Now that people are living longer, “would you want to live to 100?” is a question more often asked. Some answer it by saying, “yes, but only if I am healthy and don’t run out of money.”

Photo of a piggy bank labeled "Retirement Fund."

Many retirees are so terrified of ending up impoverished and in poor health that they never spend more than a tiny fraction of their retirement savings. Health issues in old age can be costly, that’s true enough; it makes sense to have some funds set aside for future medical bills, assistive technology, and so forth. But in the scenario described above—living to age 100 while staying healthy—why would using up one’s savings be seen as a fate worse than death?

Presumably, many people feel that going back to work in old age would be too hard, so any further years of life after running out of money would be a miserable penny-pinching existence. But if we’re talking about living to 100—which, for most of us, is pretty far in the future—then why make such a negative assumption? The current labor shortage is not likely to go away by then, given today’s historically low birthrates, and I expect future employers will be happy to hire anyone they can get. Age discrimination won’t be much of an issue when companies desperately need workers. Medical advances will make us healthier.

Granted, after having been in retirement for three decades or so, our hypothetical centenarian likely won’t have the skills needed to do the same work as before. That prospect might also seem very unappealing to a person who has gotten used to a completely different way of life. In a future economy where workers are scarce and in great demand, however, we may find that it’s easy to start another career designed around whatever new interests we may develop. Maybe we’ll all have bespoke jobs, tailored to our every desire by happily obliging employers. Such jobs would be available to anyone, including older people who run out of savings in retirement.

This may seem a wild flight of fancy by comparison to today’s workplace, which is not far removed from a decade of brutal cost-cutting. Some managers still can’t wrap their minds around the prospect of a long-term labor shortage, and age discrimination certainly hasn’t gone away. Even so, it’s fair to say that any attempt to imagine the distant future is just guesswork—so why live in fear of one possibility when so many other things might happen instead?

That said, I do save regularly in my workplace retirement plan because it’s always good to have savings, whatever the future may hold. In the interest of present-day serenity, though, I don’t worry about how much of my savings might have been spent decades from now. I prefer to hold space in my imagination for a future world with plenty of choices, rather than problems.

August 9, 2023 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

After I wrote last Thursday’s post about being thankful for all the fun little conveniences we have nowadays, such as an online pizza delivery tracker, I thought about it a little more and realized such things also make workers more stressed. They are not totally sunshine and rainbows.

Photo of sunny hills and a rainbow.

(Photo credit: Colin Houston)

Back in the day, working in a pizza store was pretty simple. Store workers took orders over the phone, assembled and baked the pizzas, and either sent them out with delivery drivers or took payment directly from customers for carryout orders. Now, the phone still rings, but orders also come in by way of the computer, and workers have to scurry over to update the tracker program every time an order’s status changes. And, of course, it’s always a bad day for the workers if (when) the software gets glitchy.

Now, multiply that by all the computer-related tasks added to the lengthy to-do lists for just about every job in today’s world, and it explains a big chunk of those “too much going on” feelings.

That’s not to say we would be better off if we could wave a magic wand and go back to 1980, or any other simpler time in history. Our apps and other modern conveniences really do make our days more cheerful and interesting—as long as it’s someone else doing the work to make sure they’re functioning properly. Even if it’s our work, using computers doesn’t just pile on extra tasks, but also makes many things easier than if they had to be done the old-fashioned way. So, it’s a mixed bag; we have more to keep track of, but also more software to help with it. I am hopeful the balance will tip more in our favor as time goes on.

August 3, 2023 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

I’ve had a library book checked out for more than a week—The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work, by Simone Stolzoff. I’m not yet halfway through it but am still on chapter 4, which discusses the blurring of boundaries between work and other areas of life. The book is well written and holds my attention, but I haven’t gotten very far into it because I’ve been doing overtime work. The irony there is obvious enough that it doesn’t need much illustration.

Blurred landscape in rain.

(Photo credit: Tony Webster)

The overtime began recently when a big push for AI development took people away from regular tasks, leaving the backlog to grow. However, I feel that I’ve been struggling with blurred boundaries since the pandemic started. I was already working from home before then, but my days were well structured because my husband worked in an office. Usually, soon after he came home, I would shut down my work computer, and that gave me a clear dividing line between the workday and the rest of the day.

