Is it possible to never retire?

As numbers of people returning to work after trying retirement on for size grow, there is another number bubbling away beneath workplace surfaces across Australia: the people who plan to never retire.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, key drivers behind what the media has branded as the great unretirement – people who shun lazy days in front of the telly for a return to productive, paid work – include financial necessity or boredom.

But for the people who have set their sights on never retiring, a genuine love of what they do is a powerful force.

When the Victorian government’s Department of Education held a ceremony on 21 May to celebrate the state’s longest-serving teachers, Farid Anawati was one of 304 education sector staff recognised for working between 40 and 55 years.

Mr Anawati, 78, came to Australia from Egypt in 1968. Back home, he had worked as an engineering lecturer. But after following his fiancee to Melbourne, he found work at Geelong’s Western Heights College and is still teaching physics there 55 years later.

Useful, successful – and still passionate about work

In a recent article about his impressively long teaching career, Mr Anawati told The Age newspaper: “It’s not the money that keeps me in, it’s the students.”

Retirement? The veteran teacher said it was not on his mind.

“I’m successful. I’m useful,” he said. “You get fulfilled because you are imparting your knowledge on to these students, they want to learn from you. As soon as I step in the grounds in the school, I feel happier.”

As an Adelaide-based accountant still servicing the annual tax return needs of a loyal cohort of long-term clients, Lesley McIntyre says she understands. The days of her advertising her services are long gone, but for Mrs McIntyre, 81, maintaining a hands-on approach to what she describes as “meaningful work” gives her the motivation to get up in the morning. 

“And it’s good for my mind,” she says. “I have friends who do the crossword each morning, or fiddle around doing Sudoku. I just work out people’s accounting and that’s enough to keep my brain active.”

Keeping up with changing taxation rules keeps her on her toes, she says, and, having lived on one income as a widow for more than three decades, Mrs McIntyre says that the small income she derives from meeting the needs of her small client list is also helpful.

“I grew up thinking there was an age when you had to down tools and start playing golf or something,” she says. “But you don’t have to retire unless you want to, or unless you are no longer capable of managing the work you do – either mentally or physically. I still manage a weekly golf game, too. But I’ll give that up before I give up working. My knees are getting too tired to traipse around a golf course, unfortunately. But I can still sit at my desk and help people lodge their tax returns on time.”

Retirement can mean reinvention

When it comes to the creative arts, the idea of retiring is rarely discussed among writers, painters, or film-makers. Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Prize–winning author, published Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People on Earth in 2021. It was his first novel for 50 years. Critics described it as “a richly satirical shaggy dog yarn”, with a plot “dense enough to rival anything by Günter Grass”. Mr Soyinka was 87.

And when Australia’s own internationally best-selling author Heather Morris retired from her job in the social work department of Monash Health, she launched a stunning new career as a debut novelist and wrote The Tattooist of Auschwitz. The rest, as they say, is history and her fifth book, Sisters Under the Rising Sun, will be out in October 2023.

Although there are some careers where rules around age are a barrier to continued work (think firefighter, commercial pilot and police officer), there are plenty of careers that people can keep working in for life, if that’s what they want to do. And, if you tire of what you’ve trained for your whole life, there is still the great unretirement – and the thrill of exploring a new third age career (like Heather Morris!) that may give you your best years yet.

Do you plan to keep working in the career you love? Or have you found late-life career-change success that inspires you to keep going beyond retirement age? Tell us your story in the comments below.

Read more: The great unretirement: what you should know before joining the throng

Written by Claire Halliday

Claire is an accomplished journalist who has written for leading magazines and newspapers, such as The Sunday Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Women's Weekly, Marie Claire, Rolling Stone, Australian House & Garden, GQ, The Australian, Herald Sun, The Weekly Review, and The Independent on Sunday (UK).

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