Last week I was working in the country town where my sister lives and stayed overnight with her. As we were both leaving for work the next morning, a discussion of why do we work arose as my sister commented that she had about 10 more years left of work. I asked her, "What then, what happens after the 10 years are over?"
Out poured a list of preferable activities to work, which included all the things she enjoys doing and does not get time for because she is working.
The thing that I noticed most about the conversation was the incongruence with what she was saying and the way she was saying it. I could feel the subtle conflict in her. She had recently completed a 2-year post grad master’s degree to set her up for a complete career change and LOVED her new work experience!
And perhaps it was more than that; perhaps I could feel the fact that she did not quite understand why she needed to look forward to retirement to enjoy her life more or live a more fulfilling life?
The belief around work that my sister had been unwittingly seduced by, and one that I too have found myself seduced by in the past, was clear to see. That is, the cultural and commonly held attitude that we ‘have to’ work – that work is not joyful and, in most cases, it is a burden to be shouldered until it is over.
Work becomes like an inescapable sentence or punishment we have to endure to procure the necessities of life and yet it is seen as totally disconnected from the enjoyment of life, if we are able to enjoy life at all. It becomes a means to an end, and the end is the liberation from the imprisonment of work – retirement!
By the time most people get to retirement age they have discharged their responsibilities in raising a family, paid their fair share of taxes, and have hopefully set themselves up financially. If that is the case (as the story goes), don’t we then all deserve a self-focussed last phase of life made up entirely of our own self-interests, basically whatever we want to do – which includes retiring from the workforce?
But is retirement the way to go? What are we missing out on by leaving work, which is potentially a place where we feel needed, useful and like we are contributing to something worthwhile?
My sister is a great team player and, in many ways, an inspiration to work with. She is a very hard worker and knows about the importance of responsibility and commitment. I wonder, if she truly appreciated what she actually brings to her workplace, and if those with whom she works shared this appreciation, would she still be counting down the years until retirement?
When we feel that our work is only about doing what we 'have to do' so that one day we will retire to enjoy life more, we are potentially blind to the true value of our contribution.
If we don’t enjoy our work
What makes us seek reward and recognition from the outside world within our workplace and our daily activities? There could be another way to be at work and truly enjoy what we do.
Who we are at work and how we go about our work is valuable beyond measure and matters to our clients, colleagues and our communities. Only when we stop to understand and appreciate the value of what we ourselves, or workmates, bring to our work more fully, will our attitudes and beliefs about the purpose of work and the real difference we make begin to change.
Maybe then we will see the value of our work time differently.
Maybe there is far more to be appreciated now than looking forward to retirement.