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2024 Virtual Return to Work Conference, May 14-16

EP: 231 Richard Eisenberg, former Managing Editor of Next Avenue, shares thoughts on “Unretiring”

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Episode Description

Richard Eisenberg was, until recently, the Managing Editor of Next Avenue, the PBS’s website for people 50+, and the editor of the site's Money & Policy and Work & Purpose channels. Richard was a previous guest for Episode 197 of the 3,2,1 iRelaunch podcast, when we discussed career progression trends for the 50+ worker, how COVID impacted those trends, and his predictions about what working behaviors will look like post-COVID. Since that conversation, Richard has retired from Next Avenue to start his "unretirement." In this episode, we ask him to turn the lens on himself and discuss his personal career journey, his thought process and expectations for this phase of his life and career, what “unretirement" looks like for him and some advice on how others might navigate it as well.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch. And your host. Today we welcome Richard Eisenberg. Richard was until recently the Managing Editor of Next Avenue. The public media website for people 50 plus, and the editor of the sites, money and policy and work in purpose channels.

He was our guest for episode 1 97 of 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch during which we discussed career progression trends for the over 50 worker, how COVID has impacted those trends and his predictions about what working behaviors will look like post COVID. Since that conversation, Richard has retired from Next Avenue to start his unretired quote, as he calls it.

In this episode, we ask him to turn the lens on himself and discuss his personal career journey, as well as his thought process, expectations and timing for his own unretirement. Richard, welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch.

Richard Eisenberg: Thank you, Carol. It's great to be back and congratulations on what a great year you had at iRelaunch. I saw that you had your 30th Return to Work Conference and your first virtual employer summit. So it's been a big year for you guys.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, yes. Thank you for noting that it has been a big year. COVID has brought on so many changes for our world and everything about the way we live.

And, it has also caused changes in the way we work at iRelaunch and it's really put a spotlight on the work that we're doing in many ways. So yeah, it has been quite a year. And thank you for mentioning that. So let's just get right into it. And I want to know if you can, first tell us a little bit about your career path.

Richard Eisenberg: Sure. So I spent 43 years as a personal finance and career journalist I was as a fact checker, a writer, a Washington correspondent at Money Magazine. I worked at Money for about 19 years. I was at Good Housekeeping for about 10 years, as the (inaudible), Special Projects Director, I worked at Yahoo for about a year and a half as a Front Page Finance Editor.

And then I was lucky enough to be part of the launch team at Next Avenue back in 2011. And as you say, it's a website from PBS for people in their fifties and sixties, trying to help people navigate their lives. And I was also the Money in the Work Editor, as you say. I wrote and edited a lot of stories about retirement planning. So I tried to learn a few things along the way.

Carol Fishman Cohen: It's so interesting to hear your background and also very appreciative of the perspective that you bring with all the history of writing about money and finances and managing the financial side of your life, because we are going to want to get into that, in part of our discussion.

So tell us. You use this term unretirement, we use it a little bit differently, but I'm really interested in how you define unretirement and how it differs from retirement.

Richard Eisenberg: Sure. I think the word retirement is a pejorative these days when people hear the somebody retired or they even talk about it first of all, a lot of people think, oh, that's a terrible thing. I don't want to ever retire. And I think what they mean by that is returning the way maybe our parents and their parents define it, which is to say, you stop work altogether and you have a life of leisure, if you're lucky. And that's the way you spend all your days.

And to me, that's just not the way a lot of people retire these days. Some people do, and that's great, but a lot of people who are doing what I'm trying to do, which is to not retire from life. So I'm still writing and editing. Part-time some for Next Avenue. I'm talking to a lot of places that are interested in working with me and places that I'm interested in working for.

I'm weighing different opportunities. I'm saying yes to some things and no to some things. I'm looking for opportunities to do some more volunteering, some mentoring, I'm hoping to travel if COVID 19 will let me do that. So to me, that's my version of unretirement. And I'm going to be busy because that's just the kind of person I am, but I don't want to work full time every day.

