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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: April 2024

Observations on Retirement

David M Godfrey


  • Each person will experience the transition to retirement differently. 
  • Finding a new routine in the wake of retirement can make the transition far less stressful.
  • Taking time off at the start of retirement can make adjusting to the change easier. 
Observations on Retirement - Ana Suanes

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I always thought that the transition to retirement would be a walk in the park for me. I have been working in the field of law and aging for about 25 years. I have studied retirement and been trained in pension rights and Medicare law. I have written on the issues and presented trainings. Yet I somehow knew there would be differences between what I knew and what I experienced, so I started making notes when I retired on January 5, 2024. Here is what I have learned in the first couple of months. 

Money and health insurance can be stressful.

I knew the rules, and the exceptions for starting pensions, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicare supplemental coverage, and all of this probably made it harder than not knowing. I utilized a couple of the exceptions that fit my timeline and that saved me a little money, but doing so was stressful. The systems are set up for the standard process and the online systems don’t have a place to check for the exception. A couple of systems I worked with sent a message saying, “We have made a decision on your request, you will receive a letter in a week or so explaining it.” While the applications are entirely online, the answers are often only provided by mail. My recommendation, if you have not already done so, is to set up your “My Social Security” account now. It takes a couple of weeks and they send you a letter with a passcode that has to be entered to activate the account.

When you retire, take some serious time off. 

The first few mornings after my last workday, my mind was racing with the 101 projects that I now had time to do. I would wake up between 5:00 and 6:00 AM thinking about what to do next. After a week or so of this, I realized one morning that what I really needed to do first was take some time off. It had been nearly three decades since I had taken more than a couple of weeks off at a time. Even when I took vacation days, I would find myself checking my office email and sneaking away for a Zoom meeting. It was now time to disconnect. A few weeks off allowed my mind to settle and priorities to become clearer.  My advice, when you first retire, is to put off doing anything for a month or so. Just say no to immediately diving willy-nilly into the “things to do” list(s).

Reimagining your calendar.

Simple things, like what day it is, had been tied to my office calendar for 50 years. My office calendar ruled my life. When that calendar goes away, we still need some landmarks.  I used an electronic calendar for years, I started with a Dell PDA (personal digital assistant, not a public display of affection), then smartphones that synced to my office calendar. I woke up one morning and realized that, without it, I didn’t know what day it was.  This is important because you don’t score well on the MMSE (Mini-Mental State Examination that healthcare professionals use to assess cognitive impairment) if you do not know what day it is. And besides, there were still things that only happened on certain days, like a dentist appointment and the Saturday Farmers Market. In the end, I went back to using Outlook. I am accustomed to using it, and it sends alerts to my phone and home computer.  My advice is to think about this ahead of time and then do what works for you.  

Retirement and funerals have something in common.

My team at the office threw a surprise retirement party for me. I thought I was going into a meeting to discuss the ABA Commission on Law and Aging’s new “Advocates of Aging” podcast, and instead, it was a room filled with a couple of dozen co-workers and friends with another dozen on Zoom.  You don’t really know what people think of you, until they gather for a sendoff (if even then), be it a funeral or retirement party.  Retirement parties are not for everyone, perhaps especially for those of us who tend towards nostalgia.  I was very surprised by the party, and hearing what people appreciated about the work I had done was a nice way to close that chapter in my life. I am glad we did this in a retirement party and not a funeral! Don’t fear the party, relax and enjoy it.

Rethinking your identity has been complicated.  

For 45 years the response to “What do you do” was my profession.  Suddenly in retirement how do I answer that question?  How do I update my bio, my LinkedIn profile, or my ABA member profile?  For now, my response to the question is author, trainer, and consultant.  

Discomfort at not working.  

At times I feel guilty or anxious about not working. I have worked for over 50 years --I grew up on a farm and started young. I am staying busy, I am reading, writing,  and walking every day, and I have traveled a little (three trips in the first two months.) A couple of months in and I still feel weird not working.  These feelings are stronger and have lasted longer than I expected.  My advice is don’t be surprised if you feel this way-- take a walk, or a nap, and the feelings will pass.

Reclaiming your home office.

For some unknown reason, I waited about six weeks before dismantling my work-from-home space. Maybe it had some connection to my reluctance to let go of my professional identity. Reorganizing my desk at home brought immense psychological relief. Back in March of 2020 I returned from a vacation in Ireland, hours before the border closed, and was told to work from home for a couple of weeks. As a couple of weeks turned into indefinitely, and I added a second 27-inch monitor and all the external items I used in the office, to my desk at home.  But I live in a small space so I really didn’t have room for two desks without disrupting life at home.  My desk is small and had two 27-inch computers packed on it, my personal machine, and my office computer.  Saying the desk was crowded is an understatement.  Eventually, I cleared it all off, put the extra computer in storage, and reorganized the entire work surface.  I was amazed at how different it feels to sit down and not face the office set up, and to have gained back the use of worksurface. My advice is to do this sooner rather than later.   

Plan for email.

Prior to joining the staff at the ABA, I had the same email address for my work and my personal life. A surprising number of lawyers do this. After going through my email address, being my former employer’s email address, I opened a personal email address 15 years ago. And I had done a pretty good job of keeping the two separate, but there have been surprises.  I lost access to online accounts tied to my office account.  I found myself unsubscribed from a couple of email lists that were tied to my office account.  Following directions from ABA IT, I left an out-of-office auto-reply on my ABA email address. That will work for a few weeks but then the address will disappear.  My advice is to start early and plan for a change in email address. 

Each person will experience the transition to retirement differently.  It may be your retirement or the retirement of a family member, but it is important to recognize this is a major life change.  Starting pensions and changing health care benefits can be stressful but once these changes have been made there is great relief when the deposits start showing up, and the correct cards are in hand.  Now that everything is working I am more relaxed for my afternoon walk.