His employer decided to shut down the local office this year for cost savings, with remote work going well. Sharing the home office space is mostly okay; I’ve learned much more about what he does as a software developer, his meetings usually are not too distracting, and it’s nice to have some companionship after years of working alone in the house. I no longer have a clearly defined work schedule, though, and sometimes I feel that I have lost control of my time. Having schedules for daily rowing workouts, although very good for improving fitness, adds to the feeling that there is always too much going on at once.

I’ll get it sorted one of these days. For now, I’m just going to get off the computer and finish reading the book.

My daughter, who lives in Cleveland’s snow belt, is currently working in Hawaii as a travel nurse and enjoying the warmth and the beaches. As an unexpected adventure, she also got to see the eruption of Mauna Loa up close, and she sent me some photos on Monday. Here’s one of them:

Photo of erupting Mauna Loa volcano at night.

She is a neonatal intensive care nurse, and a few years ago, she worked at Cleveland Metro. Then she discovered that travel nursing paid more, plus the costs of travel and housing. Adventure and more money, what’s not to like about that? And of course, as more nurses made the same discovery, hospitals lost more staff and relied even more heavily on temps from the travel nurse agencies, digging themselves into a hole that I can’t see them getting out of any time soon.

Somewhat related to the hospitals’ woes, I’ve noticed a few alarmist articles in the news recently about the Federal Reserve’s string of interest rate hikes, aimed at cooling off the economy to get inflation under control. Doomsayers warn of recession and job cuts. I think that’s overblown, and as supply chains improve, I expect the economy will do much better. I don’t foresee many jobs being lost other than in the construction and finance industries, where raising interest rates effectively put a stop to housing speculation.

Now that we live in a world of persistent labor shortages, interest rates don’t have nearly the impact on unemployment that they had a few decades ago, when large numbers of workers in the baby boom cohort struggled to find jobs that could easily be sent overseas. We’re never going to see an economy like that again. Employers are realizing that they need to hold onto talent, as I am sure the Fed’s policymakers are aware. Workers also know that their skills are in more demand than in past years.

Of course, the rate hikes are in part intended to make consumers get uneasy and spend more cautiously. Monetary policy has as much to do with mind games as with economic facts. But overall, I’m not worried. Higher borrowing costs are not going to cause short-staffed employers to lay off workers that they desperately need. Workers likely won’t be deterred from job-hopping in search of adventure and better pay, either. We’ll see what happens, but I expect it won’t be anything dramatic.

Last week I read Empty Planet, a book about the modern world’s falling birthrates. The authors believe that having only one or two children is becoming a worldwide norm and, as a result, they expect global population will peak soon and then drop sharply for the foreseeable future. The trend of moving to the cities will continue. After a while, almost everyone will live in large metropolitan areas, while leaving the rest of the planet to revert to wilderness. People won’t dream of having a peaceful cabin in the woods anymore.


Some of that makes sense to me, but I have to disagree with the authors to the extent they predict young people will have a lower standard of living because of supporting a large elderly population. That’s based on the stereotype that older folks don’t buy much (thus dragging down a consumer economy), don’t produce much, lack creative thought, and generally can’t do much of anything.

Although it’s a fact that many present-day seniors live on a small budget and don’t buy much, either for fear of running out of money or simply because of long-standing habits of frugality, I wouldn’t assume it has to be that way forever. Rather, I expect it to change along with everything else. Many retirees couldn’t save much during their working years because wages were flat for decades. Those who could invest weren’t getting much of a return on their money. Middle-aged workers were likely to get laid off because of automation and offshoring, which forced them to spend what meager savings they had. With jobs being scarce, employers were picky, and finding a new job after a layoff wasn’t easy.

Now we’re starting to see the first glimmerings of what a world with persistent labor shortages will look like. Because young workers are in short supply, companies are having to rely more on middle-aged employees. Many of those employees, however, feel like they’ve had enough of the rat race after years of being taken for granted and getting tiny pay raises and minimal perks. They’ve noticed that the stock market is way up—which is not surprising, given the obvious fact that the money saved by being so stingy with the workers has been going to the shareholders. People who have stock funds in their retirement accounts are now realizing that they can afford to retire sooner than anticipated.

