Today’s piece of news about the Pope resigning, which traveled so fast around the world and shocked many people did not shock me a bit, but it made me think about the prospects of working for such a long time. It is true, I am not Catholic so maybe I don’t understand, and my expectancies of someone working and staying in office until they die are very close to zero. The Pope is 85 and he admitted he no longer has the needed strength to steer the Church. That is a very brave and sane thing to do. It reminded me of my grandmother, who passed away at 82. She had been an active woman all her life in the countryside, raised two children and two grandchildren and supported herself almost alone for the last 20 years of her life. And I watched her losing her strength, slowly at first, and then very rapidly towards the end. What was hardest to watch was her not willing to admit she did not have that power and strength anymore, and the nostalgia over her lost self. So admitting you no longer have the strength needed to do something you believe in must be a very brave thing.
It also made me imagine myself working and being active for so many years. I am 30, so that means over 50 years of expected work- if we were to imagine living that long. The official retiring age in Romania is 63-65 (women-men), but the tendency around the world is to increase it. In the last decades, there has been also an increase in life expectancy, but I think nobody took into account the new dangers of the modern world. How many employees are working longer hours than they should? How many spend day in and day out stuck to the computer? How many companies – including companies in Romania – make sure employees work only the legal hours and take holidays as they should? And in return, how many allow their employees for example to sometimes work from home, and have a more balanced life? I know there’s a trend emerging in Romania too, but it will be a long time before it becomes the norm, and we will probably see a generation burnout. We work very long hours, we live in polluted Bucharest or in other large cities, we sometimes skip holidays because work seems more important, we eat at irregular hours and who knows what’s actually in the food we eat?
One could argue that the more entrepreneurial we become, the easier it might get compared to being employees, as you’re your own boss and decide how long hours to work and when to retire. It turns out, it’s not really like that. My last three years as a startup entrepreneur have been the hardest and I don’t think it gets a lot easier. When close to burnout, people eventually decide to do something and learn to take care of themselves, value themselves as one of the most important assets their companies have. As for retiring, it’s a double-edged sword. If you make enough money, you could retire anytime, in theory, provided you know how to save the money you make for when you get older. I am part of the state pensions system as in Romania, which is highly unlikely to stay the same until I retire. In my opinion, it looks really unsustainable, with current employees paying away for their future pensions, but not sure whether the system will not go bankrupt in the meantime, and with a dependency ratio that has been worsening since the 90s, fewer employees supporting slightly increasing numbers of pensioners. I know that when I pay social contributions now, it’s like paying my mother’s pension – who only makes a bit over RON 600, so around EUR 133 – after working as a countryside doctor for all her life; her pension does not even start to cover her needs, and pensioners like this, without a family to further support them, are doomed. But I also have the feeling that me paying now does not ensure a pension later in my life, so that’s already out of the discussion. I know I need to put some money aside myself, in various safe baskets, to make sure I’ll have something to eat 50 years from now.
I did not want to sound too grim about it, but facing the realities is the best option when looking for a solution. Maybe systems will change, maybe technologies will allow us to live longer and better, maybe we’ll get the wisdom early on to make the needed changes in our lives and add those extra years to life, lots of maybes. But as your life is today, how many of you honestly think you’re going to make it into your 80s?
By Corina Chirileasa, email@example.com
(photo: Corina Chirileasa/Romania-Insider.com)