It’s Labor Day. Let’s talk about work.
Did you groan? Or maybe even flinch? If so, there’s a whole lot of stuff that you can’t see in what you’re seeing as “work.”
Work–absent the paycheck and the boss and the nosey cube-mate–is something humans have been doing since we arrived on this earth. Some of it was for survival. Some of it was for the approval of others (another form of survival). And some of it was just because it was fun.
Yes, work can be fun. Actually, work should be fun. We have things really screwed up in our current approach to it, and that’s killing us, individually and as a society. We work work work without feeling joy in what we are doing–and that’s not “good work.”
We need to be doing work that reflects our sense of what’s important. If that’s not happening, a lot of things can go wrong. Physical health. Job performance. And the biggie, mental health. Doing bad work really can kill you–or someone else. This is not safe. Is anybody listening?
Even worse, when we retire, everyone assumes this problem is solved. It’s not. It just morphs. Sometimes there’s still a paycheck involved. Sometimes it’s unpaid–as a caregiver to a family member or to help kids who need child care for their own kids. Work does not stop when you retire. It shouldn’t. But it needs to be good work.
If you do not want to do it, it’s going to be bad work. So a big factor in work once you retire is honesty. If we were doing this right as a culture, that would be true from the get-go. At least in retirement, you have control over what you choose. So put some real effort into choosing well. If your friend wants you to volunteer and you really aren’t interested, don’t say yes. If your service guild needs a President and begs you to take on the role, only do it if you believe you can take pleasure in doing the work.
More important than anything when you get far enough in life to decide whether you want to do things or not is to choose the things that you want to do.
The vast majority of the time, this will not mean choosing to avoid work–which you may find surprising. Work has huge personal benefits even when there’s no money coming in as a result. Work is confirmation of your competence. Doing work says you have value to the world. Work usually gives you the chance to be with other people, too. And we do need to be with other people. Social connections have more impact on our health as we age than everything modern medicine can do.
Once you retire, you’re still going to work. Get used to that idea. You’re going to need something, both to confirm your value and to offer good social contact. You many need some time to figure out what that is once you leave the job. You may have been doing it as a hobby or volunteer effort for years. But you’re going to need it–provided it’s GOOD work.