In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, the then
79-year-old (now 83) Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian David
McCullough explained why he had no intention of retiring from
“I’m having a ball. I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning.
To me, it’s the only way to live.
“When the founders wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness, they didn’t mean longer vacations and more comfortable
hammocks. They meant the pursuit of learning. The love of
learning. The pursuit of improvement and excellence.
“I keep telling students, Find work you love. Don’t concern
yourself overly about how much money is involved or whether
you’re ever going to be famous.
I’m giving a talk at Dartmouth this week. It’s called the Hard
Work of Writing. And it is hard work. But in hard work is
However, there’s a flaw in David’s hard work equals happiness
Namely, it only holds when you actually like or love the work you
Conversely, if you work 9 to 5, forty hours a week at a job that
either bores you or you actively dislike — or even hate — the
result is the opposite of happiness.
You feel like a prisoner or indentured slave, stuck seemingly
forever in a rut. And as my late client SK once observed, “A rut
is a grave without a cover.”
To me the 4 most important things in my life are (a) my family,
(b) our health, (c) having enough money that we are financially
secure, and (d) having work I don’t just like but absolutely
Fortunately, I more or less have most of those items on the list.
I was recently in a car crash, which endangered item B for me,
but after just 4 weeks of physical therapy, I was 100% recovered.
I can’t exactly articulate why I love reading and writing so much
— I just do. I have written since the 7th grace, and now, as I
will be 60 in July, there is still nothing I would rather do.
I have other interests. I have a few hobbies. My wife and I
socialize with friends. But that’s peripheral for me.
If I can write 10 to 12 hours a day, working on projects that
interest me — and I am careful to take on only those writing
projects that do — and then read after work, I am a happy camper.