And so far so good.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. It's really interesting and refreshing to hear you talk about the concept of life after traditional career in the way you're describing it. At iRelaunch just to clarify for our listeners. We call unretiring from retirement when people actually relaunched back into the workforce because they decided for one reason or another, and sometimes it could be financial or sometimes it just wasn't how that traditional view of retirement ended up panning out that they come back into the workforce in a more formal way.

You're describing it totally differently. And I really appreciate the nuances there and also the way you look at it. It's really all about opportunities and that outlook is really interesting, especially, to those of us who are in an age group where we're looking at retirement over the next five, 10, or however many years.

It's really interesting to see how the definition of it is already changing just by people like you, Richard, who are living a very different kind of retirement or unretirement then, has been, like traditionally lived. So can you tell us a little bit about the thought process that led to your decision to unretire from Next Avenue and how did you know the timing was right?

Was it a moment? Was it something you've been planning for a long period of time? How did you figure out that part of it?

Richard Eisenberg: I love my job and I probably could have continued to do it for sometimes as long as they would've let me, but I'd been thinking about making this switch for awhile. And I guess I felt like I'd been there 10 years as of November.

I thought that was a nice round number. I turned 65 last year, another kind of round number. And I guess I felt maybe the gods were saying something to me, but I also felt I'm really proud of what I've done at Next Avenue. I'm proud of what Next Avenue has become. I felt like it was time to let somebody else give it a try, do the money in the work channels.

I'm really excited that one of my colleagues at Next Avenue is the new Managing Editor taking over from what I was doing. I think she's a perfect choice for that. And I'm glad that she has the opportunity for that, but I'm eager to see what the next money and work editor at Next Avenue has in mind and how they will be doing it in a way that might be different than I did.

And I guess I also felt like this was a time, fortunately I'm mostly healthy. And we all have some issues, but I felt like there was a time in my life that I want to take advantage of the fact that I am in pretty good health. And there are things I want to be doing and haven't done, or haven't had as much time to do.

And I felt like if I waited too much longer, who knows what the future could hold, I might not be able to. So I want to do it while I could.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And that kind of leads into my next question, which I'm guessing you get asked a lot and that is What are your unretirement plans and do you recommend, having gone through this or that now that you're going through this in real time, do you think it's better to map it out or is it better to leave most of it undefined?

Richard Eisenberg: I'll start by saying I've only been at it for three weeks, so it's a real early, pretty much of an expert on this, but I will say I do think it's good for people to map this out as much as they can, who knows what the future holds for any of us. So it's impossible to know exactly what life after full-time work might look like.

But I do think it's a good idea to think about what you want it to be and what are the things you want to try to do, even if you're not sure exactly how you'll do them. Where you want to do them. If you have a spouse or partner that you discuss at all with your spouse or partner, to be sure that they're aware of what you're thinking about doing, because, we've written about too many stories on Next Avenue of couples who never had that conversation and had very different ideas of what the retirement was going to be like.

And it became a problem for them because they were just not on the same page. Tom Brady recently was asked whether he was going to be retiring from football after his last game. And he said he hasn't figured it out yet. He's not sure. He'll see. And he may know, but he's not telling us, but it sounds like he really hasn't thought about it a lot.

And I really think it's important to think about it. Whether it's five years or so before you expect to actually make that move or what? I think that the people who have the hardest time are the ones who just one day stop working full time with no idea of what their life is going to be after that.

And they know what they're retiring from. They don't know what the retiring to. We had recently, a financial planner named Tony Hickson who wrote a really fascinating book called retirement stepping stones. And it came out of his own mother's experience. His mother had been a hospice nurse for many years.

Loved her job, decided it was time to retire, didn't know what she was going to do after that. And sadly fell into a very deep depression in retirement because she lost her sense of purpose and meaning, and sadly took her own life and Tony felt like he needed to write a book about how to help people avoid that happening to them and why it's so important to think about what you want to get out of life if once you retire, if you retire.

And he's changed his whole financial planning practice. So it's no longer all about how much money do you have and where are you investing? But he has a life coach as one of his advisors. And I think that's a pretty good idea.

Carol Fishman Cohen: It's interesting because there's that financial planning piece and there's the identity piece.

