 30%) and retiree health benefits so I was prepared to take the risk in order to try something new.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can say it was a totally audacious move. I knew how to write peer-reviewed, factual client publications but didn’t have a clue about the economics of running a trade magazine or how to turn a bunch of disparate articles into a cohesive product.

Hard work but fun, and I learned fast

But boy, did I learn fast. I never worked so hard in my life and never had so much fun.

Employee Benefit News Canada was SourceMedia’s only Canadian periodical and for the first two years I was the only Canadian employee. I worked remotely with the editorial group in Washington DC, the production team in New York and the marketing division in Atlanta.

I wrote about half of the articles for the bimonthly magazine and a weekly email newsletter. Industry experts who were happy for the exposure wrote the rest. However getting these pieces in on time and editing them to fit our style was often an interesting exercise in relationship management!

I got to attend and cover lots of industry conferences across North America but it wasn’t all fun and games. I’ll never forget the time I agreed to do a daily newsletter for a Canadian Pension & Benefits Institute Ontario conference in Deerhurst.

I took pictures (I’m a terrible photographer) and interviewed people during the day. At night I wrote the articles and uploaded them on a flakey internet connection to New York where they were laid out. In the wee hours I downloaded a pdf that was photocopied for distribution at breakfast the next morning. Never again!

After four years I resigned this position to take a one-year contract doing course development for the Humber College Centre for Employee Benefits. Subsequently, EBNC and the very successful Canadian Benefits & Pension Summit (which I initiated and programmed for two years) were sold to Benefits Canada.

When my job at Humber College ended I had no idea what I was going to do next. I wanted to keep writing, so I put up a website and started sending a monthly email with a brief introduction and links to various media articles I thought would interest HR and benefits professionals.

Suddenly, the phone started ringing

I was invited to copy edit the Rotman International Journal of Pension Management and a former member of the EBNC editorial advisory board asked me to interview her for a company video. Months later she retained me to write bi-monthly client newsletters, which I am still doing three years later.

However, my big break came when Adam Mayers, the Personal Finance editor at the Toronto Star, asked me if I would like to submit a few pension-related pieces after long-time pension and insurance columnist Jim Daw retired.

The first piece I wrote was “Is this pension plan Canada’s best kept secret?” about the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Soon after I was contacted by SPP and asked to help implement their social media strategy. This has developed into a wonderful long-term client relationship blogging for twice a week.

By the end of January 2011, I graduated from writing occasional Toronto Star articles to a blog called Eye on Benefits that appeared three times a week on Moneyville, the Toronto Star’s personal finance site. It was absolutely terrifying! I can tell you I spent many sleepless nights wondering what on earth I was going to write about next. When the Moneyville experiment ended, I continued to write a weekly column in the Toronto Star called At Work for another year.

Over the last four years I also did a series of columns and employment law video interviews for and wrote lots of one-off articles for other publications. More recently, I have joined the team at Sun Life’s blogging site Brighter Life and my column Working it out  appears twice a month.

Kept building wealth in decade after “First Retirement”

When I took early retirement and embarked on a journalism career from the guest bedroom, I never imagined how it would all play out or that I would still be writing for valued clients 10 years later. In the last several years I have earned almost as much as I did when I left my career consulting position, we have maxed out our RRSPs and TFSAs and doubled our retirement savings.

While my famous last words were that I would never write for free if I could get paid for my work, at the beginning of October I launched the blogging site Retirement Redux: Reinventing Retirement.  In the last two weeks it has had 3,600 page views. I’m hoping that as I transition to real retirement, it may turn into another modest stream of income. But if it doesn’t, I don’t really care. I’m having so much fun interacting with other personal finance bloggers and readers I can’t wait to post the next article.

Time for an “Encore Career”?

If you are close to retirement age but not ready to pack it in completely, I encourage you to think about a “second act” or encore career that lets you continue to do what you love most and leave behind facets of your former job that were always at the bottom of your To Do list. I can tell you I don’t miss doing team budgets, performance reviews, endless strategy meetings or trying to reinvent myself every year.

Here are some tips to get you started:

* Find something you love doing — writing in my case.
* Eliminate what you like the least.
* Define the product or service you can deliver.
* Put up a website with a blog that showcases your expertise.
* Look for free resources online.
* Find a virtual tribe or community you can share ideas with and learn from.
* In person and using social media, network, network, network.

I fell into my new career and just followed the road to findependence wherever it took me. But the website 100 Great Second-Act Career Resources | My Lifestyle Career and the book Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement may help you think outside the box and discover new and profitable ways to help fund your next chapter.

Sheryl Smolkin is a lawyer and journalist. You can find her work on and You can contact her through either website.



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