When I was growing up, the University of Texas basketball coach was a rumpled, cigar-chomping quote machine named Abe Lemons, who was considerably more popular among sports writers than the administrators who paid his salary. After he was fired by a man whose athletic background included coaching the track and field team, Lemons responded in typical good humour. "How hard is it to coach track?" he asked. "Tell them to stay to the left and come back as fast as they can."
But I think Lemons was at least partially serious when he expressed reservations about his approaching retirement. "The problem with retirement is that you never get a day off," he groused. That sentiment is not just common in the UAE but practically unanimous, at least among the wealthy. According to a survey released this week by Barclays Wealth, polling those with at least £1 million (Dh5.8m) in investable assets, a whopping 91 per cent of those from the UAE said they planned to continue working to at least some extent no matter their age. That was the second-highest percentage among all the nations surveyed, behind only Saudi Arabia.
And while Gulf nations were on the high end of the spectrum, a comfortable majority of those surveyed around the world - 60 per cent - said they intend to stay employed to some degree for the rest of their lives. The Barclays people dubbed this industrious group "nevertirees", but my first instinct was to label them "dream killers" or "people who I hope will not be in my regular foursome once I get off this hamster wheel".
Isn't the whole idea of retirement to achieve the relief of no longer having to punch the clock and enjoy the luxury of doing, well, nothing? The fact is that those days are largely over. The traditional retirement, in which employees depart the office with a gold watch and a healthy pension, is going the way of the compact disc and Lindsay Lohan's movie career. We are increasingly responsible for our own financial security in our golden years, which means that without the guarantee of a reliable safety net we feel compelled to keep adding to the nest eggs we have so diligently accumulated through our working lives - just in case we might need the additional funds later.
This undeniably scary change is trickling down to those of us still of working age, but the Barclays survey suggests the older generation that has already made its money is recognising those uncertainties as well. Among those surveyed in the UAE, 98 per cent said they considered themselves financially responsible for their children (the numbers are much lower in the US and the UK - 44 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively - indicating that parents in those countries are plenty worried about their own bank balances as their governments run low on money).
But while I do not doubt the philanthropic motives of the wealthy who are looking after their kids, I suspect their motives are at least in part selfish: they enjoy working, and recognise that it is good for them in ways that go beyond the bottom line. A study of more than 12,000 people published in 2009 in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that those who transition from full-time work into temporary employment or a part-time job experience fewer diseases and are able to function better in daily activities. Their mental health is better as well.
The Barclays survey bore this out, too. It showed that attitudes among the wealthy who were younger were different than those who were older. The older people get, even those with ample resources, the more inclined they are to get back to work. "For many, a conventional retirement may not be welcome. Many of us are not only capable of working well beyond retirement age, we also have the desire to do so," Barclays concluded.
I was poking around the internet this week for information about the average retirement age and came across one article that began: "You can retire whenever you want." And the truth of that statement, however obvious, struck me as rather profound. We sometimes slip into the trap of thinking of retirement as a mandate, a strip of plastic stretched across the end of our careers that we break across when we reach a certain age established by a government.
But the Barclays survey clearly shows that people are increasingly rejecting that notion. They see retirement not as a time to check out, but one that provides the freedom to engage in the things they find the most rewarding. Even if that thing is some kind of work. I philosophically agree with that concept 100 per cent, even as I recognise that the choices the wealthy make are not always rooted in the same considerations the rest of us have. I'm in the camp of Lemons, who once said after he narrowly kept his job: "They wanted to buy out my contract, but I couldn't make change for a $20, so they let me stay."