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How to avoid leaping off a retirement cliff (whether you’re a lawyer or not)

A longtime academic colleague recently admitted that he saw retirement as leaping off a cliff, and that was unnerving. When an opportunity emerged to be a dean in an overseas university, he jumped at it.

Now he’s counting the days until his contract expires. Bad decision.

So when Business Insider Editor David Staats reminded his earnest columnists of the upcoming deadline and the business-of-law theme of this month’s edition, I was taken aback. Partly because the deadline comes faster every month, but also because he said one of the upcoming articles would explore how some lawyers seem unable or unwilling to retire, even when dementia and questions of ability to do the job come up.

What is it about professors, lawyers and even some physicians who seem unable to cut the work cord?

For many, I suspect it’s love of the job. Or perhaps it’s like my acquaintance, who couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

In the last few years, I have interviewed several people who know what it takes to retire successfully. Frankly, I think the list of key factors is true for any stage of life, so here they are — for those still employed and for those moving toward retirement, including lawyers who may fear leaping off a cliff.

1. Have a purpose. Whether it’s starting a nonprofit, playing tennis or writing a novel, have a reason to get up and keep moving, every day.

2. Find a community. Meet with folks you enjoy, and do it often. Many people have multiple communities — family, college buddies, or friends from volunteer groups. Having a group or groups that care about you and keep you social becomes even more important once work no longer provides that regular interaction.

3. Learn something new. Learn how to improve a golf swing, speak Chinese, or navigate new software — it almost doesn’t matter what you learn. Just do it so your brain stays active.

Three very simple ideas: purpose, community and learning. They work for a career, and they work for the new career of retirement, probably even for lawyers.

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University; nnapier@boisestate.edu. This column appears in the Nov. 16-Dec. 20, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on the business of law. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).

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