The Golden Watch

My dad is 57 years old. When he started working, the official retirement age was 65, but actually, most men retired at 62. Today, the official retirement age is 67, and most men retire at 64. Politicians are even discussing pension at 70! Who knows when he’ll actually get to drop the proverbial hammer.

Luckily, my dad likes his job. Ever since a publicly traded company bought his medium-sized firm, however, they’ve been accelerating the pace. Calls with China in the morning, calls with Europe after lunch, and calls with America at night. More revenue! Higher share price! Faster, faster, faster!

I don’t think at 57, you want to be accelerating. You want to slow down. Transition gently into the second half of your life. You needn’t stop working altogether, but cranking up the heat probably isn’t the best idea. At my dad’s company, the entire management team is around his age. Some have already quit for health-related reasons. Others are showing signs of burnout. Within ten years, they’ll all be gone, but I doubt any of them will get a golden watch.

Nowadays, the golden watch is a meme. Millennials often make fun of boomers for aspiring to so little. “How boring is it to work for one company for your whole life? You shouldn’t work for any company! You should be an artist/freelancer/entrepreneur!”

In my third semester of college, I saw a video called “All Work and All Play.” The narrator spoke of a “forever-beta” world in which nothing is ever finished. Work is now permeating every aspect of our lives, he said. We must adapt, travel lightly from gig to gig, and maintain up to date social profiles. If we do all that, we’ll get to do what we love. That was the message.

Ten years later, I look around the world, and I can’t help but think that, right now, a lot of people would probably kill for the prospect of a golden watch. They’d take a portion of golden fries, I think, if only they could count on the promise of job security.

“Prior to the 1980s, it was common for people to work a lifetime for one company,” Simon Sinek writes in The Infinite Game. “The company took care of them and they took care of the company. Trust, pride and loyalty flowed in both directions. And at the end of their careers these long-time employees would get their proverbial gold watch. I don’t think getting a gold watch is even a thing anymore. These days, we either leave or are asked to leave long before we would ever earn one.”

My dad has been at his company for 23 years. I’m fairly certain he’ll get to stay for another ten, or however long he needs to stay until retirement. That’s more than most people starting to work now will ever get to say. “Screw the watch! Just tell me my laptop will still be on my desk tomorrow, please.”

All work and all play. That life can be fun for a while. But not at 57. And unless you feel financially secure, the party ends pretty quickly in any job.

Life is a cycle of cycles. Everything returns. What once represented a steady, slow-growing, meaningful career came to be known as a symbol of drudgery and oppression — until any stability whatsoever went out the window. Suddenly, the golden watch once again seems like a dream.

Whether you’re set to retire in 30 years or three months, remember: There’s always someone who thinks the grass is greener on your side of the fence, but if we want the ups and downs to balance out, all we have to do is water the ground right where we stand.