Companies are frantically automating whatever they can, but they’re discovering that robots are not staying ahead of retirements. Robots do, however, save costs, allowing companies to earn reasonable profits even if they are understaffed. Those profits go to shareholders, the stock market climbs higher, and then more workers can afford to retire and live happily ever after on their stock earnings, even if they’re not yet old enough to draw Social Security payments. We’re in a loop that just keeps feeding on itself.

Of course, it’s possible that a major economic calamity might put an end to the party; but if COVID-19 couldn’t do it, then what would? Stocks may not rise as quickly for the next few years because companies will be forced to give meaningful pay raises to retain their long-term employees. The financial markets will still be in good shape, though, because ongoing automation will keep corporate profits up. Employees with bad memories of having been treated like beasts of burden will keep on retiring in large numbers—and because of low birthrates, every year there will be fewer new workers to replace them.

I expect that by 2030 or thereabouts, we’re going to see an economy the likes of which has never existed. Chronically short-staffed companies will be doing all they can to persuade retirees to come back to work. That’s going to be a hard sell because most retirees won’t need the money, so employers will need to find creative ways to make the work more pleasant. Meanwhile, higher salaries will enable young people to be choosy about their jobs. I predict that in the not-so-distant future, most people will work because they enjoy what they are doing, not because they are desperate to pay the bills. The world will become calmer and more peaceful as we leave behind all that stress—and I expect we’ll buy plenty of new, fun, mostly robot-made consumer goods, both for ourselves and for the small number of grandchildren we may have.

In addition to my regular work, I’ve been putting together a PowerPoint presentation entitled Resilience, Stress Tolerance, and Flexibility as part of a group that presents online sessions for employees about digital transformation and related issues. I haven’t used PowerPoint much before, and it’s interesting to see what can be done with design and images. I like this Lego juggler image to illustrate the flexibility needed in a work environment where the pace of automation keeps increasing.

A Lego person juggling Lego pieces.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Meanwhile, after a short break when the sprint season ended, my husband and I are training for the rowing regattas again. During the fall season the races are 5K, which is about the same length as one lap on our usual course on the river. Usually we row two laps, but we are now rowing three laps most days to build up our endurance. With the shorter days this time of year, we’re in a bit of a hurry to row that much before it gets dark, and sometimes we still have work to do when we get home. We’re also doing some online yoga and mobility exercises in the evenings.

Finding time to write blog posts has seemed like a bit of a challenge, but as I’ve built up more mental and physical flexibility, I’m finding that creative ideas come a bit quicker. The self-improvement advice that I’m putting into the presentation seems to be doing me some good in real life!

July 8, 2021 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Although I’m feeling much more relaxed because of taking vacation this week, all of that unscheduled time has been provoking what-comes-next thoughts. Everybody seems to be having them now, according to a news article I came across, which reported on a survey that found 95 percent of workers were thinking about quitting and 92 percent might change careers. Burnout was cited as the main reason.

The survey came from a jobs website, so it’s obviously a skewed sample and the real numbers are lower. Also, just thinking about doing something different does not necessarily mean that a person will take the leap and actually do it. The U.S. Department of Labor has calculated the number of quits for May 2021 at 3.6 million, which is down from April’s record high of 4 million, though still much higher than in past years.

I took a short break from writing this post to bring in a package from the porch, addressed to my husband. He opened it to find an unexpected gift from his employer—a little toy helicopter to commemorate the successful launch of the project he has been working on. Once upon a time, I used to get small gifts like that too. After a while, it started to feel like ancient history, and seeing them on my desk felt demotivating because management plainly didn’t care enough about the workers to ever do it again. So I boxed them up and put them in the basement.

Since then I still haven’t found an intuitive sense of direction. As my fictional 76-year-old future self Kass pointed out in an imaginary chat on this blog last summer, that turned out to be fortunate because most people who changed careers two years ago ended up in very different circumstances than what they expected. Now that the world feels like it’s settling down into a more recognizable pattern, I feel that my subconscious mind ought to be able to sift through the details and come up with something meaningful.

So I decided to take a virtual stroll down to the stream where I’d found Kass casting a net for symbolic images last year. The low water was murky and full of lily pads, and at first I didn’t see her.

Photo of a lake with lily pads.

(Image credit: James St. John)

After I went a little farther upstream, around a wide bend, I spotted Kass standing knee-deep in the water. She had on wading boots and some kind of drab uniform, and the curly hair under her cap had been dyed a darker shade of brown since I last saw her. A gloved hand carefully tucked away a test tube into a backpack.

