Here’s how you invent yourself: slowly, then all at once.
Under my desk at work there are two standing file folder holder things, one covered in red pleather, and one made of cream-colored cardboard, screen printed in soft aqua and labeled on one side… well, I actually can’t remember what’s on the side I can’t see, because on the other side, the hidden-from-public-view side that faces only me when I sit in my desk chair, the folder-thing is labeled, in contrasting tangerine, OMFG.
My friend Dale gave me that one, the OMFG one. Dale is brilliant and funny and awesome, which really is the only way to describe a woman who can somehow manage to work the word vagina into almost every conversation, every day, year ’round, irrespective of the conversation’s main topic. Also, Dale manages to keep trying new things while remaining absolutely, steadfastly the exact same real, true person she is. I adore that about her.
Anyway, Dale gave me OMFG for my birthday years ago when there were, in abundance, things that made us wonder about the state of the world. For a while, meaning several years, I used the folder to store all of the papers associated with one or two big projects that were definitely high on the OMFG scale. Then those projects wrapped up, and I stashed OMFG in a corner, beside the credenza, and didn’t think about it for a bit.
About a month ago, in preparation for some out-of-town visitors who would be meeting in my office, I decided to do a bit of cleaning; and I recycled mounds of now-useless paper from projects that once upon a time had made me say OMFG, either aloud or in my head, at least once every day, but that now are long finished.
But I couldn’t part with OMFG itself because just the sight of it made me feel happy, for a hundred different reasons. So I decided to use it to store some of my most prized paper possessions, namely the past nine years’ worth of daily calendar/notebooks, and my three special file folders, which are labeled: Resources, Articles & Resources, and Good Ideas.
So you’ll have a visual, the first two folders, Resources and Articles & Resources, are both primary green, the standard green that comes in the five-color file folder assortment box. Good Ideas is neon Astrobright pink.
I’m going to tell you about the folders and about the notebooks, but first I have to tell you about Joel, because that’s where this particular story begins. I know; you thought I wasn’t really going to tell you about Joel. But I am. Sort of.
When I started working for Cylix Communications, a then-recent spin-off from RCA, back in 1989, I worked in marketing, which was a different department from sales because sales and marketing are different things that often get confused and lumped together, even though they shouldn’t.
As an aside, if you ever want to know whether you belong in sales or in marketing, try this little self-test, courtesy of my friend Wylie:
If I gave you a list of 100 prospective customers (with contact information), would your initial, gut instinct be to:
A) go down the list to see who, if anyone, you knew, or if you had any inside connections;
B) start at #1 and motor through calling/emailing/etc. until you got to 100?
If you answered A, then you’re with me in marketing. Be happy; we are fun people. We do amazing things, even if the finance team often fails to see the value in our work.
If you answered B, then you should be in sales. It’s that simple; don’t overthink it.
Anyway, back to Cylix,
So, I was the marketing coordinator, working in the marketing department; and Joel was the sales director, working in the sales department. When I started the job I was 24; Joel’s eldest daughter was not much younger than 24. I was a Democrat; Joel was a Republican. On weekends, I went to hear, for example, Itzhak Perlman; Joel went duck hunting. You get the idea.
Joel and I worked together pretty closely, because the marketing people did things like set up trade shows and events (free liquor) for the sales people to meet with their prospects and customers. Since the company was relatively new, or at least in a new iteration of itself, Joel was motivated to try some new things, and one of the things he decided to try was an annual sales meeting, in a nearby hotel ballroom (the Omni or Hyatt Regency – can’t remember which one it was, then), with presentations and handouts and little incentive items and a guest motivational speaker. Even though it was a sales meeting, Joel invited me to participate, which was overly charitable, because I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want a future in either sales or marketing. As you’ll recall, I was just working as a typist in order to pay the rent, just temporarily.
I’m pretty sure that was the meeting at which we all received little white faux-marble paperweights with brass plates that read, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” which I remember thinking was very cheesy; but I kept it anyway because Joel was very proud of those paperweights, you just could tell, and I liked Joel because he was nice to me.
So we sat there at tables set classroom-style in the hotel banquet room, with those faux marble paperweights and tiny bowls of peppermints and pitchers of ice water in front of us while we listened to presentations about sales forecasts and the future, etc.
