It’s safe to say that many of us want to do “meaningful work.” Work that we care about. Work that has a worthy purpose, and work that is useful to others while paying the bills.
Sometimes it can take years of trial and error to get there, but most of the time, it’s totally worth it.
However, there is a catch, in that once we find it, it can be really hard to let go of:
Rupert Murdoch was in the news recently for stepping down as the Chair of Fox at age 92. This comes after a lot of recent talk in the media about how amazingly old US leaders have become. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger are in their nineties. Queen Elizabeth never stepped down as Monarch, which meant her son Charles’ succession didn’t happen until he was well into his seventies. Biden is in his eighties, Trump is not far behind. And even in our fictional world, the imaginary-yet-archetypal Logan Roy in HBO’s Succession, dies of a heart attack, aged 84, on his way to go close a business deal.
This is quite a contrast to a lot of the world, where for example, French public workers were protesting en masse because the retirement age had been raised by two years to 64.
So what’s going on here? Simple, these old folks simply don’t want to retire because they love what they do. They love what they do because they’re good at it, it’s meaningful to them, and as long as they keep doing it, the world will still give a damn about them. It’s a fundamental part of their identity and who they are.
This in part explains why death rates spike so soon after retirement. Suddenly people have a lot less to do, and their lives seem to have lost a big chunk of what once gave it meaning and purpose.
All this might be seen as a negative, as it leaves less room for the next generation to take over. But we see it a bit differently. When you love what you do, the world can’t help but pay attention. To borrow a sentiment from the poet Kahlil Gibran,“work is love made visible.” Discovering such profound purpose in your work, to the point where stepping away becomes challenging, might not be such a terrible precedent.