“…work is an important part of what gives our lives meaning and direction.” – Michael R. Bloomberg, financier, philanthropist, former mayor of New York City 

Recently, columnists have been expressing concern about not just jobs, but the role that working itself plays a role in our lives. Automation, particularly computers and robots, have been replacing human workers in manufacturing and retailing. Professional observers have concluded that as many as 42% of jobs will be replaced by machines by 2050.

And it’s not just the loss of income that concerns many observers. It’s the idea that that work gives our life meaning, and the sense of purpose in our lives. And simply not working will diminish us as human beings.

Well, where better to see how not working affects our well-being than at a place where nonworkers gather – the local downtown restaurant around breakfast time.

Last week a friend and I made our regular weekly breakfast outing at the restaurant and watched clusters of nonworking retirees coping with their unemployment. They seemed to be confronting their lack of employment with commendable courage, laughing, telling stories of earlier days, regaling one another with family tales, commenting on current events, extolling the potential of their favorite teams, smiling a whole bunch. In short, they seemed to be happy to have the opportunity to get together.

In the past few years, I’ve asked many nonworking retirees if they miss work. Overwhelmingly they say no, but they tend to miss the people with whom they worked and the familiar structure of time and place.

I’ve learned too that what observers ignore is that some jobs are simply not satisfying. One of my first jobs in high school was setting bowling pins manually. It was difficult, dangerous, and sometimes painful, with pins flying around from lane to lane. I never found any redeeming value in the actual labor. Only the paycheck.

When I was in junior college, I worked second shift as a trucker in a large company building engines. I watched co-workers on the assembly line doing mind-numbing, repetitive tasks for hours at a time. Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, warned how minute, repeated operations can be spirit-crushing. Not much meaning or sense of purpose there.

And even if a sense of purpose could be salvaged by a productive, satisfying job?  What is so magic about a 40-hour week? Couldn’t people find a sense of purpose in 20 hours a week, through a job-sharing system? Couldn’t we actually use that automation to reduce the burdens of production, to give us more time to do things we choose to pursue on our own? More likely the problem is not in work, it’s in income.

That old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground,” which extolls the seeming virtues of toil, ignores the opportunities of freedom. And retirees can be instructive here. Some renew ties to family, develop new social networks, pursue passions, like golf, arts and crafts, develop new areas of personal endeavor.

Or if the personal interest hobbies still lack meaning, compassion can be your guide. My friend Charles is a member of the St. Joseph/ Bennon Harbor Rotary Club. He became aware of the problems of toxic water in the Dominican Republic. So with his fellow Rotarian Terry, from the Lakeshore club, he set out to mitigate the problem. So for the past several years, they have organized volunteers, set up  schedules, made trips to the Dominican Republic, raised money, and installed water filters. They didn’t get a nickel for their work, but they have been internationally recognized.

Fortunately, they had the time and the freedom from work to develop a new sense of purpose. 

Intergenerational relationships are the exception rather than the rule.  These relationships seem natural and normal to me, so I was surprised to find out that is not the case.  For the most part, age segregation prevails.

According to Generations United (a national coalition whose mission is to improve the lives of children, youth and older people through intergenerational collaboration, public policies, and programs for the enduring benefit of all), “kids spend their days at school, mostly among peers born the same year they were. Young and middle-aged adults cluster at work. And elders gather for clubs, classes, and meals that often expressly bar the young. Millions of college students and elders live in age-restricted housing, and most American neighborhoods skew young or old.” 

If you think you’re too old to start your own business, think again. About 26 percent of all recent startups were formed by people between the ages of 55 and 65, That’s up from 15 percent in 1996.  

Risk-taking Millennials are often thought to be the leading generation in terms of having an entrepreneurial mindset, but it’s Baby Boomers who may have the greater passion for launching a new business.  

Britt Hysen, editor-in-chief of Millennial magazine claims that “60 percent of Millennials consider themselves entrepreneurs” but Federal Reserve Data shows the share of people under 30 who own a business is now at a quarter century low.   

