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Reinvention by Pursuing a Passion: 2 Success Stories

How these two did it and advice on how you might, too


Reinventing is the name of the game for many people close to, or starting, retirement. Some are redefining themselves in totally new ways by exploring a passion that was dormant for years.

John Lyman and Brenda Maready are prime examples.

From Trauma Nurse to Novelist

Lyman, of Tucson, worked as a trauma nurse for 30 years, often in intensive care units, but spent much of that time dreaming of becoming a writer. Along the way, Lyman, now 67, began self-publishing novels on the side. As his income rose from e-book sales, he started making more money as an author than as a nurse.

So in 2012, Lyman left nursing to devote himself full-time to writing. One motivation: his nursing job didn’t provide a pension. By the time Lyman retired from nursing, he had finished the second book of his God’s Lions series and was working on his third.

While Lyman won’t divulge what he’s currently earning annually, he will say that he has paid off his mortgage, bought a car and been making a decent living since 2011. Today, he is the author of six self-published novels.

His first, God’s Lions: The Secret Chapel is being developed into a movie by Riverrock Films and he has collaborated on the screenplay. Its plot revolves around a priest who discovers a secret in the Negev Desert. Author Dan Brown and his blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code served as Lyman’s inspiration.

“The book gave me something to live on and I can keep doing it [writing] as I get older. I can’t keep pounding the floors of hospitals,” Lyman says.

Moving from nursing to writing wasn’t Lyman’s first career switch. He began his working life in the Air Force, as a weapons instructor in the early 1970s. Next, Lyman became a policeman in Corpus Christi, Texas. Then, he studied to become a registered nurse, specializing in trauma cases.

“I can’t remember how many lives I saved,” Lyman says.

But when insurers started influencing how medical staffs operate, his interest in nursing waned.

While on vacation in Hawaii, he started reading about a secret code that ran through the Old Testament and thought it would be a perfect subject for a novel. He read a series of books on writing and plunged into creating God’s Lions. When his mother visited him, she read the first 25 pages and exclaimed, “You have to finish writing this book!”

While making rounds at Oro Valley Hospital in Oro Valley, Ariz., Lyman kept a pad and jotted down notes for the next day’s work on his novel. Writing fiction at the end of exhausting and sometimes agonizing work days as a trauma nurse was a welcome relief, he says. “When you write, especially fiction, you’re in another world,” Lyman says.

Lyman’s first check from Amazon was for a modest $4, but sales began to snowball via word of mouth. “I started getting fan mail and it just took off,” he says. Since then, Lyman has sold hundreds of thousands of books.

When he thinks about the detours his life has taken, Lyman concludes, “It’s kind of awe-inspiring and a little unbelievable. I feel very blessed and fortunate.”

Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand and Imagine Your Future, says that — like Lyman — many people redefine themselves in retirement because “they want to scale back their hours of labor intensity, but still need to earn money.”

As people stay healthy longer than in the past, retirement doesn’t necessarily mean stopping work, but reengineering it.

Brenda Maready

From Teacher to Boutiques Franchise Co-Owner

You might call the career switch of Brenda Maready, now 73 and anything but retired, a bit of Monkee business.

Maready, of Winston Salem, N.C., began her career teaching fifth grade in the late 1960s. She left that work to raise three children and began thinking of doing something entrepreneurial when her son was finishing high school and Maready and her husband were about to become empty nesters.

A long-time lover of handbags and shoes, when Maready walked into a Monkee’s shoe shop in Wilmington, N.C. in 1997, she became enthralled with it. At dinner that night, she told her husband: “I want to open a shop just like Monkee’s in Winston Salem.”

The couple invited Monkee’s owner DeeDee Shaw and her spouse to dinner and, on a napkin, Maready’s husband drew up a contract as a licensee. The partnership was born.

As a new Monkee’s owner, Maready had to master many skills — including using the computer, buying merchandise and understanding fiscal constraints. But the store prospered.

After three years, Maready’s Monkee’s transformed into a fashion boutique with an inviting atmosphere. The store offered refreshments including lemonade and coffee and its employees were instructed to “greet each customer immediately, to welcome them,” Maready explained.

In fact, the store was so successful that Maready and Shaw formed a more serious partnership and turned Monkee’s into a franchise. Maready is now co-owner and managing partner for Monkee’s Franchising and owner/operator of Monkee’s of the Village.

“Over 20 years, my partner and I have never had an argument,” Maready says. They now run 25 Monkee’s franchises, in North Carolina and nine other states.

Maready isn’t interested in retiring. “When you love what you do, you never go to work,” she says. The most gratifying aspect of running the business, Maready adds, is the “people and relationships you build. Whether they are our sales associates, customers, or vendors, they become like friends, which is very satisfying to me.”

Advice for Pursuing Your Passion in a New Career

If you’re considering making a career switch — whether in your retirement or otherwise — Clark cautions that a dream project may take “a while to gain traction and bring in money.”

The first step to making the transition, says Clark, is “immersing yourself in your new field, almost consider a form of apprenticeship, even if you were an expert in a previous field.”

Tapping the network of people and the skills you’ve created along the way can be a huge help. Online courses may let you sharpen your skills.

But Clark also offers a word of caution: Be sure you differentiate between a hobby and a business, she says. If you don’t, you may encounter a serious obstacle to success.

“Businesses focus on what a customer wants,” says Clark. Target specific types of customers, she advises. Lyman did just that when writing his novels and Maready did it with her stores, which helps explain why both are so successful and happy with their lives.

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