"Hard work is a way of life for me..." — "Southern Star" as performed by Alabama
Seniors are blowing the lid off of traditional thinking regarding work, productivity and age. And I'm hopeful that you and I can carry the same spirit into the future.
Recently I read an article penned by Steve Hartman of CBS News about the working career of Benny Ficeto of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Benny began shining shoes at age seven. As a young man, he served as a gunner on a B-25 Mitchell bomber in World War II. After the war, he worked as the supervisor of a warehouse for a company that distributed cosmetics.
Benny tried retirement in the 1980s and found that he missed the friendships and interactions associated with employment. So he began a series of odd jobs. Today, he bags groceries in four-hour shifts, two days a week. At age 97.
He loves it. In fact, he refuses to take breaks, even when his manager tells him he can relax for a few minutes. His reasoning is that he only works for four hours, so why should he take time off to drink coffee? But here's the beautiful part. When asked why he works straight through his shift, he says, "Why would I take a break when I only get to work four hours?"
Work, for Benny, is something that one "gets to do." It's an opportunity, and he relishes it. How refreshing is that attitude?
My father used to say that all work is admirable, that if it's honest labor, there is no such thing as a bad job. Like most teenagers, I rolled my eyes and discounted those pearls of wisdom. But he was right.
Now, is bagging groceries the same as splitting the atom or curing a disease? No, it's not. But it's an opportunity to connect with people, to lighten and brighten their day, and to feel good about yourself. "I get a feeling that I did something good," Benny says about his part-time work. "You can't just stand around, like an idiot. You have to have a reason to keep alive."
The paycheck may or may not be essential to seniors in the workplace. Oftentimes it is, but not always. What matters is that we are out and about, contributing to a commercial enterprise, associating and talking with people. We are also combating the effects of loneliness and isolation, two silent killers for seniors.
Whether it's volunteering at the local hospital, mentoring students at the closest elementary school, or as in Benny's case, bagging groceries, we are utilizing our skills and minimizing our tendency toward self-absorption. Thus, in Benny's words, these activities become something "that we get to do," instead of something that we have to.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a fiduciary, “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.