Sonja’s swan song

DATE | 02/18/19
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Retired Communications Director Sonja Penner reflects on 15 years at Member Benefits and simple truths worth sharing.

I’m retiring. Actually, by the time you read this, I will be weeks into this new phase of life.

It’s been an interesting process—this unwinding from something that has become so much a part of who I am. My decision to retire was made last February. I wanted to allow time for a smooth transition. Ten months has given me plenty of time to second-guess my decision, consider life after Member Benefits, and reflect. That reflection has been consuming.

It’s become quite clear to me that there are certain decisions we make that when we make them we don’t (can’t) really know their full impact. It’s only when you’re older that you can see their significance.

Joining Member Benefits 15 years ago was one of those decisions. Changing jobs is always a big deal, but I can point to this decision as pivotal in my personal and professional life.

Truths I have learned

I leave Member Benefits with a lot of great memories, friendships, and several truths worth sharing.

Financial literacy is a great equalizer and comes through education.

It’s not a function of age, economics, or intelligence. Being rich, or smart, or old doesn’t make you a good money manager. Studies show that those with high financial literacy plan for retirement and have double the wealth of people who do not plan for retirement.

I never thought I would be able to retire. I remember saying (glumly) in my 20s, “I’ll probably have to work until I die.” Those were the years I lived pay check to pay check—fresh out of college with student loans, low paying jobs during high unemployment, no health insurance—you get the picture. I’m sure many, if not most, of you can relate. At that age, retirement was beyond my range of vision, and while I had frugal tendencies, my grasp of financial principles was wanting.

It wasn’t until I took the position with Member Benefits that I realized how much I didn’t know and the cost of my evident illiteracy. There were a lot of ‘aha’ moments as I went about doing my job—which was heavy with reading about, talking about, and writing about financial topics.

I absorbed those nuggets of knowledge and I applied them in my own life to the best of my ability. And it empowered me to take control of my financial future. Truth: Knowledge is power.

Working for an organization that shares your values makes the years fly by, and it’s especially gratifying.

I took the job with Member Benefits because I loved the idea of serving Wisconsin public school employees. At the time, I had been looking to make a career move that fit my personal values. I entertained the idea of teaching. I even took the certification exams, but a very wise teacher (my sister) suggested that I teach Sunday School first. Well, the rest of the story is obvious. I did not have what it takes.

But it all worked out. My position at Member Benefits has allowed me to use my skills to support public education and those who serve in our schools without being in the classroom. This organization is true to its mission, and I have gone home every night for 15 years feeling like I’m contributing to something that’s important.

You all are truly amazing people and are charged with maybe the most important function in our society. I applaud all that you do, and I am honored to have been part of this in my own special way.

Surrounding yourself with good people makes you better.

I can’t remember where I heard or read this…“You are the average of the people you spend the most time with.” Essentially, those are the people that will inspire you to be a better person, provide you with motivation to achieve your goals, empower you to make the changes you need to succeed, and cheer on your success—or not, depending on the company you keep.

My coworkers are among those I spend the most time with (the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime), and I have been fortunate to work with really good people. In the workplace, good people tend to be productive, caring, and generous people. My team in particular makes my departure difficult and emotional. We have worked shoulder-to-shoulder in good times and stressful times, we have laughed and cried together, and shared the joys in our lives.

They have made me a better person, and I am grateful for the gift of good company.

Saying goodbye is really hard.