When I talk to people who are retired or contemplating it, I see them fall into these two camps. One of them is I don't want to pre-commit to something that I might then later find something else that I'm even more interested in, but now I can't do it cause I already pre-committed and also the people who are uncomfortable if they're asked the question, oh so you're retiring. What are your plans? And they don't want to say nothing, or I don't know yet. And then there are the other people. And I actually had one person say this to me who was retiring and said, you know what? I needed to have an elevator pitch. I realized I was not comfortable saying. I'm not sure. Or, I'm still thinking about it.

So I had to figure it out and then be able to talk about what I was doing. So I'm just wondering, if you have any comments on all of that.

Richard Eisenberg: Yeah. I love the idea of an elevator pitch. I do think it's helpful too, to be able to articulate how you view where you are in life. And that said, I think people should understand that they don't need to feel like they have to commit to a decision about what they're going to do and stick to it.

And if it doesn't work out. To get depressed about that. I think this time of life, once you leave full-time work is a great time to experiment. There's another person I interviewed over the years who wrote a book about what he calls The Tapas Life, tap as when you go to a restaurant and you have a lots of little appetizers, you try them all out.

To think of that is in this time of life where you say, try out some part-time work maybe or volunteering and you know what, it may be that the place you think you're going to volunteer in, you even tried and it's just not a good fit. Or you decide that the kind of work you thought you want to do, you didn't or something comes along.

I think it's good to leave yourself open to possibilities, but also to have an idea of the kinds of things you think you want to do and pursue them, and also be open to other ideas.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love this tapas idea and it's reminding me of what we tell younger people when they're early in their career, that be an exploratory mode, for the first few years, because you don't really know exactly what's going to work for you. And it's good to try a lot of different things. Now, here it's slightly different because we're very much fully formed as people. And we have certain ideas about ourselves, about where our interests and skills are strongest and what we love to do. We feel like we know ourselves pretty well, but it's a new context.

So I love this idea of being back in exploratory mode again.

Richard Eisenberg: Yeah, absolutely. In some ways it's a little bit like, adolescence and starting to figure out who you are and what matters to you. But as you say, now that we're grownups, it's also a time for us to think about what are we good at and what are our skills and maybe the kind of work or volunteering we're going to do, isn't necessarily what we've been doing for our careers.

But uses some of those transferable skills, that things that you're really good at that you could be doing in other ways. So I feel like people should not limit themselves to say, since I've done this, I'll just keep doing that. I'll just do less of it. That's fine. Some people may want to do that, but it may be that you'll want to say to yourself I'm good at this. And I think I can do it in this way. Let me give that a try. Some people also go back to, hobbies and passions that they had when they were kids that they've put aside for a long time. They're playing piano again, or violin or art or a painting or they're picking, or they're doing it after years of wanting to do it, but never doing it before.

This is a great time to try to pursue some of those passions too.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. I know that I'm not trying to retire for a long time, but I do have sort of a list of things that I'm thinking well, when that time happens, there's a hundred books I want to read and there are certain projects I want to work on.

I was thinking, I want to try to learn to code, I just want to see. Can I do it or is it on my way out of my league? So like I have this mental list, but it feels like it's just hanging there and it's way out there. So who knows what it'll be like when I'm actually in the retirement or unretirement mode?

Richard, I want to switch to talking about, the financial side of it, and I want to know if you can tell us you have interviewed so many people and have thought and discussed the whole concept of financial management and at different stages of life. Did you take a lot of what you learned and employ it in your own financial planning for your unretirement?

Richard Eisenberg: I better have done that. Otherwise I'm a complete fraud. I think I did well. Yeah. I've started saving and investing for the future since I was in my twenties. I didn't know what the future was going to hold, but I just knew it was important to do that because you can't count on your employers to do that the way they used to.

I did for a long time, both for myself. And also we have my wife and I have two grown sons and we want to help pay for them through college. So I saved and invested a lot for that. So I did all that, but also, once I hit my fifties, I want to look for ways to get rid of debt. So we were able to finally pay off the mortgage early, pay off the car loans.

