If you were like a lot of kids growing up, you probably remember your parents telling you as you tried to wiggle out of your chores that “hard work never killed anyone.”
Now we’re learning, not only will honest labor likely not kill you, it could very well extend your life.
Indeed, if you’re looking to maintain or even improve your health as you age, you should regard employment as enjoyment and a healthful tonic to sip from every day.
Not everyone, however, even if they wish to, may be able to continue working due to a disability or other health reasons. In these cases, pouring your heart into a passion, hobby, volunteer work or other engaging activity that fills you with a sense of purpose can prove just as stimulating and invigorating.
Let’s look at a few examples of work warriors who stayed active and young through their labors. Employ their attitudes, insights and desire to remain active to chart your own path for a vital future ahead.
Work Half Days
Though never graduating from high school, Kemmons Wilson, the founder of the Holiday Inn chain, once humbly advised a group of students that they “should work half days every day. And it doesn’t matter which half … the first 12 hours or second 12 hours.” Wilson may have indulged in a little exaggeration, but his point was, when you’re engaged in activities that truly bring you pleasure and purpose, work won’t seem like work at all. Find an activity you love, and let it fill your days with joy.
Compared with Ray Crist, Wilson was just a baby when he died at age 90. Crist (1900-2005) had helped produce the atomic bomb as a member of the Manhattan Project. Yet at age 103, he was still wading into streams, collecting algae samples for his research. He finally retired at 104, still devoted to his work on bioremediation, a process of removing harmful metal contaminants from metal and water.
At age 91, comedian and actor George Burns (1896-1996) reflected on the value of work and what it was like not to be working when he was 18. “I couldn’t get a job,” he said. “When you’re not working, you’re old. And when you’re 91, and you’re working, you’re 18.” He lived to be 100.
When legendary cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1973) reached his 95th birthday, a reporter asked, “Mr. Casals you are 95 and the greatest cellist who ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Casals answered, “Because I’m still making progress.”
Working is great therapy. Until he died at age 90, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the renowned medical missionary, was still working energetically and enthusiastically on his manuscripts.
One a Day
Picasso produced more than 15,000 works. “I have only one thought: work,” he said. “When I work, I relax; not doing anything or entertaining visitors makes me tired.” According to one estimate, Picasso produced an average of one piece of art every day from the time he was 8 years old until his passing at age 92.
Painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell, a contemporary of Picasso’s, also threw himself into his work. At age 77, he still went to his studio seven days a week. “I work from fatigue to fatigue … at my age, there’s only so much daylight left,” he said.
So, if you don’t want to expire, don’t retire.
Joe Grant (1908-2005), a Disney artist, understood well this self-preservation strategy, choosing to wear out rather than rust out. Once asked by animation historian John Canemaker to reflect on his long career, Grant said, “I’m not interested in what happened back then, but what we’re doing now and looking forward.” He died at the ripe old age of 96, working at his drafting table.
Are you seeing a pattern here? To feel young and relevant, you need to stay engaged in meaningful and purposeful work. You don’t want to retire, you simply want to re-tire. No less an authority than psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) said that the two biggest pillars upholding mankind are the ability to love and the ability to work.
Nobody was more industrious than Henry Ford. He is well known for introducing the Model T to America, but he also had a hand in developing charcoal briquettes from sawdust and scrap wood left over in his auto manufacturing process. He sold the company to E.G. Kingsford.
It was impossible for Ford and other high achievers to separate work from their identity at any age. Work is life. Life is work. They believed “that those who labor sleep more sweetly than those who are labored for.”
Working is ‘G-R-E-A-T’
Thurl Ravenscroft (1914-2005) was the voice of the Sugar Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger and many other animated characters. He didn’t stop saying “G-R-E-A-T” until he was 90.
Fayard Nicholas (1914-2006), the elder half of the tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers whose gravity-defying “Jumpin’ Jive” dance performance in Stormy Weather (1943) has been called the greatest dance display in film history, was still dancing at tap festivals and giving demonstrations well into his 80s, despite having had both arthritic hips replaced.
Hit or miss, they just keep acting, they just keep on tapping, they keep working. Beefy, Oscar-winning actor Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012), who could play tough or tender roles — the teddy bear or the beast — never called it quits. Borgnine’s last film, “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vincente Fernandez,” was released after his death at age 95.
Perspire, Don’t Retire
“I just want to do more work,” said Borgnine, who received an Emmy award nomination at 92. “Every time I step in front of a camera, I feel young again. I really do. It keeps your mind active and keeps you going.
Today, legendary investor Warren Buffet is 88 years young and still reports to the office most days. He started working as a newspaper boy and filed his first tax return at age 13, claiming his $35 deduction for his bicycle.
He learned then that hard work won’t kill you and knows today that hard, honest work may even extend your life.
So, like Burns, Borgnine and Buffett and so many other masters have told us, limitations such as age or ailments may slow us but they don’t have to stop us. Find a work zone that you’re comfortable in — be that a minute a day, an hour a day or every day — and go for it.
And if anyone should ask you, what you’re doing or who you are, let them know, you are a beautiful work in progress.