Transitions Column - Transition Crowd Giddy With Freedom
by Diane Hartman
It’s been called the silver tsunami.
Baby boomers have always tromped heavily in society and now they’re about to transition (or retire, if you prefer). Does it mean golf courses will be crammed? Or will all of society’s ills be taken care of by a wave of volunteers?
A recent New York Times story divided our lives into six parts. To the basic four — youth, teenage, adult and old — they added "odyssey" (after the teen years) and "active retirement."
That last phrase defines a bunch of exuberant former lawyers and judges (and a few others) who meet monthly for breakfast. Most do some paid work or community service, but are teased when they have to miss the meeting. Work? Are you kidding?
We asked this group to answer questions about leaving full-time work. Their advice to anyone who’s hesitating: Jump in! They seem to have more on their "fun things to do" agenda than they can handle. Few have financial worries; a lawyer who said he had obsessed on a certain amount he must have before retiring calls that a misconception. "The truth is it could never be enough. We have no control of markets. You really have no control over anything, and working a few more years won’t give it to you. If there’s a downturn, you cut back. You won’t be eating dog food."
Three retired because of health problems, but all look suspiciously vibrant.
We took a superficial look at a few lucky people in their first years of retirement. We asked how they were doing, their biggest fears before retirement, what they missed, and what was so great, anyway.
Lack of "suffocating stress from work" was listed by every single legal type as the biggest benefit. One woman described her life now: "Unstressful. Delicious. Richer. I am so RELIEVED." Another said: "All my life, I’ve had my shoulder to the plow. Now I’m free." Yet another: "The best years of my life have been since I retired." And: "I feel like someone has given me a handful of diamonds."
Fears before retiring (one called it "graduation") usually had to do with ego. Everyone wondered what it would be like not to identify themselves as lawyers.
One man thought he would miss the ego gratification of being a lawyer. He also feared the loss of relationships with his friends at work.
A woman thought she would miss her loss of status as a premier attorney and become invisible.
One person who had been afraid of having "nothing to do" laughs at that idea now.
An attorney who had left work because of cancer was afraid she would die soon. Happily, for now anyway, she’s doing well.
What’s so fun, anyway?
The list of what is so much fun about not working is long. A couple that used to get up at 5:30 a.m. to get in their exercise now wake up without an alarm. They still exercise, just later. Most everyone enjoyed more time to work out, including long days on the golf course for some.
Along with the physical part, almost all value the "inner" work they now can do.
"My life is so much more balanced. I no longer run around; instead I walk at whatever pace I choose. I love having control of my life and time. My relationships are deeper and more valued. I cut out the weeds and only pay attention to the flowers. I’m getting better and better at this lifestyle, but I figure I have the rest of my life to get it perfect."
Here’s a highlight of more reasons they are happy:
> I’m learning about myself. I can say ‘no’ whenever I want to. I can play without guilt. There’s a world out there to explore and I now have time to do that."
> "I don’t have to get up early every morning and go to an office."
> "In a word: freedom. It’s your turn. It’s your time and if you don’t do it now, no excuses will do. And while arguably that’s true at any age, there is something about knowing mortality that makes all the difference."
> "I don’t have to worry about making mistakes with client work."
> "I love being in the moment. Spending more time with family, friends and neighbors. Doing things I have put off."
> "Flexibility. Very casual clothes. I can go outside whenever I want!"
Rekindling old friendships with long lunches and walks, and making new friends is of huge value to many. The daily chatter with work colleagues is gone, but they now get to pick and choose whom they see and when they see them.
It’s not all rosy
Of course, there are down sides — some aches and pains ("why can’t my body be 10 years younger?"), and concern about one’s own health or that of friends and family. One person missed being asked to lecture or write.
Adjustments happen. "There were surprises along the way, and some were disturbing at first. My wife wasn’t enthralled to have me around 24/7. I took great offense at that early on. Then, I realized how I would have felt if she had just moved into my office and set up shop. This stuff has to be worked out with honest and open communication — and more learning."
The reality of our mortality is a great motivator, and because this may be the last slice of cake, it’s that much sweeter.
A recent survey reported that 12 percent of lawyers expect to die at their desks.
One man advises friends to go to http://www.deathclock.com to "learn the day that you are most likely to die." He suggests another way to figure out the "quality" years you have left: "Take 80 and subtract your age. That number equals the years of ‘good’ time you’ve got left — if you are lucky. Knowing the age you are likely to leave this world focuses the mind. Life is too short not to experience all you can."
As one woman said: "I’ve worked really hard for a long time and feel I’ve paid my dues. It’s time for me to do what I want now with whatever time I have left."
Diane Hartman (firstname.lastname@example.org), former director of communications for the DBA and CBA, has transitioned into a little PR business (http://www.hartmanandbrown.com), with writing, editing and much fun on the side. Check out future issues of The Docket for other Transition columns.