We have two cars that are perfectly fine cars, nothing fancy, nothing exceptional. They're not new. But they're paid off and we're not planning to replace them anytime soon. So I really want to focus on building up my savings and investments, reducing my debt so that I could be in a point in life financially, where I felt like I didn't have major financial worries.

Now we all have financial issues. I'm concerned about long-term care one day, that could be a problem. Healthcare costs were still expensive. Now I'm on Medicare and that was a journey in its own, right. Which we can talk about now or some other time. But I do feel like I did the right things to prepare myself.

I've been lucky. Because for many of the years that I've been working, the stock market's done very well. There was some years that didn't, but I held on and it bounced back. And not everybody's going to be that lucky, but I have been, and I was lucky with the house that we live in New Jersey.

It's grown in value over time. I can't claim any credit for that other than investing early and sticking with it and buying a home as always we could and staying with that too.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So Richard, you mentioned Medicare. I'm thinking, let's talk about that now.

Can you, I don't know if people think it through or even know what it means to all of a sudden get Medicare. Do you fill out forms? Like what happens?

Richard Eisenberg: It is a mess. And I will say that what would help my wife and I. We both turned 65 is that we work with a Medicare consultant who helped us find the right supplemental policies.

I'm sure we could have done it, but I felt better knowing that we were in the hands of somebody who does this for a living who's unbiased. And that was really helpful, but I will say. That soon, shortly before you're 65. You want to start looking into Medicare. Now, there's I won't go into all the details, but there's part A part B part A is free and everybody should sign up for that before they turn 65 or as, so turning 65, just so that you're on Medicare and that you're not paying a penalty for not signing up on time.

And then if you're still working in, you have employer coverage, you don't need to sign up for part B cause your employers is paying your coverage. But at the point of which you're going to not have employer coverage, then you definitely want to sign up for part B and then you probably want to get a supplemental policy, which is a prescription drug policy.

So there's lots of moving parts. And you can change your mind, but medicare and the government don't make it easy to do this. So it takes a while and it's easy to get frustrated and make mistakes, but I would just tell people to persevere, but not put it off to the last minute either.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Are there certain resources? I know it sounds like, you used an expert, but if you're not using an expert, are there certain online resources, maybe something on Next Avenue that you would point people toward?

Richard Eisenberg: It's true. The Next I've written quite a few stories about enrolling for Medicare and track.

We did one recently about a woman who just did it and she talked about her whole experience doing it. So there's that, Medicare itself has a very good booklet that you can either read online or I have sent you, which is, has all the rules. That's helpful. And every state has what's called a ship plan.

S H I P, which is the state health insurance program. And this is a free program where they can answer questions for you. Now, they're not going to tell you which policy to buy, but to help you understand what you need to know when you're making a choice. So there are experts out there who can help you some of them are free. Some of them cost money. The advisor that we use. He didn't charge a fee. But the fee that we paid to buy the insurance, he kept a part of that. That's just the way that works. And I was perfectly happy with that because I felt like he deserved what he got to help us choose the right policies.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. All right. This is something I've never thought about. And I'm realizing I'm very glad to hear about these resources and just the approach you took. So I want to ask about how you managed your exit on the work front, given that you loved your job and you were involved in the formation of Next Avenue, fully all in committed on to the organization.

Did you think through some sort of succession plan, was there already some sort of succession protocol established, and how did you manage that process as far as your work was concern.

Richard Eisenberg: So there was no succession protocol and process, but I want to give my employer enough time to find replacements for me.

I didn't want to leave them on the hook. And so I told them in November that I was planning to leave in early January, and I was hoping that they would be able to find a replacement for me as Managing Editor and a replacement for me is the Money and Work Editor before I left on January 4th. And I suggested that I thought my colleague would be a great Managing Editor for the site.

And I was really delighted to see that they agreed and they hired her. They gave her that position, as well. So she's now doing that. And that started before I left. So I thought that was terrific. They are in the process of interviewing people for the Money and Work Editor's job. And I'm sure they'll find somebody great, but they haven't found anybody yet.

