Today is my last day working for someone.
I turn 65 in January and had always intended on retiring at that age. But when I got notice of Medicare eligibilty as of January 1 in the mail a few weeks ago I reviewed my finances and decided I could afford to pay my own health care for the final three months of this year.
So two weeks ago I gave notice at the library where I’ve worked the past few years. At 9 p.m. tonight, when we close the place, I’ll be “retired.”
Even before well meaning people began telling me recently to keep busy in retirement, I fully intended to. I’ve seen too many men over the years vegetate after they retired. Their work was their lives, and when they left their jobs for good they filled their days (daze?) with TV and food, and a lack of purpose. Health problems often followed.
But while I’ve enjoyed my jobs — most of them for newspapers over a 30-year career — I’ve always been active in many other pursuits. I look forward to the next phase of my life, which will include more time for freelance writing and community volunteering. I’m “old” in age but still consider myself somewhere in the middle. OK, high middle.
I want to do some tutoring of high school kids. Over the years I’ve seen adults do one-to-one with students in the libraries I’ve worked in. And, I want to do some work with the elderly. Years ago I volunteered to read the newspaper at Radio Information Service at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. It broadcasts for blind people (which I keep reminding myself I may be some day). I’ll be contacting them again soon.
Did I learn much over 46 years of working? I hope so. Many rewarding experiences, some painful ones from which I hope to have gained better insight into things. Some great friendships, wherever I worked.
Sometimes you work a lot harder than someone who’s earning more than you. But you always try to do your best. Don’t measure yourself against what others are doing but what you should be doing.
I worked mostly in customer-service jobs (and considered newspaper reporting and editing in that category — no readers, no job). People wear you down. But filling someone’s needs, whether it be finding a book they were looking for, showing them how to log on to a computer, or writing a story that both informed and entertained people — that provided a great reward.
The legendary Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko, the Beethoven of newspaper guys, in my book, once wrote, “If work is so great, how come they have to pay you to do it?” We’re paid to do a job, but it should always be much more than just something that earns a wage.
God gave each of us gifts, and we should develop them in earning a living but also in service of others and as a way of giving thanks back to Him for those talents. There’s nothing wrong in making a lot of money, honestly and ethically, while working (sure, I’d like to win the Pulitzer Prize someday for a novel and sell the movie rights for a million bucks). But we should always feel that our work benefits other people, even in some small way.
God told Adam upon banishing him from the Garden of Eden: “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat” (Genesis 3:19). But the Ecclesiastes also tells us: “And I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to rejoice in his work; for this is his lot” (Ecclesiastes 3:22).
So, here’s the roll call of the jobs I’ve had since age 18 when I entered college. Except for just a couple months, like the fall semesters of 1968 and 1975, I was always employed, even while in school:
*Dru’s IGA (grocery) summer of 1967 through spring 1968
*U.S. Army, February 1969 to Christmas Eve 1971 (attained rank of sergeant in the Signal Corps; spent two years service in Italy)
*B. Dalton Bookseller, St. Louis-Chicago, April 1972-July 1975 (worked part-time while student at UMSL then took manager’s position for store in Chicago Loop)
*Northern Star, student newspaper of Northern Illinois University, January 1976-May 1977 (it was a paying job as reporter while I earned a bachelor’s in journalism)
*Galesburg (Illinois) Register-Mail, reporter for daily newspaper, May 1977-October 1979
*Knox College, publications manager, November 1979-March 1981
*Fox Photo, June 1981-October 1981, while attending night classes at University of Missouri-St. Louis in pursuit of teaching certification
*UMSL public affairs office, off and on part-time from fall 1981 to spring 1983 while attending graduate education classes
*Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis, fall 1981 through summer 1983, covering freelance assignments in all parts of the St. Louis area for weekly newspaper chain
*McCluer High School, spring semester 1984 (was hired at mid-year for position that principal said school board might not renew beyond that semester — they didn’t and I was let out of contract early to accept next job)
*St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 1984-October 1986 (saw two organizational deaths and one resurrection during final years at a once-great newspaper)
*UMSL, public affairs office, November 1986-March 1988
*Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis, March 1988-May 2001 (worked as reporter, copy editor, editor) for North, South and West groups)
*Mosby, June 2001-June 2002 (edited medical textbooks)
*St. Louis Review, June 2002-November 2008 (hired as managing editor, became first lay editor of Catholic weekly; left when it was apparent archdiocesan adminstration and I had different ideas)
*St. Louis Public Library, January 2009-September 30, 2013 (entered the substitute pool and was available to fill in every day, then got hired full time in July 2009; worked at Central library, marketing department when Central closed for renovation, and then Schlafly branch)
Whew! Didn’t realize the list would be that long when I began it. Now I look forward to the next phase, its rewards and challenges. And the memories to come.