I was kayaking and enjoying the beautiful autumn colours with a friend recently. I was in the moment, fully aware that I would not be able to paddle the lake again until next year. And I wondered what I would do with my time if I didn’t have to work – would I paddle the waters and enjoy the bounties of nature every day if work weren’t a necessity?
I asked my friend a simple question: “Suppose you were given one million dollars. Would you stop working?”
Of course, my friend said that upon receipt of the seven-figure windfall, she would start to enjoy the beauty of life more and in its simplest form.
Now, let’s be honest here. At one time or another we have all complained about work and, undoubtedly, how much we hate it. Different people will complain for different lengths of time, but there is always a consistent underlying message: “I’ve had enough.”
That message, though, is not really about work. Rather, it’s about a moment in our working life that has really set us off – so much so that we want out. But forever?
To contemplate taking the million bucks and to be liberated from work requires us to examine the reasons why we work. What’s our motivation? Yes, indeed, we know that we need money to survive. But if that is removed, why are people still motivated to work?
You’ve no doubt encountered Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs somewhere on your travels. People work, of course, for money. But it isn’t the sole or most important reason. There’s also the need to belong to the social community that work provides; the need for self-esteem that comes from our position within that community. Our work may provide us with intrinsic rewards, things that have nothing at all to do with money.
I love to work because I feel that I am providing a service to others, because I need to be challenged and explore my ideas. Because I must create.
Whatever our motivations, the reality is we all have a choice in whether we work or not. Or do we?
My father retired many moons ago at the age of 65. I don’t think he shed any tears over leaving his job of many decades. He was ready to go. But he wasn’t ready to stop working. Even though he had many more productive years to contribute to the workforce, his age made him ineligible in the province of Ontario.
So, he transformed himself into a self-employed worker, enjoyed the many intrinsic rewards that come with entrepreneurship and “the icing on the cake” made the kind of money he had always dreamed of earning.
My father should be proud of finding a creative solution to fulfill his motivations regardless of his age and the restrictions of the law. Thirteen years after being forced to retire from the workplace at 65, my father “retired” again. My mother, on the other hand, retired recently at 65 with a smile on her face. Had her pension permitted, I think she would have left the work force earlier.
We all have a lot to contribute to this world. Some of our contributions are related to work, others are not. Only you know when you are ready to stop working.