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In her 70s, Still Working Full Time

separator Linda is 71 and she’s been working for 34 years. Her story is typical of so many women her age: she married in her early 20s, and she had every intention of staying at home with her three children and not getting a job outside the home. She’s a high school graduate and has taken some college courses, but she never had a plan for a career. 

But in her late 30s, her marriage ended and she had to go to work. She’s had administrative jobs since that time. Currently, she works at the reserve desk at the library of a local college. It’s a fairly physical type of job—she’s always carrying books—usually very heavy books—from one place to the next, so she’s often on her feet. 

She has no choice but to work, she says. She collects Social Security, but it’s not enough to live on, and it certainly isn’t enough for her to set money aside every month. Her job at the library pays a modest salary, but she’s able to save money regularly, which she feels is something she still needs to do. 

Linda has always been a healthy, active person. She’s slender, eats a balanced diet with very few unhealthy snacks or sweets and she’s always liked exercising regularly. But in the past four years, she’s noticed a change in her energy level. 

‘I noticed it about four years ago. I didn’t have the energy to exercise after work the way I liked to. I used to walk 3 or 4 miles almost every day. I tried to push through the difficulty and exercise anyway, but the next morning I’d be so tired. And my feet would hurt. That went on for about 3 months. 

“Then I had an appointment with my endocrinologist (Linda has Graves disease, a thyroid condition) and he asked me how much walking I was doing. I told him none, because it was making me too tired. “He said I should keep trying, and I told him I would, but didn’t. I had no intention.” 

She believes that if she didn’t have to work, she’d still have the energy to exercise and be active. “There was a period of time in 1999 when I was unemployed,” she says. “I walked every day, gardened. My house was clean,” she laughed.

Linda also feels that having to work full time has affected her social life. “I won’t go to the moves at night because I don’t like to come home after nine o’clock during the week. I basically don’t like to go out during the week at all any more.” 

What’s it like for her to be the oldest person at work? “I don’t think about it too much, but I don’t like it when they make remarks about old people. For instance, one woman was recently talking about a party she went to, and she said, ‘There were so many old people there.’ And I said, “Really? How old?” And she said, ‘Oh, you know, in their 60s.’”  

She also doesn’t like it when she has to ask for help from a younger person. “Sometimes I have to ask someone to lift a heavy book for me. I don’t like doing that, because I feel like I should be able to do it myself. But my muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be. I know that old people who work their muscles can keep up their strength, and I’ve thought about getting some exercise equipment for my home, but I know I wouldn’t use it.” 

What would Linda’s ideal week be like if she didn’t have to work? 

“Hmmm, that’s hard to imagine. What would I do? I’d take some kind of art class, maybe pottery or something. I’d read more. I’d exercise, because I know it makes me feel better physically and mentally.” 

She remembered back to the time when she was unemployed about five years ago. “I loved it in the winter when I’d be out shoveling snow, and then I’d come in, fix a cup of tea and read for two hours. That was great. 

“But,” she mused, “maybe I’d get bored with that all the time. Part of me wants a paycheck.” She says she’d probably like to work part-time, “maybe three days a week.” 

“Working is good for me,” she says. “It keeps me in touch with people, it keeps me on my toes. I have to stay sharp and keep my wits about me. I have to get dressed and be nice to people no matter how I feel. That’s good for me,” she says. 

Personal Interview conducted by editor Pam Tanton
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