Some years ago I landed at Boston's Logan Airport and got on the shuttle to the Hilton Hotel where I was teaching. The driver was about 65 years old, and the two of us were alone on his shuttle for the ten-minute drive.
I asked him, "How's it going, sir?" and he answered,
"Everything's great thanks."
"Enjoy your job?"
"Oh yeah," and he turned around with a big smile on his face and said, "but I've been here for many years and am about to retire."
I said, "That's great. You know, a secret of life is not to let your retirement get in the way of your work."
He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and said warily,
"You don't say!"
"Yes, I do. So what are you going to do when you retire?"
He answered, "Oh, I'm just going to take it easy and relax."
I said, "You know, the statistics show that 18 to 36 months after retirement, many people die if they don't have something to live for, something they love to do. What do you have that's important to live for?"
He became quiet for a moment, and then said, "Well, I'm going to play some golf and do little hobbies and stuff like that."
I said, "Little hobbies make little people. If you don't have a purpose to live for that's beyond your present life, your life dissipates. Productivity is one of the secrets of self-worth." He nodded his head in agreement. "Nature never throws away old mechanisms; it just builds new ones on top. You never throw away what you've gained in experience because none of it was wasted. There's no such thing as waste. Your whole life was filled with learning experiences to make you a greater being, to build the potential for a greater opportunity to contribute.
You have the capacity to be productive until the day you pass from this body."
He became very thoughtful then, maybe even a little deflated.
When we arrived at the hotel, he got my bags and said, "You know, young man, you're a very thought-provoking guy. You've really made me stop and think."
I conducted my seminar and didn't return to Boston for more than a year. But when I came back to the same hotel, guess who picked me up? The man was still driving the same shuttle, but there was something different about him: This time he wasn't elated about quitting. He was just present with himself and his work.
As I stood behind him, holding on to the rail, I said,
"Remember me? You picked me up a year ago, and we had a conversation about your retirement."
He looked in his mirror and said, "Oooohhh! Oh yeahhh!
You're that guy! Let me tell you what happened after we met last time. That night, I went home and I was extremely depressed. I felt so down, in such turmoil, I was in a real identity crisis. That was a night of hell. I talked to my wife and told her what you said about little hobbies and death and life, and she got a tear in her eye."
His wife had been concerned that this was exactly what might happen if he were to retire. Suddenly he became afraid of letting his wife down if he didn't retire as they'd always assumed he would. But when he told her his new thoughts, she understood completely. Often a man takes time to learn what a woman's intuition knows immediately. He told me that they'd had this conversation in bed, and she sat there with him as he just cried and cried, because all of a sudden he looked back at his life and woke up to the great question,
"What am I going to do? Is it possible that I would lose motivation and life without my work? Is this what I really would love to do?"
He'd thought about all the trials and tribulations of his life, his daily tasks and all the people he'd been able to serve at that hotel over so many years. He'd worked there for almost three decades, ever since the elevator had just been a little box on the inside of the building, and he'd seen the entire evolution of the hotel. He remembered all the friends he'd worked with and all the managers he'd served under, the whole mission of the Hilton, all the transformations, and all of the people, and he cried.
Just as dawn was breaking at the end of his dark night, he said to his wife, "I'm afraid that if I retire, something might happen to me, just like that young man said, and I won't be able to spend more years with you. Honey, if I decided not to retire, would you still love me?" And she put her arms around him and loved him.
The next day he went to the manager and said, "I know I'm about to retire and we're supposed to be having a party later, but if for some reason I decided not to leave, would I still have a job?
Could I still work here? Is it possible that I might not be too old?"
The young manager said to him, "I've only been with the hotel a short time, but from what I've heard, you're a legend here. You've got a job as long as you live, my friend."
At that moment, he realised he'd been buying into an illusion, an arbitrarily determined social delusion.