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Bar News - May 20, 2015

Opinion: A Message from Florida: The Truth About Retirement


Linda J. Argenti
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You plan for it, attend seminars about how to save for it, read books on the subject, daydream and hope youíll be well enough to enjoy it and then one day, youíre living it: Retirement! Your whole life leading up to it is spent going to school, choosing a career, and perhaps raising a family with the goal of achieving satisfaction, happiness and a measure of success. And then, more quickly than you can imagine, that part of your life is over.

In my case, I started my career as a high school English teacher then returned to law school in my thirties. Eventually, I moved to Nashua and began my legal career. But after almost 30 years of being an attorney and running my own law firm, I closed the door behind me last October, rented out my law office, sold my house, gave my possessions to consignment and moved to Florida, where 2,500 species of palm trees sway, cold weather is anything colder than 60 degrees and a pina colada awaits by the pool. Itís perfect, right? Well... yes, and no.

Certainly, no one misses the ringing alarm clock, long hours, stressful clients, legal and moral dilemmas and anxiety about trying to balance work, family, money and life. And itís so liberating finally to be able to read those books youíve been saving yourself for, watch those late night movies or Netflix series you couldnít stay awake for (House of Cards, anyone?) and do what you thought you wanted to when you arrived at this place in life.

But there is definitely a flip side to this retirement rainbow. And its colors are dark. Itís the moment when you have watched one too many Jeopardy episodes (ďLetís make it a true Daily Double, Alex.Ē). Or, the moment you tried to write that book of poems you were sure you could write but discover that all of your creative juices have been stunted by 30 years of legal writing. And some of the items on your bucket list seem a bit extreme (bungee jumping in South America?). You also begin to feel just a tad irrelevant. Someone recently asked me what I do for a living. ďNothing,Ē I said. ďI donít do anything. Iím retired.Ē It reminded me briefly of a morose Tracy Chapman song, ďFast Car.Ē Got no job. I ainít going nowhere.

And there is an even darker side. Itís the night you find you canít sleep at 4 a.m. with a troubling question that makes your heart race. If retirement is the next stage of life, whatís the next stage after that? Will you or your spouse or partner suddenly become ill with a debilitating or even fatal illness and be unable to enjoy any of this? I personally lost three colleagues my age or younger last year who didnít even get to start this journey.

Those darker thoughts aside, you miss your colleagues, your friends, your staff, the give-and-take of client contact, court appearances, helping people, and the rhythm of your old life. The work you thought would never end, the problems you thought you couldnít solve, they are over. Are you supposed to sit around and take up space until the assisted living patrol officers come take you to Sunnyside Acres?

Although that scenario could happen, thereís also a distinct probability you can re-invent yourself one more time without anyone telling you what to do or how to do it. The trick is figuring out what makes you happy. There are countless opportunities in any region for volunteerism, classes at the local colleges and universities (often for free or a reduced tuition) on any subject imaginable, and unending avenues of personal exploration. You can start a part or full time business or employment. But this time, you must be your own guidance counselor and mentor.

So, if you are nearing that magic age or time of life that is retirement, let me give you three steps to make your transition easier.

Step one: Understand that retirement, like every other stage of life is not always fun or easy. Retirement is still part of life, and life is fraught with difficulties and hardships. There are still traffic jams, headaches, incompetent people, rainy days and other inevitable unpleasantries. But, not having to work 40-60 hours a week frees you up to do so many other enjoyable things that you choose to do. You can become the arbiter and decider of your day every day. After that first cup of coffee, ask yourself: ďWhat do I want to do today that will make me happy?Ē

Step two: Set goals, both short-term and long-term, but keep them loose and flexible. If you find they donít fit your new life, trash them and start over. And donít beat yourself up for not achieving them. Go easy on yourself. A short-term goal might be to do one new or different activity each week. You can attend a yoga class, listen to a podcast on your iPad (the topics cover almost any interest you may have) or try a new restaurant in your neighborhood. A long-term goal might include finding an enjoyable part time job, or launching into a new hobby like oil painting or golf. Just donít spend too much money on this hobby until you are sure you will like it.

Step three: Relax and chill. Learn to take a slower pace. As busy professionals we are used to running at breakneck speed. Remember that traffic jam? When I found myself in one recently and feeling the anger build, I suddenly realized, ďWait, I have no place I really have to be, so what difference does this traffic jam make to me?Ē Enjoy that morning cup of coffee or morning newspaper on your back porch with more relish and appreciate the little pleasures of life youíve been missing.

When I went to college, my parents could only afford to send me to a teachers college about two miles from my house. If I wanted to go to college, I could be a teacher or I could be a teacher. Iím so grateful to my parents for giving me that opportunity as I was one of the first of my numerous cousins to attend college. But when I went to law school years later, it was wholly my choice, and I did it on my own.

In some ways, I feel as though I am at a similar crossroads now. No one else can or should influence my decision as to how I design this thing called retirement. And so I intend to make the most of this opportunity that not everyone gets. Now excuse me, thereís a pina colada waiting for me by the pool. Cheers!

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