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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
Tonight will be Jay Leno's last as host of the "Tonight Show." (That is, unless he finds a way to do to Jimmy Fallon what he did to Conan O'Brian. Just wait and see what happens if Fallon's ratings falter…) Now, I've never been a Leno fan; I think his jokes are trite and predictable, he's a lousy interviewer, and there's something about him I just find annoying. Give me Jon Stewart any old day.
But I'm interested in his retirement because the New York Times the other day had a story that used his departure from the "Tonight Show" as an example of what many of us baby boomers are going through these days.
Leno is 63. The Times writes that "although the average age at which current United States retirees say they stopped working is 61, up from 59 in 2003 and 57 in 1993, a January Gallup poll of 1,929 members of that generation found that 49 percent didn’t expect to retire until age 66 or older. One respondent in 10 expected never to clock out for good — assuming they had the choice."
Money clearly is an issue for some people. The Times writes that "according to the Gallup poll, those who say they have 'enough money to do everything' that they want to do predict they’ll retire at 66. Those who do not have sufficient funds say 73 is a more realistic number."
Now, I understand that for some people, the idea of having to work longer seems like hell on earth. I get that some jobs are like that. But this also plays, I think, into a broader concern of mine - that too many people are treated like costs in their place of employment, as opposed to being treated like assets. If people felt appreciated - some of this is psychic, some of it is financial - then they might not see working longer in life as being such a problem.
I know that I'm lucky. I have a job that I love. And my boss, thought he can occasionally be a pain in the neck, isn't so hard to work for.
But I still think that as a culture, we need to rethink our whole attitude toward work. Work is a good thing … it is how we create value in our culture, how we hopefully contribute to society and to the economy, and how we define ourselves.
Not to say that we always should do the same thing. I think people who change careers, or take on new pursuits and interests after having done the same thing for much of their lives, are incredibly lucky. Mrs. Content Guy is like that - she started out as a hot shot banker/broker/MBA type, then took 10 years off to raise the kids, and then went back and got an education masters and now teaches third grade. And I'm guessing that at some point, probably when we move out west, she'll find yet something else different to do.
To me, it ought to be the job of an employer to find ways to engage and excite employees. Like the janitor who reportedly told President Kennedy when he was visiting Cape Canaveral in the early sixties, "I'm helping to put a man on the moon." (That story may be apocryphal, but I don't care. I love it.)
It can't be like in Bridge On The River Kwai, where the camp commandant tells the prisoners of war to be "happy in your work." He says it, but he doesn't mean it.
It then becomes the responsibility of people in the workforce to find joy in their work. Not always easy, I know. And not everybody has options, especially in this economy.
As we get older, we have to make adjustments. Sure. But I put a premium on continued productivity … I want to be like Carl Reiner or Mel Brooks or Maggie Smith or Judi Dench … people who keep showing up for work, getting it done.
I've always said that my father, an 87-year-old retired elementary school teacher and principal, only started to age when he retired. Before that, he used to spend lunchtime on the playground with the students, shooting baskets and playing softball. (Though I have to admit that he still is a better foul shooter than I am.) And I think he might even agree with me.
I may not be a Leno fan, but I have to respect the fact that while his last night on the "Tonight Show" is tonight, tomorrow night he has a gig in Florida. He's working, man. And while I'm sure he's getting flown there in a private jet and will make a ton of money for telling jokes, I'm equally sure that he'd probably be willing to drive to some little out of the way town in Southern California if it had a comedy club and he'd have the chance to get some laughs.
He's working, man. You stop, you die.
I hope I have the chance to follow the dictates of Dylan Thomas, who wrote, in one of my favorite poems…
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to know what is on your mind.
- KC's View: