Why you don’t want to stop working. Ever.
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Why you don’t want to stop working. Ever.

Justin at work

On the job: Part of Justin Kor's work as a content associate involves him meeting and interviewing people, hearing their ideas and teasing interesting anecdotes out from them. He may just be at the starting point of his career, but Justin had already planned out his perfect retirement life -- a long, idyllic fishing holiday by the sea. But a meeting with an intern, or more accurately, a 63-year-old retiree turned intern, changed his views about retirement.

By: Justin Kor from Team

We are at opposite ends of our career. Mr Gabriel Gan is a 63-year-old who became an intern after retirement. I’m a 25-year-old who started off as an intern and am now a content associate. Here’s what happens when a millennial meets a baby boomer. 

When I first heard from my friend that his 63-year-old retired father was doing a culinary internship, I did a double take.

“What? Why would he do that?” I asked, a mixture of horror and incredulity on my face. “No idea,” my friend replied, looking equally baffled.

Barely a year into my first job, I’ve already mapped out my retirement plans. At 60, in 35 years’ time, I will be on a deckchair on an idyllic beach somewhere in the world, with a fishing rod in one hand and a beer in another. Every day will be paradise.  

My retirement scenario stands in stark contrast to Mr Gabriel Gan. Following retirement last year as an in-flight supervisor with an airline, he is currently pursuing an 18-month diploma at At-Sunrice Globalchef Academy, with an internship as part of the course requirements.

Being an intern in a professional catering kitchen is tough work. Mr Gan churns out massive amount of food at a time, carry immensely heavy loads, and labour intensively for six days a week, eight hours each day.

“The first time I worked in the kitchen, I was standing the whole day – I couldn’t tahan (tolerate it),” he says when we meet for an interview.

I cannot understand how a 63-year-old is able to do this for half a year. If someone suggests that I try for an internship after retirement, I’d just turn my back and walk away.

Besides work, Mr Gan also attends culinary classes. After working for 39 years, he tells me it is so difficult to stay awake during classes.

Almost 40 years separate Mr Gan and I, but I guess some things just don’t change across generations. I also fall asleep during lectures in my mid-20s.

After school ends, he will study for four to five hours each evening, reading up on the day’s lesson or doing research for his assignments, only going to bed at midnight.

“My son says I study harder than him,” he says with a laugh. He probably studies harder than me too.

Listening to his stories of how he would get shouted at during work, and how intense the culinary course is, makes me even more perplexed why he made this choice.

His home at East Coast seems like an ideal place to chill out after retirement. With a breathtaking view of the sea, I can imagine myself sitting at the balcony and watching the ships sail by all day.

Seeing my perplexed look, he explains: “Let’s say if I decide not to do anything after my retirement, what am I going to do? Your mind is very important. I know people who just refuse to do anything. Eventually their minds just deteriorate to a certain extent.”

Hearing that, it made me see things from a different perspective. If he really sits at the balcony and watch the ships go by every day, his mind might also sail away with them.

What’s life without a purpose?

In Singapore, working seniors like Mr Gan are not uncommon. In the past decade, there has been a 64 per cent increase in the number of people aged 60 and above who are working – 114,000 in 2007 to 313,000 in 2017.

A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has also found that seniors are becoming entrepreneurs, keeping their time occupied in their golden years.

Being at the start of my career, I’m still adjusting to the rigours of working life. The days suddenly seem a lot shorter and life seems to be going at full speed most of the time.

Mr Gan’s path is now the inverse of mine, but it’s also another period of adjustment. When you’re flying around the world one week, and left at home with nothing to do the next, it seems like life just suddenly grinds to a halt. The question that is always on his mind – what’s next?

For me, there are still goals to achieve and milestones to hit. And these will keep me going for the next few decades.

For seniors like Mr Gan, his career race has already been run. When you’ve worked for almost 40 years, to suddenly have it all stop would leave an empty hole in your life, especially as Singaporeans’ lifespan has typically lengthened. 

I began to understand why he decided to take up a course and internship. It’s no longer about setting milestones or career targets. It’s simply to find a purpose to stay engaged in life.

When we ended our conversation, my initial feelings of horror and bewilderment were replaced by a deep respect for Mr Gan – to try new things when he need not do so.

Perhaps I might just change my beach retirement plans after all. Time to think about career 2.0 after 60.

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