Or you could say – is work ‘til you drop better for you? For some reason this topic of working longer in later life has invited itself lately in to my inbox of conversation with others. Likely, I was sending out subliminal messages when talking generally about the interconnectedness of issues in healthy aging and longevity; and I can’t ignore that in my last twenty years of working in the field of career and talent development – working with clients north of age 55 has been my most prominent focus.
Making the point about the interconnectedness of issues in healthy aging and longevity with the benefits of working longer, the deadly construct that hinges most of the discussion is Retirement. I know, we can’t help ourselves, because that’s the word we’ve locked ourselves into for so many decades. Of course, the retirement construct that has evolved for over 130 years, functioned differently when average life expectancy at birth was much lower than it is now.
Of working age, no best before dates
Yes, there was a time, five hundred years beyond our living memory, when no one retired and people did work ‘til they dropped, and notwithstanding the plague, they might have eked out a living for 40 years or so. Life expectancy at birth, as we have known it even since the 1950’s, has been increasing, and a number of factors that have influenced that reality. But how does working longer make a difference to one’s longevity?
Countless medical and health studies on aging over the last decade have certainly suggested that physical activity and mental engagement are two strong contributors to a healthier longevity. And “work” in its own way is an activity, an engagement of body (more or less depending on what it is) and certainly an engagement of not only the mind, but of inner soul or spirit.
With this also comes an old familiar argumentative question that if we accept “retirement” defined as an exit from a full time work situation, to what degree is a “crisp exit” a killer? We all have stories than could proof the answer as – yes. Morbidity or mortality rates can be associated with crisp or early retirements. So for now, let’s put that to rest (so to speak).
Encores and operatic tendencies
A more positive attitudinal shift towards working longer, past a normative retirement age of say age 65, has gathered momentum notably over the last decade. Now it’s all about the fulfilment of an “encore career” in a “third quarter” or a “victory lap” in the second half of life. All at once, this suddenly sounds like the Olympics. Or in some cases – the Opera. In an Opera there’s a lot of emotion, angst and wailing out of the what ifs and eventually somebody dies.
Yet for every note of operatic solo I hear, expressing that second wind for working longer, there are people who still sing, “I can’t wait to retire” and for just a few more years, they keep working on cruise control, hoping that the curse of work in the business world will all go away. More often though, the aria at a certain life stage is, “I need and/or want to work longer.” Though I rarely hear anyone say “I’m dying to work longer.”
Well the truth about “work”, as an encore if you will, is that it does not mean that it has to relate to anything like the past. This discussion is for a longer essay, but in essence, what it really says is that in the promise of an extended lifetime in our fluid future, the act of work moves well along a continuum – from the idea of task and toil, elapsing labour and “nine to fivery”, to the gifting of ideas and time, contributing to social good. It is an act of conscious choice as part of who we are.
Are you dying to work or working to thrive? What are your operatic tendencies?