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The Long Way Home

The late Massachusetts Senator Paul Tson­gas, in his memoir published in 1984 wrote, “Nobody on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”

My life in the 1980s was a hectic whirlpool of activity, most of it devoted to work. Despite the fact we were raising four kids, I was work­ing five and a half to six days a week managing a fast growing business in a rapidly changing industry. (Sounds like the lead-in to a resume’). Balancing the needs of a devoted spouse, the suburban lifestyle of fast growing kids, aging parents, needy business partners, all while go­ing through my 30s was an arduous task. Then I came across those words of wisdom from Senator Tsongas. No one ever goes out wishing they’d spent more time at work. So I set a goal to retire by the time I was 40.

I thought about those challenging times when I came across a Facebook post from a young lady on my family tree who seems to be where I was three decades ago.

Tenley is my late cousin Jerry’s daughter. She must be mid-thirties or so. She and I have never met, but we connected on Facebook around the time cousin Jer got a new pair of lungs installed several years ago. I’m generally delighted by her sense of humor and efficient use of the English language–even the curse words.

Anyway, Tenley just posted that she resigned from her job almost a month ago, creating the second longest time off the employment wheel since she was 16 or 17. When she was in school she managed to work 32 hours a week, main­tain a full course load, and still get s…-faced most nights. Her words, not mine. I should note that the balancing work and school may be from my side of the family. Cousin Jer probably influenced the nightlife, although I did some of that myself.

Anyway, Tenley admits to hitting the burnout point. She’ll be using the much needed time off to re-evaluate and re-balance her personal and professional efforts. She’s determined that money doesn’t matter beyond what is needed to sustain her household. She already has most of what she needs: A community of family and friends, air to breathe, clothes to wear, a roof over her head and access to fresh food (living in California helps with that).

I was burnt out toward the end of my fourth decade too. I’d tried the worn out effort that most small business owners make, hiring a competent manager so I could take some time away. That worked for awhile, but I still wres­tled with that gnawing question, “Why am I doing this to myself and my family?”

I went on to do what Tenley is doing. I sold the company, to a trust established for the em­ployees, and retired to the North Shore at the age of 40 to make a better life.

I no longer worry about saying I wished for more time at the office. I haven’t had that kind of work life for a bunch of years. But for Ten­ley, and all of you, I can only say that money is like likker. It makes you think you’re smart and good looking, but it lets you down in the end.

Family and community are what’s most im­portant.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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