February 27, 2016 — Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of Jeff’s retirement saga. Last month we published his account of How a Minnesota Boy Came to be Retired in the Heart of the South. This installment provides more of the decisions made and surprises encountered when he actually pulled the trigger on his retirement.
By Jeff Alden:
I closed my office last July after thirty-five years practicing law in Minneapolis. For several years, my wife and I had talked about where and when we might retire. We read about and discussed different options, but never got further than the obvious: wherever we landed, it had to be on one floor. We even made a few exploratory trips and talked about the possibility of moving to those places. Almost right up to the last moment, it didn’t seem that we were really getting anywhere. Talk is cheap. But when we finally pulled the plug on our previous life, things happened fast. Kaboom! Like that.
I once had a law professor who liked to maintain that certain situations are “action-forcing.” If A happens, B must follow. Our transition to retirement was a case in point — the product of a series of forced actions on steroids.
My office lease was set to renew in August if I didn’t terminate it by May. In a very real sense, that lease called my bluff. If I was serious about retiring, why would I keep paying rent for another year? So I gave my notice.
A return to Greenville
That same month, we were in Greenville, South Carolina, where my writer-wife Paulette was researching a book. We’d frequently talked about moving to Greenville, her hometown, and visited many times over the years. As usual, we looked at a few houses while we were there, always for some unspecified time in the future. But last May the real estate market in Greenville was hot. A word to the wise: don’t look at houses for the future, when they’re selling in a day.
Of course we found the perfect place, a townhouse on one floor in the old part of the city, within walking distance of the “happening” downtown and big, beautiful Cleveland Park. That same afternoon we signed a purchase agreement. There was already another bid and we knew we’d lose the perfect house if we didn’t make a better offer. It was like a fish hitting your line and taking it deep. One minute you’re just sitting in the boat looking around at nature, and the next you’re reeling in like crazy. A week later, when we got back to Minneapolis, we signed a listing agreement to put our house there on the market by June 1st.
Lawyer to Retiree
One day I was a lawyer and the next day I was a “retiree,” not even fully recognizing at first that that’s what I’d become. After all of our thinking and planning, life just took over. The God of Retirement swooped in and hooked me off the vaudeville stage of adulthood before I could think about the matter any further. I’ve heard there are people out there who calmly and deliberately move into the next phase of their lives. Apparently I wasn’t one of them.
If you close your office, you don’t have a place to go to work. If you buy another house, you have to sell the first one fast, even if it’s the only one you’ve known for the last forty years. Once you sell that one, you’ll only have a roof over your head for a little while, in our case thirty days. While we were driving through Indiana on our way to South Carolina to meet the moving van, we got a desperate call from our realtor in Minneapolis. “We’re all here for the closing,” she said. “Where are you?” Let’s just say a few things fell through the cracks.
One of the reasons we did a lot of hemming and hawing before we got hit by a retirement hurricane was that I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do it. I liked being a lawyer. True, I often woke up in the middle of the night to make notes or plot legal strategies. True, I then needed a Xanax to get back to sleep. True, I worried that I might miss a deadline or, worse, a better argument (like the one the other guy might make). True, I worried that my clients wouldn’t pay their bills and sometimes they didn’t. But even though I didn’t always care for these aspects of my life I loved being in the real world, and I knew they were the price of admission to it.
Would the shoe drop?
After I retired, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it didn’t. At least it hasn’t yet. I don’t profess to any great knowledge of retirement as a concept. But I knew I really was a retiree when, for the first time in my adult life, I began sleeping through the night.
I have a lawyer friend who’s now trying to decide whether to retire or not. I recognize only too well the pros and cons he’s weighing in his mind because I’ve lived them all. The other day he asked me — almost innocently it seemed — if I like being retired. Such a simple question. Yes, I told him. I like it a lot. But I found it hard to explain exactly why. Somehow, sleeping well didn’t seem good enough. Perhaps I just should have told him to terminate his lease and sell his house — that the rest would take care of itself.
Thanks for sharing your story Jeff!
What about your stories? Do you have some adventures you would like to highlight on your retirement journey. Please feel free to add them in the Comments section below.