Why some people want to retire and others want to keep on working

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Q. I am in my late 60s and continue to work while most of my friends are happily retired. My job as an educator has never been just a job: It’s a crusade and a passion that has not declined at all over time. My career has centered on touching the future, working with and through teachers and students. I continue to be motivated and am fortunate to have the support and health to sustain me in local civic activities as well as my profession. Am I wired differently? And is the type of one’s work a factor in making the decision to “not to retire?” D.N.

Dear D.N., 

Feeling passionate about your work is a singular and sufficient reason to continue working. Whether this motivation is related to specific types of work or occupations is another question.    

A few observations may help lead to some answers. Those in physically demanding jobs typically are less likely to continue working in the same job for good reason. These jobs may require standing on one’s feet 40 hours a week or working in extreme environments, such as hot warehouses. We also know physically demanding jobs often require strength, flexibility and reaction time; all decline with usual aging. (Note: We can do things that can slow this process.) And because of age-related changes, these workers may not be able to perform optimally and subsequently become at risk for injuries making them less likely to maintain their same positions during traditional retirement years. However, they may move on to a different type of work or become self-employed.    

Those in white-collar jobs are more likely to continue. Their work is less likely to create the physical wear and tear compared to physically demanding jobs. Furthermore, many white-collar positions require abilities and skills in reading, writing and reasoning. These typically decline later in the life cycle compared to abilities required in physically demanding positions.    

D.N., you are not alone in wanting to continue working. According to a Transamerica Center study, among millennials, the youngest generation in today’s workforce, almost half plan to continue working in some capacity after their retirement. The reason? They want to stay involved in their passions and community. 

Getting back to the original question of whether you are wired differently? Yes, since most people do retire. If we are fortunate to find work that is fulfilling, that provides a reason to wake up every morning and that stimulates our mind, heart and soul, we have found a gift. Sigmund Freud wrote, “love and work…work and love, that’s all there is.” (Note: “quiet quitters” who chose to do the bare minimum of work may not agree with Freud. This group constitutes over one-third of today’s workforce.) 

Regarding the question of whether working during retirement years is related to the type of work, the answer is yes.  

Yes, impactful work may encourage a person to continue working particularly when one is making a difference in fields such as science, the arts, business, journalism, fashion, technology and public service. Here are some examples: Norman Lear, television and film writer and producer has 23 projects in the works at age 99. Warren Buffet at age 92 is CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc.  Then there is Iris Apfel, a fashion icon known for her big black glasses and many necklaces who was on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine for her 100th birthday. 

OK, these may be extreme examples. However, they do serve as models of highly motivated individuals working at what they love to do in later life with the aspirations to make a difference. (And if we are looking for a consistent specific industry in which workers typically stay on the job, that would be farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers with a median age of 56.8 years.) 

What is important is the value workers place on their job. I recall speaking to maintenance workers at two universities. They loved their work – in part because of the prestige of the institution and their interaction with the students. They were eager to continue working. Of course, their salary likely played a role in their decision. Granted, this is a small sample but an indicator of the importance of the perceived value and self-satisfaction of one’s work and its relationship to continuing on the job.   

Finally, from my perspective, being different and wired differently is a characteristic of game changers.  These are forward-leading individuals who are innovative with ability, passion and commitment to the common good. They do the work. 

So, carry on D.N. and don’t change. Best wishes on your continued mission to make a difference in the field of education and the world a better place. Stay well and know kindness is everything.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at [email protected].  Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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