IT’S A COMMON BELIEF that a young person’s first job is important because it teaches life lessons about work and the value of money. There’s a reason this belief is so common: It’s largely true.
Still, letting a young person loose in the world to learn lessons isn’t as straightforward as you might think. I learned the following seven lessons from my first job—some useful, some decidedly less so.
Lesson No. 1: Avoid Celery
My first job was picking strawberries.
AROUND 2,800 YEARS ago, Homer’s Odysseus decided that the whole Trojan war enterprise, in which all of Greece would go to war and destroy an entire city because a woman ran off with a guy she liked, was crazy, so he tried to get out of going by pretending to be crazy himself. The Greek allies were suspicious that their cleverest leader was really crazy, so they sent an emissary to find out.
When the emissary arrived at Odysseus’s small city state,
NEAR THE END OF 2019, just before a couple of coworkers and I headed out for lunch together, I said to them, “I’m 26% smarter than I was at the beginning of the year.”
“What are you babbling about now, Johnson?” one of them said.
“The mutual funds where I have my investments went up by 26% this year,” I said. “Clearly, I’m 26% smarter now than I was at the beginning of the year.”
“Guess you’re buying lunch then,” he said.
I TURNED AGE 62 LAST summer and, as with most birthdays at this stage of life, I had a pretty good, but non-spectacular day. On my birthdays, I tend to focus on enjoying the day itself as it stands before me and, for that one day, I don’t worry too much about the future, or all the adult stuff I have to do, or problems I might have to solve tomorrow, or the problems I think up in my head that would probably go away if I just stopped thinking about them.
WHEN SOME FOLKS MAKE the all-important Social Security claiming decision, one worry outweighs all others. Their big fear: The program’s funding will “run out” in a few years and therefore they “can’t depend on Social Security being around,” so the smart strategy is to claim benefits at 62, the youngest possible age.
This is not a big worry of mine—largely because Social Security won’t “go broke.” What’s happening to the program’s funding is that,
NOW THAT I’M RETIRED, I have more time to reflect on the larger shape of my life—a tendency that’s lately been strengthened by the fairly common impulse to ponder what to accomplish in the new year.
The disturbing truth: An objective assessment of my life suggests I’m pretty boring. Of course, I’d long known that most other people were boring. But until recently, I hadn’t realized I was one of them.
I also didn’t realize that my capacity to enjoy what looked from the outside like a boring life is,
AT A DINNER THAT I attended recently, someone pointed out that a high percentage of us were newly retired. That included me, as well as a couple who were just reaching age 60. After the dinner, the wife of the couple told me she was offended by being called retired. She’s writing fiction every day and her husband does some consulting work.
The work they’re doing pays, but it’s not by itself enough for them to live their comfortable,