Have you ever been totally wrong about something? Had a long-held belief or thought pattern turned completely upside down, causing you to pause and reassess? It’s happened to me more than once; the most recent eye-opener involved, of all things, retirement.

Like other “aha” moments, it came unexpectedly and in an unforeseen way. We were out to dinner with a group of friends and sat across from a couple we had known for some time. After some little chit-chat and some awkward silences, I did the unthinkable.  I asked a multi-level marketing person why she started her business.  In her quiet and reserved voice she politely shared, “To meet people.”  I’m not sure how I looked when she responded, but mentally I was dumbfounded.  Since I had always assumed network marketing was all about money and get-rich-quick schemes, I couldn’t help blurting out, “What do you mean?” 

It turns out she started her business soon after she retired and had just remarried.  She was in a new city, away from family and friends, and looking for ways to meet new people.  She told me that she doesn’t attend all the “rah-rah” meetings because she’s not really interested in becoming a top producer or signing up hundreds of people below her.  She likes keeping busy during Michigan’s long, cold winter, and since she already used and liked many of her company’s beauty products, she figured, “Why not sell them and supplement my retirement income?”   

She didn’t ask me to join the cult, never offered a sample of her lotions or lip balm, has yet to invite me to a so-called business meeting or threatened to “pop by” with her latest catalog. The brief experience did, however, put me in a quandary.  First of all, she completely dispelled my perception of the motives that drive multi-level marketers, which left me wondering how other baby boomers, like her, are changing and altering industries with similar business models.  More profound though, was the realization that she personified a solution to what I see as some of the most pressing issues facing new retirees.  Entrepreneurship, exemplified by this woman’s business, not only addresses financial aspects of retirement it can ameliorate a host of mental, social and physical issues that traditional retirement planning fails to deal with.

As a former social worker turned financial advisor, I frequently discuss the mental, social and physical components that I believe are crucial to any retirement plan.  Retirement transition issues including a need to replace one’s work identity, find a passion, fill time meaningfully, stay connected to family and friends, and remain mentally sharp and physically fit.  I’ve spent years developing tools and resources to solve this laundry list of needs, but I never anticipated that helping retired people start a business would wind up in that toolbox. 

Not only has my friend successfully replaced her work identity with a new business role, she supplements her retirement savings, stays in touch with friends and family, and has accomplished her main goal of meeting new people.  She keeps physically active by walking door-to-door and by moving and organizing her supplies, which fills her newfound time and keeps her mentally engaged.  Furthermore, she does it part time (even somewhat seasonally) and didn’t need to make a large withdrawal from her nest egg to get started. The business provides tax deductions, including travel to sales conventions, which she and her husband use as getaways to places on their travel bucket list.

One caveat, however: This particular experience has not resulted in my ringing endorsement for the entire multi-level or home-based business industry.  I haven’t started my own multi-level marketing company; nor do I ask clients to refer six friends, who, in turn, can refer six friends and we’ll all get rich.  It has, though, contributed to what I see as a major shift in retirement planning: a trend where the concept of entrepreneurship can be used as an alternative asset class and source of retirement income.