Remember Watson and Crick? Flashback to biology class: they were the dynamic duo who way back in 1953 cracked the DNA code. James Watson and Francis Crick went on to receive a Nobel Prize for identifying the molecular structure of DNA, with its famous double-helix shape.

Obviously I’m no DNA expert, but I thought I’d mention Crick here in particular because he is notable for another reason. Described as “a scientist until the bitter end”, he held his post as distinguished research professor right up to the end of his life and was even editing a manuscript on his death bed.

He “died with his boots on,” you could say. That’s an old pioneer expression, from when people pushed across North America in covered wagons. But these days it’s also about working way past the somewhat arbitrary age of 65, which more and more of us are doing. We’ve got new pioneers these days.

How do we feel about that?

How many of us will keep working?

New Zealand is a trailblazer among OECD countries when it comes to harnessing the potential of its older workers, according to the PWC Golden Age Index, ranking second only to Iceland. And Age Concern estimates workers aged 65 and over will more than double by 2031.

This year, as part of its three-yearly review of retirement income policies, the Commission for Financial Capability is looking at the phenomenon of our ageing workforce, surveying the population for insights.

How many of us intend to keep on working? It may be more than you think.

At this point (the survey will be open for months), 78% plan on continuing working beyond 65. And 65% intend on working past 67!

And when asked for the main reason that would influence or has influenced them to continue working past 65, most respond with “financially need to continue working” (51%) over “value and satisfaction from work” (38%).

Money gives us options

Working forever – sometimes I think it’s admirable, sometimes I’m sure it’s not. For Crick it certainly was, for me it will depend on what I end up doing in the gig economy, I guess.

One thing we know is that people often retire for many reasons other than financial: they finish up a job, their health changes, they care for loved ones, they decide they’re over it. Work may be stressful, physically taxing. So having enough of a nest egg is typically not as important a factor as other things in life.

We also know money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does give us options. (Hopefully among those options are happiness and wellbeing!) This is why building net worth and planning ahead make such a difference. Even starting small or late in the game is worth it.

Building up retirement savings gives us the option to keep working, but only if we want to. It allows us to go out on our own terms… boots on or not!

Chipper or cathedral builder?

You may have come across this telling fable that has been passed down in many forms. It’s the story of three people working at exactly the same job, chipping stone at a building site. All three are asked about their work, and what they’re doing, but each gives strikingly different answers:

“What does it look like?” says the first, indignantly. “I’m chipping stone.”

The second stops for a moment and replies, “I’m earning money for my family.”

The third, older and wiser, thinks for a moment, looks up around him and says, “I’m building a cathedral.”

All three are accurate. This gets to the heart of why we work, about how we spend our days and the purpose we’ve found. So perhaps it’s so much more about mindset, about a calling versus a job.

To all those who work as a response to their calling in life, I say, “Keep on keeping on!” For those who don’t, it’s great to have options.

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