Redefining Age as a Success Factor in Business and at Work
I’m down in Florida tonight on business, and the average age, like the temperature, is elevated. The heat and humidity is in the 90’s, and single residents in their 90’s actively date.
People also work well into their late 70’s around here: some out of necessity, as they are beginning to outlive their retirement savings. Others work, part-time or full-time, because it keeps their minds, bodies and spirits active.
My mom’s dad, my Granddaddy of blessed memory, started working at 11 years old when his daddy died during the 1918 influenza epidemic. He was hired as an apprentice electrician by his future brother-in-law, which defined a satisfying and productive (if challenging) career path. We visited Grandma and Granddaddy almost every Sunday, and Granddaddy always reposed, clearly exhausted, in his recliner as we watched the Wonderful World of Disney together.
After decades as an electrician, Granddaddy promptly retired at 65, collected his gold watch, sold their Cape Cod house on Long Island, bought an RV, and drove Grandma around the country for a year. They returned from staying with our family in California and parked their RV in our driveway until they bought a townhouse less than a mile away from our own townhouse. Granddaddy was still restless, as he was too young to retire. Thanks to many years of his hard work and savvy investments, he didn’t really need to work. However, when they built a new True Value Hardware store within walking distance of his new house, it was the start of a new career. For 5 years until he passed away from mesothelioma, Granddaddy loved being the electrical subject-matter expert at that store. He also recommended me for my first real paycheck-job: dusting the shelves in the store.
Perhaps it was my fond memories of my Granddaddy that prompted me to think out of the box and hire Art at the age of 73 to work in our company’s mailroom. I endured some raised eyebrows at the time, however Art was one of the best employees I ever hired. Genuinely charming and courteous, he was a joyful and upbeat coworker. Our CEO grew to depend on Art to run important errands, and Art was up for the challenge. Art had had several careers, including working for the U.S. Postal Service and owning his own business, and working kept him engaged. Art’s mind and spirit were willing, however his body eventually gave out. He was nearly 80 when he fell ill. His son invited us to come say good-bye to Art while he was in hospice. Art brought personally brought me so much joy at work, that it was my honor to bid him a fond and heartfelt farewell.
As life expectancy continues to increase, our paradigm of what retirement (and retirement age) looks like is shifting accordingly. Just like we accept the paradigm of 21 year-old CEOs creating economic innovation and growth, accepting the paradigm (and the wealth of experience) of a 73 year-old new hire has significant upside potential.
How will you redefine age as a success factor this week, in business and at work?