My mother just celebrated her 92nd birthday and she still works 4 days a week, four hours a day at her job as an administrative assistant at a university. And she still drives herself to work in her brand new red car.
She has worked there for 46 years, and, until she turned 70, she worked full time. At 70 she was forced into part time status and lost all her benefits including sick time, vacation time and medical insurance. I don't think that kind of blatant age discrimination could happen now, and it was certainly very unfair then. Older workers do not deserve that kind of shabby and degrading treatment. It is inexcusable.
Right now my mother really must retire because of health problems and she is genuinely distraught about that prospect. She loves her job. It gives her a sense of purpose and a feeling of usefulness.
She gets up in the morning, gives a lot of thought to what she'll be wearing to work, takes great pains with her hair and makeup, and goes out the door looking very stylish, professional, and quite attractive. And being around college age people so much of the time has kept her feeling young and in touch with today's world. Her work has given her life great meaning, particularly since my father died, and it has certainly helped to keep her mentally alert and on her toes. She is very well liked and she knows that her contributions have been very appreciated, and she can look back, with very justifiable pride, on what she has accomplished. For her, being able to work has been her reward.
If one is in reasonably good health and mentally sharp, why not work as long as you can, if that's what you enjoy doing?
Not everyone is interested in playing golf or gardening or playing bridge, or even traveling, and, for many people, trying to structure their days and find diversions and interesting companions is difficult and even stressful. Growing old ain't easy, and retirement ain't always what it's cracked up to be. If work is pleasurable and rewarding it may be far better than other alternatives. For my mother that has certainly been the case, although she is, admittedly, a most remarkable woman and definitely atypical in many respects and, until recently, she did enjoy reasonably good health and a high energy level. But I suspect there are many others like her out there, particularly widows whose children have long since grown and moved hundreds or thousands of miles away, whose friends have died or moved away, and whose lives might be extremely lonely or empty if they didn't have some sort of work, and the social contact and structure it brings, to keep them going. Work is often a blessing, and we should try to remember that. Not everyone does look forward to retirement. For some, retirement might be a curse and those people should not be pushed out of the work force if they can adequately continue to perform their jobs.
We often see work as the antithesis of pleasure or play, but that isn't always the case. Certainly, if you hate your job, are bored in your job, or if you lack the stamina or ability to do your job well any more, it might, indeed, be quite burdensome to have to continue working, and retirement might seem a welcome relief. But many people enjoy working and many others need "work" in some form, be it volunteer work, charity work, social activism, or a part time late in life job you do for the satisfaction and social contact it brings you.
A successful retirement often takes "work", and a lot of planning, particularly if you want to avoid social isolation and boredom. Having a lot of money helps, but not always. I think most people do better when they have goals and some sense of being needed and valued. Some folks can find these things in retirement, but, unfortunately, many cannot. We need to keep growing and learning and stretching ourselves, particularly as we age. We need to be involved in something, we need to keep busy, and we need a little excitement. Accomplishing those things isn't always easy, particularly if you retire at 65 and have at least 20 years stretching ahead of you. Retirement is a challenge, and, the longer the period of retirement, the greater that challenge is.
People often say to my mother, "You're still working?" and give her an incredulous look. At 92 what else do they expect her to be doing?
For her working has been the easy part. Retirement's going to be very tough.