And because I knew that was a possibility, I had a lot of stories assigned and some of them edited so that they would be ready to roll after I left and I wouldn't be leaving anybody in the lurch. And so quite a few of my money and work stories have been published since I've left. So I had worked on just to have them ready for them, and then others, I hadn't edited yet, but I'd gone worked with a writer to the point where they were ready for the Managing Editor to take the story over for me and basically just upload it into the server.

So I feel like I did all I could do to help them, it's up to the employer to actually do the hiring, obviously.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. That was a lot of care and work and planning that you put into making that process as smooth as possible. Do you think they were surprised when you told them in November or is this something you'd been hinting or kind of having general discussions about for an extended period and then finally it came around?

Richard Eisenberg: I have not hinted about it and I don't recommend people do because I worry that if you give your employer, even the remote sense that you're not all in that you might be thinking about leaving soon, unless you want to have a conversation with them about our phased retirement, where you worked for them, less than five days a week and gradually retire. I wouldn't recommend saying, I am thinking about retiring soon and I'll let you know when, because I think at that point, the alarm bells go off in the employer's mind and they start thinking, gee, I wonder how serious that person is about this job. And maybe we were thinking about replacing them now.

So I didn't say anything. I have to assume that they knew at some point I would leave because everybody does eventually. And that I'd been there 10 years and quite a few of my colleagues have come and gone over the years. I was the last person left on the original team. So I have to think that they didn't find it completely out of the blue, but maybe didn't were a little surprised on when. But because of that, I felt like giving them enough notice at least would keep them from feeling, oh my goodness, what are we going to do now? We're in a terrible crisis. I didn't want that to happen. So I felt like I did all I could do looking out for them, but also looking at for me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. It seems like you did everything right on the financial side, on the managing, the succession on the work side. I'm wondering, do you have generally any specific tips for our audience, in terms of preparing for retirement or financial strategy that you haven't already talked about and also looking back on it, is there anything that you would have done differently than what you ended up doing?

Richard Eisenberg: I'll start the first question and then I'll go to the second, and I will preface it by saying, I'm not sure I did everything right. And I'm sure there are going to be surprises that I'm not expecting that are not always going to be pleasant, but that's life. But I do feel like I did some things and my advice for people who are thinking about doing something similar to what I'm doing is to first think about what do you want to retire to? So imagine, what do you think your life would be like? And what do you want it to be like in retirement. My wife used a phrase that I thought was great, which is to take the Marie Kondo attitude.

What gives you joy and try to spend as much time in your retirement on things that give you joy and don't do the things that don't give you joy. And you can't do that all the time. They're always gonna be things we have to do that don't give us joy. But I have been able to say no to some things that I thought, you know what? I could do that job and I'm sure I can do it fine, but I don't think I want to. And I've given myself permission to do that.

I do think it's important for people to really seriously take a look at their finances. And if you have a financial advisor meet with your advisor, if you don't have one, find one. And just say, can I afford to do this? And how should I do it? And that includes things like, when should I start taking social security? And if I'm going to get a pension, when should I start taking that? Just test yourself to be sure that you're not making a terrible blunder financially, even though you know what you want to do emotionally and psychologically.

And then I would say, try to create a schedule for yourself. Now, I don't mean a schedule where you have planned out every hour of the day, every day of the week, because then you are not retired at all. But I do think having I put out my, for myself a two week calendar day by day, and when I look at it, there are big chunks of those, some of those days with nothing happening and other times where I have things planned, like being interviewed for your podcast.

And I'm happy with that. And I like that right now. And I feel like it's a good mix. And I am careful that I don't want to find it all those days are all filled up, but I'm also nervous about the days when I look at the calendar and there's nothing happening. I don't want that either. So I feel like I want something in between. And I think everybody needs to figure out what's best for them.

What kind of schedule do they want? Some people will probably want to be less busy than I do. And some people may be more busy. You have to decide what makes sense for you. I don't think I have any regrets yet, but maybe if we talk in a few months, I'll have one.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I hope not. Sounds like everything you're doing is so well thought out. I did talk to someone who retired and they said for them, it was a little bit of a wake up call once they were retired.

