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WOSTER: When work is fun, retirement isn't as attractive

During a trip to the grocery store the other day, I bumped into a school-teacher friend and walked away with a renewed appreciation for what a positive attitude can do.

It was the day before classes began here in Pierre. Like many other of the teacher's friends, I suppose, I made a comment something to the effect that it was time to go back to work, back to the old grind in the classroom. He shook his head and laughed.

"Are you kidding?'' he said. "Summer is work. I get jobs in the summer. School is the reward. I don't consider it work when it's one of the things I enjoy most in life. It's what I do for fun.''

This teacher, like many others I've known, has always seemed upbeat about his life, but, wow, he was really ready for school to start. Assuming he was being straightforward about his excitement, he has a great approach to his job.

A job, after all, is work. I read a thing on some social media site that said, "It's called work. That's why they have to pay people to do it.'' Nearly all of us come of age knowing we'll spend most of our productive lives working. We may not think our first job is our career these days, but we're pretty sure we'll have some sort of career. And we're pretty sure that career will involve money in return for our labors. Work is a given in the equation of most people's lives.

I've known people who spent a fair amount of time counting the days until they could take early retirement. They generally worked for companies or organizations that had a formal retirement plan, the sort of plan that lets you take full benefits after 25 years or 30 years, as long as you were 55 or 62 or however many years old. I suppose a plan with those kinds of rules tends to invite thoughts of, "How much longer do I have to work for this slave driver before I can pull the pin, buy a motorhome and see the country?''

Some of those folks I'm talking about hated their jobs. I mean, really hated their jobs. Every day was a struggle to report for duty. The morning alarm signaled another day in breaking rocks in the hot sun, figuratively speaking. Others of them seemed to not mind, even find satisfaction in, the work but still were actively planning to be retired as soon as they could possibly swing it. They had a sort of the thought process, "I can get full benefits when I'm 60, so why should I stay a day longer?"

My career of newspaper reporting was work. It wasn't the harsh, physical labor of farming or driving steel, but it was an obligation to be at my desk instead of somewhere else. The thing is, I enjoyed it. I couldn't imagine having spent the greatest part of my productive life doing anything else. And, of course, they paid me every couple of weeks for the work I did.

For a lot of my working years, I toiled in the proximity of an Associated Press writer named Joe. He could be surly in the mornings during legislative sessions, but he always hopped right into the day. He fired up his computer, stuffed his briefcase with pens, a pack of gum, a couple of notebooks and a camera and headed off to cover committees in the Capitol meeting rooms upstairs.

Sometimes late in the evening, after most of the legislators and lobbyists and state workers had left the building, Joe and I and a couple of other reporters would be in the press room, hammering out stories. Often during those late hours, Joe would pause, laugh out loud and say, "Man, I love this stuff. And they pay us to do it.''

I was lucky to have enjoyed my work nearly the whole time I did it. My teacher friend will figure out when it's time for him to call it a career. Until it becomes work instead of fun, I don't see why he should be in any hurry to give it up.