I was talking to my grandmother the other day and mentioned that I'd been up until all hours the night before getting some writing done. “You work too hard” was her immediate response, to which I replied that I couldn't help it — it was in my genes.
I know a lot of people who extended their careers by working into their 70s. My grandmother, however, worked until the age of 91. In fact, she worked until she reached a point where her body could not handle a commute into an office.
The decision for her to leave her job was not an easy one to make. But not only did my grandmother's extended career inspire me, but it also taught me some very important lessons.
1. Working offers benefits far beyond money
My grandmother has always been a person of modest means who never sought out a luxurious lifestyle. As such, the paycheck she received from work was really just a supplement to Social Security and her savings. She didn't need the money to buy groceries or pay for electricity — it was simply nice to have.
In fact, toward the later part of her career, money was by no means what motivated my grandmother to work. Rather, it was that work served as her social outlet.
My grandmother used to look forward to going into the office and engaging with her co-workers, several of whom are close friends of hers to this day who call her on a regular basis. This isn't to say that the extra money didn't help alleviate some financial stress. However, I know just how important it was for my grandmother to have those in-person interactions with her colleagues.
2. Having a schedule is extremely important
Because my grandmother worked all her life, she got used to a certain routine. And another reason she continued to work into her 90s is that she felt it was important to her mental health to maintain that routine.
Many retirees struggle with a lack of structure to their days after spending decades reporting to an office and having their time mapped out for them. This isn't to say that everyone should continue working full-time into their 90s simply to maintain a routine. But rather, it's important to establish a routine in retirement — whether it involves work or not.
3. You have to know when to call it quits
When my grandmother reached the point where she'd come home from work in physical pain due to spending too much time on her feet or seated in traffic on the way home from the office, she knew it was time to tender her resignation. And that can be a hard thing to do.
Working longer is a great goal to strive for. But health and wellness ultimately have to come first.
In fact, getting back to my recent conversation with my grandmother, I'm realizing as I write this that the routine of staying up until 1:00 in the morning to get work done probably isn't serving me well. Sure, it may be padding my bank account, but perhaps I need to rethink my priorities and strike a better balance that allows me to get the sleep I need.
My grandmother is truly my hero, and the fact that she worked as long as she did is downright impressive. Clearly, most people don't have the goal of working into their 90s. But I do think it's important for more people to consider the benefits of working longer, and to understand what it means to have to say goodbye to a lengthy career.
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