Questions and Answers

  1. A recent severe storm blew down trees and cut power for several hours and made me think of my grandmother and what she would do if that happened in her area.  We all live at least an hour’s drive from her.  What can I do to make sure she will be ok until we can get to her?


  1. Thinking about possible emergency situations and devising a plan of action is the first, best step toward ensuring your own safety as well as those you love.  For all kinds of emergencies, from natural disasters such as storms, fires and floods, to accidents such as chemical spills or terrorist attacks, preparation is key.  The message from agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and American Red Cross is “Get Ready Now!”  From the website www.ready.gov, there are three steps for emergency preparedness:  1) Get a Kit; 2) Make a Plan; and 3) Stay Informed. 

On a trip to the canyonlands of Utah last April, my husband and I followed a piece of local advice and decided to drive up a less traveled dead end road to a high reservoir. The increasing elevation drove back spring; no leaves on trees, patches of snow, the few houses we passed still closed tight from winter.

                We pulled up to a small, gravel clearing at the end of a long lake with a single dock jutting out twenty feet or so.  A big sky and unobstructed view went for miles to distant canyon walls.  Stepping out of the car, it hit me with force – silence! No breeze, eerily still and completely silent, yet we were in wide open country.

Wow. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I’d experienced silence outdoors. Years, maybe decades, maybe hardly ever. I stood on the dock and listened, nothing came. Eventually I heard birds, perhaps geese, splashing in a takeoff or landing. Where were they?? At the far end of the lake I could see them, tiny dots moving. Sound had carried with remarkable clarity over an amazing distance. 

I lingered in awe. Those twenty minutes or so standing in natural silence turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. It was a different peek at wilderness; the contrast with my usual daily life startling. I’d always worked to find time for connection with the natural world – but maybe not enough.

Hmm---- maybe that’s food for thought for an eventual retirement plan.

                Area Agency on Aging (AAA) is in process of creating an expanded campus designed to focus on continual personal reinvention and growth. C. S. Lewis once said, “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”  We hope to add momentum to the fire behind that statement.

                A colleague of mine recently retired. She commented, “That line, that I’m not retired, I’m refired, describes what I hope for in this next stage of my life.”  She’ll do well, but it does take planning.

                A writer for Psychology Today, Melissa Kirk outlines a multi-step process for reinvention. She points out that reinvention is usually prompted by major change: leaving a job or relationship, moving, loss of a loved one or health, and so on. While people think about their future in retirement, they sometimes wait for it to find them, instead of pro-actively planning. Planning is not all about money.

                Kirk supports creating a vision for your future, writing down the desired results of the vision, seeing oneself in that role.  She advocates giving oneself regular reminders of the vision; pictures, articles, opportunities to experiment being important. Then, taking time to think through steps to move forward, writing them down into workable tasks and taking time to mull over options.

                We plan for education, for work, for family. We tend to plan comparatively little for retirement, though many hope to spend decades in this phase of life.

                A number of my friends don’t even like the word retirement. They think it sounds like they’re not doing anything. Not true. Most are repurposing themselves and enjoying the journey. It a time of rich reinvention, maximum wisdom and creativity.

                For those of you who have toyed with the idea of pursuing a business of your own, the timing is perfect for you. Cornerstone Alliance, through a grant from AARP and in partnership with AAA, is sponsoring a half day “Work For Yourself 50+” workshop. Four sessions are planned with the first coming up August 29th at 2900 Lakeview in St. Joseph. Call Stacey Stephens at (269) 925-0147 to learn more.

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Clarence Darrow was a legendary trial lawyer who had extraordinary success in finding disproportionate leniency and innocence for his clients. His success was predicated on the principle that it was more difficult for juries to make severe judgements once they understood why a defendant was what he was.

Darrow would delineate for a jury all the social and personal forces that shaped a defendant’s character and directed his behavior.  Darrow was extraordinarily good at it and most trial lawyers today emulate him to some degree.

“Is this the one?” That’s what my 79-year-old mother says thinks when she falls. As she begins to tumble, she wonders, “Will this be the end of living on my own?”

She has reason to be concerned.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Each year, millions of people age 65 and older fall, but less than half tell their doctor per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .