“Work provides an oasis of meaning for older adults.” That’s a line that continues to play in my mind—one that I read in a book review of Retirement on the Line: Age, Work and Value in an American Factory.
Though I know of no 9 Lives for Women readers who are looking to work on the factory line, the book (which I have not yet read) tells an exemplary story of the economic, social and psychological values of work (any kind of work), especially for older adults. The factory of note is the Vita Needle Co. in Needham, Massachusetts, where the median employee age is 73.
On a walk yesterday I ran into two soon-to-be empty nesters (and also very young “retirees”) who are seeing their youngest child off to college. With this milestone looming, they told me they are both ready to dig into new work. It was clear that they did not intend to sit on the edge of their seats waiting for emails from their college student…they’re thinking about how to be productive, interesting and interested in the next chapter of their lives.
At a luncheon hosted by a friend who has lived more than eight decades, I was reminded how long and rich a life can be. Many of the women at the luncheon were in their 80s, and during the course of the afternoon not one of them wandered to the typical family and grandchildren tales. One woman told me she had just retired from an investment related position she had held for several decades, and then went on to tell me in great detail the history of the area she had just visited in France. Another octogenarian just temporarily retired from a position in the arts—and she is looking for her next gig. Yet another still commutes to a large non-profit in New York City where she makes a very significant difference in the lives of women and girls.
All of their conversations about the economy, cultural trends, and important books they’ve read told me they’ve never allowed a moment to lack interest or meaning—or ever succumbed to being “old”. My 84-year-old father (who still sings in and manages his own jazz band) tells me that he “hates old people”—and I imagine that the women I met at this luncheon do, too.
So the question is not “What are you going to be when you grow up?”, it’s “How will you continue to grow so your life never winds down?” Some kind of work—and some kind of purpose beyond your family—can keep you center stage in this fascinating drama of life—rather than in what the book’s author calls the “vanishing act” of getting old. —KAS
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