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Staying in the workforce is good for my wellbeing

29 November 2022 - Tessa Moriarty

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) reports that as a nation we are increasingly working into our older age and that workforce participation rates in recent years have doubled for men and quadrupled for women. This might not surprise many and given the social and economic impacts of the pandemic – over the last  three years – many both need, but also want to keep working into older age. In addition, as a nation we are living longer and doing more, than previous generations.

My own motivation to keep working, when many of my peers, (though not all), have chosen to retire from a working life, has not been straightforward. Like many, I have struggled with pandemic burnout, in addition to the gradual decline in physical agility that comes with ageing. And while these experiences have changed the pace at which I work and the volume of work I take on, they haven’t stopped me. While not driven by a financial need, the on-going (though reduced) income is certainly handy. However, the main reason for my continued participation in the workforce is essentially linked to the sense of identity and the wellbeing I gain by doing so. I also believe I still have much to offer.

Identity, connection and wellbeing

My profession and career have given me an enormous sense of self over my lifetime.  Alongside being a parent, a wife (and now a writer), how I have been through my profession as a Mental Health Nurse, has given me a knowing of who I am in the world.  Through various roles, workplaces and organisations over the years, the work I have done has given definition, meaning and purpose to a large part of my life. And, while, for the most part I loved what I have done - and because it has given me a vehicle through which to describe and develop myself – I think, why would I not want to keep going? 

As a mental health professional, I have been privileged to be part of the system of care that makes for the healing and recovery of others.  Whether I’ve worked directly with those with a lived experience of mental illness or supported the people that care for them (as I do now), my input has been part of, and integral to the whole. Equally, as I have loved what I’ve done over the years, I’ve loved (and still do), being part of the team and contributing to the bigger picture. So, working into older age, albeit at a slower pace than those at their younger years, or even than I did myself just a year ago – keeps me connected to the world and to what’s going on outside my little corner and the quieter life I have moved to.

Working also grounds me. It anchors me in this changing landscape and tells me this is who I am still, and this is what I can do. It gives structure and routine to my day.. Between the spaces I now have for reclaiming and/or discovering parts of self, or new things I can do, I still have the stability and familiarity of the work. It no longer takes over my time but is reassuring that I still have skill and knowledge, I can stretch my brain and be productive and helpful to the professional growth and learning of others.  Put simply, working makes me feel good about myself.

The struggle against becoming invisible

Over recent months, I have noticed my sensitivity to becoming invisible as I age. Not just as a professional, but across other aspects of my life and in the world as a whole. In some ways I welcome – and have chosen – to step away from the spot light. But as I/we age, I notice the world has a tendency to forget to see and hear who we are, what we know and where we’ve been in our lives.  I do not want to be cast aside, disregarded and forgotten as I wrinkle. It is infuriating and saddening that I have to work at making myself obvious and audible simply because I am ageing. Right or wrong, working is one way I still get a look in and slow down the inevitable negative belief that “she’s too old to know”. For now, that people still see me; still listen; still look – I intend to make good use of. And I intend to stay connected to the world through my profession for as long as I have the motivation and it continues to maintain my sense of self and my wellbeing.

*Australian Institute of Health and Welfare https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/older-people/older-australians/contents/employment-and-work

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Tessa Moriarty
Tessa Moriarty

Tessa Moriarty is a credentialed Mental Health Nurse Consultant with over 35-years’ experience across public,

private, and primary mental health and alcohol and drug settings. She has worked in a variety of senior executive

leadership, clinical, management and consultant roles. Currently, Tessa works as a freelance writer and an

external mental health consultant and has vast experience in the provision of reflective practice and clinical supervision.

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