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Thankful for a job that's more than a paycheck



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November 22, 2011 | 07:23 AM
In a few months I will celebrate my third anniversary at the Regional News.

When I first heard about the job opening I was collecting Social Security and working part-time at the library. I hesitated. I had just retired from the newspaper rat race after almost 40 years and I wasn't sure I wanted to get back in. In fact, when I interviewed I was asked why I wanted the job. I heard myself answer: "I don't know if I do."

Now, as I close in on three years, I'm thankful my bosses-to-be didn't listen and hired me anyway.

And so it is on this week of Thanksgiving, that I give thanks that I said "yes" to working here when part of me wanted to say "no."

For starters, the job added a little grit to my life. Challenges. Problems. Opportunities disguised as failures. All those things that made me think I didn't want the job in the first place.

During retirement there wasn't much grit — no trouble, no challenges to speak of — and I was less for it. True, there are days when the grit gets so deep that I resent it, but most days it adds more than it subtracts. We need grit because we learn from mistakes, we rise to challenges, we have reasons to get up in the morning even if they sometimes keep us up at night. And we learn that life almost always offers us second chances.

I'm thankful I live in a town large enough to not be dull but not so large that I can't feel a part of it. As the general manager of the local paper, I feel like I am part of the soul of the community, as pretentious as that may sound.

The soul is made up of all that happens — the good, the bad, the nature of the place. When I walk to work, I like seeing downtown before it wakes up. During breaks I like dropping in on storekeepers just to say hi. When I run past the lake, I get the feeling of its vastness and history.

And, because I'm lucky enough to read the paper every week before it hits the street, I feel like I'm in on something special — that feeling of closeness, topicalness and depth that I wouldn't feel if I learned my news secondhand. It's that thrill of first discovery that appeals to every reporter and to a general manager who used to write for a living.

On occasion, I'll still get a chance to write, like I am today. Writing is my first love and I still get a rush when things are going well and that feeling of dread when deadline nears and I don't have the words in quite the right order.

Most of all I enjoy interacting with people, even those who are sometimes critical of our paper. When we talk about things other than their complaints, we realize we have more in common than what separates us. And that's a lesson worth learning over and over again.

I've learned that if you ask the right questions and truly listen, you learn a lot. It's a skill I have yet to master, but the job forces me to work at it.

I like my office. When I first saw it the room was in a state of disarray, like a teenager's bedroom. I wondered if I had made a mistake taking the job. But I've surrounded myself with adornments that I associate with calmness and professionalism — and they, in kind, make me feel a sense of welcomeness when I come to work in the morning.

The building itself has its own charm. It's old and awkward, built on several levels, with a swinging door separating the staff from the rest of the world, a cavernous back room and four bathrooms for 15 people.

All around us are newspapers. In bound volumes. In racks and stacks. On our desks and in our hearts. We become used to having them as company and take for granted the rush and importance of what we do every day. It's our world and it carries with it some good spirits.

And that circles me back to what's really important in any office — the people.

This started off to be a column about what I appreciate about each person in the building, but it's probably more appropriate that I do that one-on-one on an almost daily basis. If I don't I'm missing out on half of what a manager should be. The other half, that grit stuff, will come on its own accord. Being thankful and saying so is something that we sometimes have to make a point of doing. Unfortunate, but all too human.

So, today I am thankful, and every day I ought to be. Maybe I should keep a copy of this column on my desk to remind me every morning.

Appreciation comes and goes — a special sunrise, a story well-written, a friend who really cares, a loved one who is safe and sound.

We have to find reasons to remember in between those sparks of unforced thankfulness.

We need days like Thanksgiving that are marked on the calendar to prompt us to remember what we should feel every day.

Grit and wholeness. Wonder and shared experience. Thanksgivingness.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.

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