Labor is the new retirement

Morgan Leary (’14) and a few Honduran friends.

Retirement is a dirty word around my house. While I confess my husband and I are admitted workaholics, we like being productive — in the game, involved, contributing — however you term it. And we have no intention of ever changing that status. Someday we might slow down a bit, modify it, but retire. Never.

These days many individuals with diminished savings or sagging home values don’t have an option to retire. Whether it is by choice or circumstance, more and more people are staying in the game longer. Traditional retirement is becoming less of a line of demarcation and more of a blurry passage to a different iteration of the same. A new breed of retiree often chooses to use talents indefinitely. Labor is the new retirement.

For many, however, working on through that life milestone of “retirement” has perks, only one of which is financial.

This morning on Facebook, I heard from my friend and former boss, Fred Hilton (’96M). Fred is still on his game. Oh, is he ever! He retired from JMU after a long career guiding Madison’s media relations arena and later heading up the hugely successful JMU Centennial Celebration. Fred and his wife Leta moved to Florida a few years ago. They love it. But Fred is a writer and writers, like teachers and doctors and carpenters and umpteen other “laborers,” love what they do, therefore not doing it isn’t fun. So Fred, like so many of today’s retirees, has continued to practice his craft. Writing regularly for Healthy Living magazine, he explored this month how dogs see the world in Fidochrome: Can Dogs See Color?

Another good example is “retired” JMU professor Clive Hallman. You can read a wonderful story by JMU’s Janet Smith (’81) on the JMU web right now.

One of my favorite examples of staying in the game is Mr. Charles Wampler, former member of JMU’s board of visitors. It wasn’t too long ago that I visited someone at the hospital here in Harrisonburg and saw Mr. Wampler working the visitor desk as a volunteer. Mr. Wampler was born in 1915. You do the math. That’s staying in the game.

I strongly suspect that this trend will continue, not because of the economy – who in the world knows what it will do — but because the GenXers have a great take on work. They understand that work is more than, well, work. It’s an opportunity to contribute to society and to do something meaningful.

Take, for example,  Morgan Leary (’14). She’s majoring in International Affairs with a minor in Latin American studies and a concentration in nonprofit studies. She spent part of her summer teaching English in Honduras. She looks at work not only as earning her keep on this green earth but also as a chance to change lives for the better.  (Expect more about Morgan in a blog later this month.) The same can be said for Adam Armiger (’07). In addition to his day job in the business world, he runs the Hope Marietta Foundation to raise money for children born with congenital heart defects.

I could go on and on with examples, but you get my drift. Work today and maybe forever is not only about a checkbook but also about making a difference, which makes retirement in the traditional sense passe. Clearly, the lines between work and retirement are blurring. We are working longer. We are staying active longer. We are living longer — with much more to give along the way.

So, on this day designated to honor labor, let’s celebrate how work, a new approach to retirement and a new generation are making the future brighter.

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About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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