In the TV series, The Closer, Brenda Lee Johnson moves from Washington, D.C to head up a new group of detectives in the Los Angeles Police Department. Brenda Lee is an outsider and faces suspicion and hostility, but wins over her team by being a “closer,” someone who can get suspects to confess. She does that with skills she has learned as an interrogator for the CIA as well as her work in police departments.
My wife and I have been watching this series and I have come to be a fan. I like the fact that politics abound in the organization. Chief Pope, her ex-lover and current boss is highly political, but not as much as Captain Raydor and Commander Taylor with whom she interacts and often conflicts. There is a constant theme of budget cuts and Chief Pope continually complains about overtime costs. In other words, it seems a more realistic portrayal of a real organization.
Johnson, however, is politically tone-deaf. She is offered promotions but doesn’t want them because she loves her work in interrogation. She loves catching perpetrators.
She loves working with her team.
She loves her work because it is her calling.
Psychologists have identified three levels of relationship with work. The first level is work as a job. It is your method of gaining money so you can do what you really want.
The second level is work as a career. Those at this level are focused on advancement, on being known and valued. The job is a series of steps that takes one higher and higher.
The third level is job as a calling. The worker with a calling is inspired by work, finds fulfillment in doing it as well as possible. If you have a calling, as Brenda Lee does, then you can say at the end of your life, “You could say I worked every day. But you could say with equal justification that I never worked a day.”
If you are not in a calling, then retirement is the goal. You work at your job to finally retire. You advance and get promotions so you can eventually retire. Retirement looks very good to you.
Is it so good? People who retire often die soon after. They stop working and their purpose in life is gone. They didn’t recognize the value they got from being at work, the socializing, the friendships, and even the meaning that comes from having a job. A recent poll found that 77% of working Baby Boomers expect to keep working after retirement. Thirty-four percent expect to continue to work at reduced hours, thirty percent say they will start a new career, and ten percent don’t expect to retire at all.
Many Baby Boomers will not like what I say next, but the fact is that retirement might be something that few of us will be able to experience. Over half of Boomers do not have nearly enough resources to retire. Few of us have defined benefit packages, unless we have worked for a government agency. Recently we have seen that even those retirements can vanish when cities and counties go bankrupt and cannot pay out the benefits they promised to workers. Vallejo, California, Central Falls, Rhode Island, and Jefferson County, Alabama are all facing bankruptcy because they cannot pay their pension obligations. Much of Illinois is in the same boat. The fight in Wisconsin is over the same issue. Money for pensions is running out. Even Social Security itself will clearly run out of money unless some big changes are made. None of us is safe.
Let’s look on the bright side. Not being able to retire may have tremendous benefits. Perhaps it is time to find a calling into which you will pour the highest and best skills you have accumulated over a lifetime.
You may object. You may not want to go back to the job you know the best. You may say that you do not have a calling. ‘So then what do I do?’
The Baby Boomers will immediately know the answer to this. “If you can’t be with the job you love . . .” When I say this to a live audience, the Boomers all shout, “love the job you’re with!”
In other words, practice being happy at your job. Here’s how.
First, keep a daily list of good things that happen at work. There are always a few good things. Write them down, don’t just think about them. Watching for them changes your view. Writing them down lets you re-live them. It will make a difference.
Second, make a point of thanking people at work. Smile more. Show appreciation. Oscar Wilde said that some people create happiness where ever they go. Others, whenever they go. Be someone who lifts and encourages.
Third, figure how how your job helps others and whom it helps. My wife and I have a cabin on watershed land. In the west, where we live, cities often get their culinary water from the streams that come down from the mountains, and watershed land feeds those streams. So we have to have our outhouse pumped out each year. The first year I owned the cabin, I called a company that had been recommended. It was late in October, and the driveway down to our cabin had a light dusting of snow. The driver carefully backed down the drive, got out his hoses and pumped out the sewage. He seemed quite cheerful and I asked how he liked his job.
“I love this job,” he answered. I was intrigued. What about his job made him so happy? “Without me,” he explained, “you folks could never have these cabins on watershed land. ”
He saw his job in terms of how it benefits other people. His job is to make other people happy. He saw himself as being a vital part of that. He has a calling.
He packed up his truck and started up the frosty drive. “See ya’ next year,” he called.
In other words, before finding your ideal, ultimate calling, find something in your current job that you can feel called to. Focus on how your job helps others and it will be more clear.
Practice happiness at your current job before you look for your ideal job. It seems to be a law of the universe. You will only be joyful in your calling when you practice being happy where you are now.
Now about retirement. This is a time to find something that will be a calling, something where you can work with enthusiasm and joy the rest of your days. I spoke with a man today who had consulted me after a motorcycle accident. He’d been having a hard time concentrating and focusing. He and his wife were retired and he was driving around the country on his motorcycle and one day he dozed for a moment and went off the road.
To me it sounded like he’d had a concussion and was suffering some problems from that. I referred him to people who specialize in helping people recover. Today I ran into him and asked how he was doing. He feels much better, has made very good progress, and ended his retirement! He is back at work as a contractor, and thinks part of bouncing back from a head injury is to keep himself busy.
I think he is right. He enjoys his work. Statistically he will live a longer and happier life if he continues to work. He worries about a family history of Alzheimer’s. Working is good therapy against that. It will keep any problems that come with age away if he stays busy.
Forget retirement? Sounds like a good idea to me.