“I’m taking microbial samples,” Kass explained, in response to my curious look. “The river of time needs regular monitoring, you know, just like any other body of water does. Can’t have it getting polluted with all kinds of random garbage, can we? And didn’t you have a few thoughts about going back to college to study biochemistry?”

“Not that seriously. And the last time I was here, you said this was the stream of consciousness.”

Kass shrugged. “It’s whatever it needs to be.”

A fly bit my right arm and zoomed mockingly away before I could smack it. The failed attempt left me off balance, and I took a step backward into squishy, smelly muck in which the geese had left their calling cards.

“I’m really not seeing myself in this job you’ve got.” Scowling at my future self, I scratched my arm while wiping off an icky shoe in the grass as best I could.

“That’s what imaginary scenarios like this are for, you know—narrowing down the possibilities. If this one won’t suit, how about I’m happily retired and living in a beachfront cottage in Aruba with the money you saved, snapping my fingers at the cabana boy to bring me another margarita.” Kass raised a hand before frowning slightly and dropping her arm again. “Except that you never learned how to snap your fingers properly, which is a bit annoying; and that margarita is much more likely to be delivered by a cabana robot. Workers are hard to come by in the future economy, what with the low birthrates.”

“Retirement never had much appeal to me anyway. Sitting around for decades with nothing productive to do sounds like it would be awfully boring and unhealthy.”

“Doing the same work forever, without trying out other possibilities because it seems too hard to pick one, wouldn’t be ideal either.” Kass took a few steps and came up on the shore, her boots dripping. “It’s best not to judge. Everyone in the modern world is struggling with the same issue—so much change, so many decision points—how can we have any idea where we’re going? My advice, at this point, isn’t so much about picking careers, but simply about discovering what the world has to offer. You’ll know what makes you happy when you come across it. And, be sure to set aside enough time for minding the river’s health.”

On Tuesday morning, before getting started on my workday, I had a bit of indecision about what sort of image to put on my digital art display. The weather was cloudy and the forecast called for thunderstorms, so I considered a painting of a Florida scene with clouds looming over bright greenery before deciding that it didn’t quite fit a chilly Ohio morning.

Painting of Florida wetlands on a cloudy day

(Image credit: Georgrpe Buckner)

After a while I decided on a picture of empty gondolas parked in Venice with a bit of sun coming through the clouds. That didn’t work too well either because the sky just got darker in real life, and thunderstorms did indeed start rolling through. I wasn’t looking at the art display anyway because I was just sitting at my desk focused on the computer, so it didn’t really matter. My husband had been planning to row with some friends, but that didn’t work out because it was raining at the boathouse too.

Still, it was a mostly good day. I got a very nice surprise when a coworker sent me an email saying that the charity committee had chosen me as the featured volunteer and will post an entry about me on the internal website. It’s always good to be appreciated at work, especially when I hadn’t known that I was being considered for any special recognition. That left me feeling pretty cheerful.

October 8, 2020 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

After working yesterday morning, I went to get a flu shot. I took the afternoon off, just because the weather was nice and I have more vacation than the one week I can carry over into January.

I was reminded of a post I wrote three years ago on the topic of taking half-days just to relax. Because I had gotten in the habit of rushing around from one thing to another, taking vacation time for no particular reason felt wasteful. To illustrate being busy with chores, I posted this image of my willow hedge, which needed lots of pruning because it wasn’t tolerating climate change well (this year I’ve cut the willows back to a much smaller and more manageable size, hoping they’ll get healthier after a while).

Willows after pruning in October.

Although I’ve mostly recovered from being a time-hoarder, I still wasn’t feeling entirely relaxed yesterday. Having all that extra vacation got me thinking about road trips not taken and, more generally, what a messed-up year this had been for the world.

Then my husband, who is still working from home, has overtime work at present, and doesn’t have vacation because he changed jobs in December, said (while sitting at his desk) that it must be nice to have all those vacation days. That was a well-taken reminder to be more appreciative!

I didn’t feel inclined to do much writing last week because, among other things, I wasn’t getting anywhere trying to imagine the future. What with the entire world having been totally upended this year, I felt as if I’d lost whatever intuitive sense of direction I might once have had. Because telling stories to make sense of a confusing modern world is the central theme of this blog, it seemed rather pointless to write about being lost in a sea of befuddlement. (Well, except that putting the word “befuddlement” into a sentence just now was kind of fun.)

