Chapter 7

The Real Meaning of Work

An artist was asked what his favorite work was. He thought for a minute or two and then replied, “The next one.”

I met Nils on a westward flight and, guessing he was close to retirement age, asked if he was retired. He said, “No. I tried that; didn’t work so well.” When I asked him to explain, he told me that he had left his job as a representative of a manufacturing firm and within weeks was stir crazy, wandering around the garage “looking for something to break so I’d have something to fix.” Six months into retirement, his old firm called to see if he would be willing mentor some of the new guys and consult on some former accounts.

Nils had an epiphany on his first trip back to visit a former client: “They all jumped out of their chairs to greet me, wanted to catch up, and invited me to have a beer and dinner that night.” The president of that particular firm asked Nils to come back to his office because he wanted to get his opinion on an issue they were facing. “They missed me,” Nils said. “And at that moment, I realized that, in fully retiring, I had left all those meaningful social connections behind as well as my opportunities for solving problems, something I really enjoy.” These people made Nils feel valued, useful, and productive—something we must all consider before we leave such connections behind in the wake of RV fumes.

We are long past the time where retirement was a “work or play” ultimatum. Any observer of the “reengagement in ...

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