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My work is much more fun than fun - Liz Hodgkinson

Features | By Liz Hodgkinson

How can I retire when I live to work?

Paul Ewart, an Oxford research physicist, recently won a landmark case. He wanted to be allowed to carry on working beyond the statutory university retirement age of 67. Ewart argued that, at 70, he still had important research work to do.

At his tribunal, the Professor swiftly demolished the standard objection that retirement refuseniks block the way for younger talent. He showed that, in academia at least, only two to four per cent more vacancies are created by the imposition of a statutory retirement age.

I’m with the Prof. If you do work that you enjoy, you never want to retire, as the buzz and excitement of interesting work cannot easily be replaced. Now in my mid-70s, I am truly grateful that I am still working and earning money, especially as my work has lasted longer than anything else in my life.

While husbands, partners, lovers, friends, homes, children and even grandchildren have come and gone, my work remains a constant, loyal companion, giving me a purpose in life and, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say, a reason to carry on living. In my youth, a career was considered optional for a woman. I’m so glad I persisted, as otherwise I would now be a lonely old lady pottering about aimlessly.

Some people, seeing me still at work, ask, ‘But why aren’t you just enjoying yourself?’ Yet, for me and for many others these days, my work is my enjoyment. Noël Coward said, ‘Work is much more fun than fun,’ and how right he is. Work of the right kind gives a level of satisfaction and achievement than mindlessly ‘having fun’ never can.

In the arts and sciences, the age at which people retire keeps pushing back. For increasing numbers of people, there never is a willing retirement age. If you’ve enjoyed a long career, you want it to go on for ever. You discover that as time goes on you still have plenty to offer. Judi Dench, 85, is wowing audiences. David Hockney, 83, continues to break new ground. Tom Stoppard, also 83, has just written a play, Leopoldstadt, that many critics believe is his best yet.

Not all of us can be famous actresses or world-renowned artists. Even at more modest levels, ever more people want to carry on working and make a contribution to society long after conventional retirement age is reached.

It’s becoming common for those forced to retire from their former jobs on reaching a certain age to retrain or take on new challenges, proving there is plenty of life in the old boy, or old girl, yet.

One friend, a former British TV producer, moved after retirement to Cambodia where he founded a film company. Now, at 75, he is still working full time as well as creating interesting new careers for many Cambodians.

Another friend who had to retire from the NHS at 65 is now a personal trainer and is in the gym every morning at 7am, putting clients through their paces.

As for me, I would rather pack up orders in an Amazon warehouse, if that were the only job I could get, than not be working at all.

This story was from September 2020 issue. Subscribe Now