Then I started reading an apocalyptic business book that projected automation would destroy most of the world’s jobs in the near future. Before this year, I had dismissed that scenario as highly unlikely because it looked like we had plenty of jobs, with more coming open because of retirements and lower birthrates. But now, with a pandemic that could go on for a long time, what business owner wouldn’t want to replace sickly, unpredictable, and expensive humans with robots and intelligent software?

Large robot leaning over a wall.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

That line of thinking put me into quite a funk, and I considered talking it over with my 119-year-old future self, Fannie the Fantastically Adventurous. She might be able to offer some helpful insights and encouragement. But no, that wouldn’t do; I already wrote a post last year in which I asked Fannie for career advice. Something more was needed.

“Yoo hoo!” A waving hand appeared in my imaginary inner landscape, connected to an arm that was nicely toned, if a bit wrinkled. The rest of the body soon came into view, dressed in lime-green workout shorts with a matching tank top and sports bra. This visitor had just been outside on a humid afternoon, judging from the damp, sweaty curls tumbling in all directions over her shoulders. A thin line of gray roots was barely visible under the brown curls.

“I’m Kass,” she informed me, “your 76-year-old future self.”

“Is that short for Cassandra?” I asked, wondering where a future me would have gotten that name. Usually when new characters introduced themselves, I knew their origins; but this time I had no clue whatsoever.

“No, it’s Kass with a K. And it’s short for kicking yours.” Kass smirked in a way that made her look more like a juvenile delinquent than a respectable lady of her claimed 76 years.

I briefly considered tossing her back into whatever murky pool of my subconscious mind had spawned her. Curiosity got the better of me, though; and I decided to take her bait, even if doing so might have been against my better judgment.

“If you’re from my future, aren’t you supposed to be kind and forgiving toward me?” I demanded. “That’s the whole point of imaginary conversations with younger selves, right? You help them to put things in perspective and to understand that their mistakes weren’t really as bad as they might have thought.”

Kass waved a hand in a dismissive gesture and made a “pfft” sound.

“Yeah, right—like you were kind and forgiving when you told our past self Queenie to take a hike?”

“Well, okay, that wasn’t very nice,” I had to admit. “But I did it without thinking, I apologized to her, and then I went back later and told her she was brave for standing up to social pressure.”

“Aren’t you the noble one.” Kass sneered, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at me. “I’m not feeling nearly that altruistic right now, and that’s mainly because I am still recovering from all your ridiculous fears and insecurities. Fannie has had a much longer time to mellow into a wise old woman; I’m not nearly there yet. Just this afternoon, I was out for what should have been a nice relaxing jog in the park, until your annoying self-pitying thought loops about life’s unfairness showed up and ruined it.”

“Queenie had a few things to say when I felt like that,” I pointed out. “She told me that it wasn’t fair to blame a bad day on a younger self, who was likely finding it hard enough to stay positive without the added stress of being responsible for how her future selves might feel. And I would add that is especially true in 2020, when everyone in the world is stressed out.”

“Aw, boo-hoo-hoo, so unfair, poor tragic long-suffering little you. Cue the violins.” Kass made exaggerated fiddling motions in the air. “We both know that you’re super lucky, compared to what happened to a lot of people. So get over yourself already.”

She dropped her hands into a more relaxed position at her sides and took a deep breath before going on. “And in particular, you need to stop judging yourself as a stuck-in-a-rut failure for not having a clear sense of career direction—or any other kind of direction that you feel you’re lacking. You live in a time when the world is changing so fast that almost anything might happen. Recognizing that fact doesn’t make you less insightful or motivated than anyone else.”

Turning that over in my mind, I couldn’t dispute her point. Clarity wasn’t easy to come by these days; and framing its lack as some kind of personal failure did not, in truth, make any sense.

“As for work,” Kass concluded, “just think what might have happened if you’d felt inspired to change careers or start a new business in 2019. Many people did just that—and then the pandemic hit, and they lost everything. So, your uncertainty turned out to be a blessing, even if it didn’t seem like one. Be grateful for it, give yourself permission to chill out and relax for now—and be open to new opportunities finding you later, when the time is right.”

She gave me a smile that actually looked like it might be a real, good-natured smile this time. “And then, maybe, I can finish my next jog without interruption.”