Career Epiphany: Work Until The Day I Die

Upon entering adulthood (let’s call this age 30), I had a career epiphany: I will work until the day I die, or thereabouts.

This realization had nothing to do with our rickety economy or the questionable state of Social Security. It wasn’t prompted by the Boomer generation’s very valid concerns that their golden years won’t look much different from the rest of their years, due to dwindling portfolios and delayed retirement. No fear-wielding politician convinced me that my generation — the first in U.S. history at risk for not outpacing its parents in terms of economic prosperity — wouldn’t be able to retire. It sprung from a bipartisan, apolitical, financially unrelated fact: I love to work.

I’ve always known this about myself — from the time I cajoled my way into my first summer job at age 14 (company policy preferred employees to be, at least, 16), which was years after being an upstart babysitter and occasionally working in my parents’ restaurant on the Cape. DNA is another tip-off: My parents are entrepreneurs, and in my entire lifetime, I’ve never seen them work 9-5. I have no idea what that looks like — still don’t. Hustle is the great American story arc, isn’t it?

Consider Steve Jobs, the adopted son of working class parents, who famously dropped out of college after one semester. Instead, he chose to toil, hustle, and innovate his way to being one of the brightest tech minds in history. At age 20, he founded Apple, now the highest valued company in the world, with a market capitalization of $378 billion, just ahead of Exxon ($371 billion), according to Wall Street.

For this reason, investors, analysts, and competitors watched closely as his health deteriorated. Of him, they knew this much was certain: Steve Jobs would work until the day he died, or thereabouts. (Jobs stepped down from Apple’s helm in August, appearing in public a week later, gaunt and frail; this would be his last public appearance). His American dream was never to spend his final months and years golfing, traveling, or meditating in far-off lands.

I’m not suggesting I am anything like Jobs. Heck, I can’t even figure out what’s wrong with my iPhone that it displays the Pearl Jam cover art when I play Adele. However, I appreciate this new interpretation of the American dream (nay, a lost one, as Fox News reports) that Jobs’s life and death represent: The golden years of retirement are not everyone’s goal.

The right to retire safely, healthily, and financially secure is essential. No one would argue it isn’t. And Steve Jobs was taken from this Earth too young. Nevertheless, he didn’t need to stay on board as long as he did. He wanted to. His life’s work brought him inspiration until life waned.

Buddhists call this dedication to a calling dharma: one’s sacred duty. We all have one, whether it is the job for which we are paid or a vocation that provides other forms of currency, such as emotional or altruistic. The dream, as I see it, would be a path that offers both.

I’m working toward creating that, until the day I die, or thereabouts.