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Why we work -- and keep working

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Ann Hermes/Staff

(Read caption) Chester Barker has been giving buzz cuts at Barker’s Barber Shop in Pittsboro, N.C., for 56 years.

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Like a lot of young people, I found my first indoor job at a supermarket. There were probably 35 employees at the local Handy Andy, many the same age as me (16). Pay was $1.10 an hour. I could scarcely believe that at the end of my first week I had mastered basic bagging and shelf stocking, met a new set of friends (did I mention I was 16?), and had cash in my wallet.

After several decades and a dozen or so jobs, I’d describe my work life as having been interesting and rewarding, a place where friendships have been forged and skills acquired – even if some days have dragged on and been not altogether pleasant. Does that sound familiar? For most people, work not only occupies the bulk of our days, it practically defines us. 

Work is the difference we make over a lifetime. Each of us accumulates a body of work that is more than bullet points on our résumé. Our work includes what we contribute in the home, in the development of our talents, in the refinement of intellect and growth of character. Work is about improving ourselves and helping make the world a little better as a partner, parent, friend, or citizen. Plus, there’s that paycheck.

Is it any wonder then that, as Mark Trumbull’s Monitor Weekly cover story on the rise of the “silver-collar” workforce details, many people are rethinking the convention of laboring from their 20s to their 60s and then abruptly breaking off to spend the rest of their days lolling in a hammock or puttering in a garden?

Much of the rethinking is born out of necessity. The values of 401(k)s and family homes have taken a huge hit in recent years. Pensions are disappearing. Social Security and Medicare are not the sure things they once were. And for people concerned about the cost of assisted living and hospital visits, fixed income can be a risky financial plan.

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