They said they won't one day, this. Wow, it's Wednesday at 11 o'clock. What am I doing? And then that was enough of an impetus to get them thinking, I have to figure out something that I really want to do. And the person ended up teaching a course at a university, which is something that he's still doing today.

Sometimes you don't have that plan right away. You see that emptiness on the calendar and then all of a sudden you're in a position to, how you want to spend that time. Rich, I love how you talk about giving yourself permission to say no 'cause I think that's really important, and saying no is as important as saying yes.

And sometimes it might be hard because maybe people are all of a sudden think, oh, Rich has, must have a lot of time on his hands now let's see if he's going to be able to head up our organization now, that kind of thing.

Richard Eisenberg: And also when you spend your career, usually saying yes, because that's what you need to do when you're an employee, or even if you're running your own business.

But typically as an employee, you have assignments and you take them. It's hard to be in a position where you are allowed to say no to things. And it's a little scary and uncomfortable a little bit, but, I think you just have to get used to it. One thing I mentioned, I forgot to mention is since I've been unretired, I've started looking at classes to take and sometimes theres' classes to learn new skills, I've signed up to on a voiceover artist class because maybe that might be something I might want to do part-time or maybe not, but I just thought it might be fun to see what that's all about.

But I'm taking a class in Simon and Garfunkel, cause I'm curious to learn more about them. And I was lucky enough to have the time to watch some of the films at the Sundance film festival that I probably wouldn't have been able to do before, but they're virtual and I had the time. So I did that.

So I would tell people, not only to look for opportunities for work and volunteering, but look for opportunities for fun and to try things that you've never done before. And to see what they're like.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, I love that advice. And there are so many resources out there now, and especially virtually and online, and you can take them at any time of the day or night.

So you have a lot of freedom there too. Rich, I want to wind up now and I want to ask you about your own retirement. Having only been as you said, three weeks into it, and I want to know. How's it going. And how is it what you imagined it was going to be in the first few weeks?

Richard Eisenberg: I tell you it's going pretty well, and I'd say it's going pretty much as I expected. I tell people that it's a combination of freeing and scary, and I think that's pretty accurate. And I'm okay with that. I'm hoping that it will get less scary, but stay freeing, but we'll see over time. So far so good. One of the things my wife and I were going to do in February is spend the month in Los Angeles.

We have two grown sons who live there. They both got married in the pandemic. One of them got married and at a wedding that we weren't able to go to because we couldn't travel there. So I'm eager to get out of the New Jersey winter and spend some time to see my sons and their wives. And we're going to go to Palm Springs for modernism weekend to learn a little bit about mid-century modern architecture, and in California, the weather's good enough that you can eat outside in restaurants.

We like to eat at restaurants, but we haven't gone to any in a long time. So I'm looking forward to that. And then I'm going to be doing work from there. I'm bringing my computer and I'm bringing my papers and I have assignments already. So I won't be completely lounging. Although I hope to do some lounging.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That all sounds fabulous. Every piece of it sounds wonderful. So I hope you have an incredible time. As we're ending, I want to know if we can talk to you about the question we ask all of our podcasts guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience?

Even if it's something that we've already talked about today?

Richard Eisenberg: I would say to be public on social media and through networking about where you are in life and what you're thinking about doing and what things you might be interested in. More and more you're seeing people on social media saying, I'm looking for this kind of a job, or I would love to do this kind of volunteering or I'm available.

And when you've got people who know you they'll start responding and say, you know what? I think I know something that might be good for you, or I know somebody who might be helpful. And same thing on LinkedIn, there's no shame or stigma anymore in saying you're looking for new opportunities, for new work, part-time, full-time. And the more you let people know that you're looking, the more you're going to hear from people about things that might be of interest to you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's excellent advice for people at all stages, launching careers, relaunching careers, retiring, or unretiring. So Rich, thank you so much for joing us today. It was wonderful to speak with you.

Richard Eisenberg: Thanks Carol, lots of luck.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories.

I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host for more information on iRelaunch conferences and events to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources. Go to And if you like this podcast, be sure to rate it on apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.

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