Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Importance of Having fun

One of the most influential people in my entire 32 year career was a landman by the name of Syl Kramer, a jovial fellow I worked with at Esso from in the 1980's.

Syl had the kind of infectious attitude that made coming to work a lot of fun. No matter the challenge, Syl was up to it, and he enjoyed doing it. Syl was not a young guy. When I first met him, he was in his early 50's.

Back in those days (and probably still) Esso went through waves of growth and downsizing. Esso's population was generally older, and their defined benefit program was expensive to the company, so Esso commonly tried to downsize by offering enhanced early retirement packages. In about 1983, the package was opened up to people 50 & older, and was so good that the company had a 96% uptake Canada wide. But not Syl.

I asked Syl why he wouldn't take that rather lucrative retirement package. I remember his words to this day:

"Because I'm having fun," was his reply. "Having fun is everything. As long as I'm having fun, why would I leave? But if I ever stop having fun, all the money in China won't make me stay."

Three years later, Syl announced his retirement. There was no program going on at the time. He just decided to retire, and so I went to see him and ask why.

"Because I stopped having fun" was his answer.

He explained to me that there were indeed times in his career that it wasn't fun, but they were short and he could readily see his way through to when it would be fun again, or when he could make it fun again. He told me that in the previous 6 months, he had stopped having fun, and couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel (the late 1980's was a terrible time in the oil patch, and for Esso in particular. I was in planning at the time, and things were looking pretty bleak). So he retired.

I asked him whether he was sad about leaving all the money he could have had on the table. His answer was "Not a chance". He had had three years of a lot of fun doing his job, and that was worth more to him than all that money.

I have lived Syl's advice for 30 years, and I personally think it has resulted in nothing but positive outcomes. In your work, or in your personal life, things are just a lot better when you're having fun doing them. I have been disciplined in life to only do things that are fun, or that I think I can make fun. I have learned to leave "not fun" situations, and am the better for it (though the leaving part, and the decision to do that, are never easy). In any circumstance where I have been required do something "not-fun" I have suffered for it, physically & mentally, and the fact that I was often paid scads of money to do "not fun" stuff didn't make it better. I left one "not fun" job for a lower paying "fun" job, and it was the best move of my entire career.

And now, I do a LOT of things in retirement, and each and every one of them is not just fun, they're a riot and I love them all. Because if they're not fun, and I can't see them becoming fun, I stop doing them. One of the joys of retirement is I don't have to do anything I don't want to. When I tell people that in retirement, I only do things that are fun, I don't think they really understand what I mean.

And when I tell people that I only do things that are fun, it's because of Syl. As far as I know, Syl is still around and active in the Esso Annuitants Club, though I think he lost his wife in 2012. I wonder if he knows just how influential he was to a 22 year old engineer?