It’s always reassuring when I discover one more way my brother and I are similar. At my graduation lunch with my nannying family and my real family, Roy answered questions about his career.
“I work for an architect who came out of retirement to do a few jobs for fun. It’s been pretty great,” he said. “I discovered I have the work ethic of a post-retirement architect.”
“What do you mean by that?” my boss asked.
“I like to come in late, leave early if necessary. I work on projects that interest me, and I love being able to take off time for vacations and traveling.”
“That sounds nice,” my boss said ruefully.
It does sound nice! It sounds a little too perfect, but that’s because there are two unsaid aspects to this work philosophy. First, it means Roy will never be wealthy. Second, it means Roy will never be able to retire.
I am a little more of a penny-pincher than my brother is, but I share his general attitude toward work and play. It seems to me like there are two general possibilities: Work a lot now in hopes of a long retirement, or work until you have enough money to play, then start again.
[This is obviously assuming an enormous amount of privilege. Although neither Roy nor I will be wealthy, we will also never be destitute. If the very worst should happen, we have parents and an eventual inheritance to fall back on. So I want to make clear that I am thankful for this choice and I do not take it for granted!]
As I look ahead to the coming months, I see myself living it out. I’ve managed to work part time throughout my grad school years and even save a little. I’ll move home to Peoria this summer where I will work at the church when the secretary takes a two month maternity leave. Working full time without having to pay rent will allow me to save even more! So what’s my plan? To find another job? ….Nope, I’m going to take a month long road trip.
I can already hear the voices in my head saying this is irresponsible. Especially since this is not a once-in-a-lifetime choice. I will probably make it again and again as I get older. But after talking with Roy, I feel confident that this attitude toward work is not irresponsible; it’s just different. It is choosing balance now rather than delaying gratification. And it’s accepting the fact that I will never be able to retire. Which is totally fine with me. I cannot imagine being happy for decades of doing nothing. This was actually one of the things that made counseling appealing to me–I can only become better as it as I get older and accrue more life experiences and deeper empathy. All I need is a chair to sit in and a postponement of cognitive decline.
I think this work AND play now attitude is fairly common in my generation. Maybe this is one more reason we are called the Me Generation. And sure, whatever, maybe it’s selfish to want to enjoy all of life rather than trudge through work under the shining beacon of eventual retirement. But I don’t think so! I think it’s healthy to balance work and play, and I think it’s admirable to assume that people are worthy of work and contribution into their old age.
Or maybe I’m just finding excuses to validate my decision to pack up and road trip to see as many friends as possible. If so, I’ve found one!