Then it was time for Don Hutson, the motivational speaker, a rising star on the national speaking circuit who spoke at our meeting as a favor to his pal Joel. Even 20-something me could quickly tell the difference between a bona fide professional speaker and your average Toastmasters graduate. I had started to drift off during the sales forecast presentations, but I paid attention pretty quickly because that’s what a good professional speaker does, (s)he gets your attention.
The topic of Don’s speech was, “How to be a High Performance Person,” and it included specific tips, all of which were shared on slides – real slides, before PowerPoint – one at a time. Since I was, again, just a typist, temporarily covering rent, I wasn’t fully invested in the presentation (or the meeting, for that matter) because a career development path was just about the furthest thing from my mind.
Don was on item #2, “Have a Vision for Growth and Progress: work from document, not thought,” when it occurred to me that maybe I should be taking a few notes. Since it was before the days of keeping my notebooks, I grabbed the tiny hotel paper pad and the crummy hotel ballpoint pen and started copying the words that were projected on the screen.
The next day, the speech still fresh in my mind, I decided to type my notes, partly because I was a typist but mostly because I was still thinking about the tips and what they meant. I used my mad Word Perfect skills to make the text different colors and add some punch to the list, because I wasn’t really just a typist, not even then.
Satisfied with my handiwork, I sent the document to print on our only color dot matrix printer, which we used very sparingly and only for special occasions, which I deemed this to be. I took the list, printed with dot matrix jaggedy-line hiccups, in color, on a sheet from my private stash of cotton paper, and I thumb-tacked it to one of the panels of my cubicle, right next to my computer monitor. And I showed it to Joel, and Joel was pleased.
I looked at the list every day, thinking about what it meant to be a dedicated team player (#3), implement extraordinary people skills (#5) and project an image of excellence (#7). From time to time I would ask Joel for bits of advice to go with the list, even though I was in marketing and he was in sales.
One day a national account manager job opened up, and since it was years before I would meet Wylie and get the telltale test, I wondered to myself if I could be a candidate for that job or if I should stay in marketing. So I wrote down my list of pros and cons, the way my mother had taught me to do, and I asked some of the other account managers about their work. Then I took my lists and my notes and my ideas and set up a meeting to talk to Joel. And Joel listened patiently and asked some questions but mostly let me talk. And then, at the end, he said: Always take the job for the boss.
And I thought and thought and thought about it. And I decided the contest was, on that one count, a draw. And I decided to stay in marketing. And I got a promotion. And I moved my thumb-tacked list to my new office and tacked it up on my wall.
The time came, a year or two later, to cherish the free enterprise opportunity (#8), and I had to pack up my personal belongings and re-install them in my new office, in a new company, with new friends. Since my new job was at an ad agency and not a data networking company, the vibe and office decor were quite different. My “How to Be a High Performance Person” dot-matrix-printed list didn’t really fit in. But I wanted to keep it, and I also wanted to keep my DISC profile from AMA training, and a few other things I’d collected along the way. So I created a folder (green, so I could find it easily), and I labeled it “Resources,” and I tucked my list and the other things I wanted to keep into the folder and put the folder in a drawer.
When I left that ad agency job (terrible boss; should have listened to Joel), Resources had gained a few new items, including a template for writing creative briefs, the 4As account manager training manual, and the magazine ad that my friend Charlie tore out and gave to me: a picture of an arm, positioned in a bicep flex, tattooed with the words, “Born to Network.”
Resources spent a few years stored in a box with a whole bunch of other, unrelated things because I left in a hurry and wasn’t very organized about it. When I started my job in Omaha, working for Bill, I couldn’t find Resources, and so I created a new green folder and labeled it “Articles & Resources,” because I thought it needed a broader scope, and I started filling it with articles and reports and templates and other keepsakes.
When I moved back to Memphis and was working for myself, I started a new folder, a neon pink one labeled “Good Ideas” and filled mostly with articles from Fast Company and Print and (I must confess) Martha Stewart Living. On home office desk, next to my blue iMac, I had a standing file holder, made of wire, that contained a file for each of my clients and, at the very front, both green folders (having finally found Resources in its hidden box) and the new pink one.
As an aside, How Good Ideas differed from Articles & Resources I can’t really explain; I suspect I just wanted something new, was tired of green and ready for pink. Anyway, one of the good ideas I tucked away in my pink folder was about keeping notebooks – work journals, in essence. And since I love shiny new things and since I am exceedingly disloyal when it comes to organizational systems, I thought I might give work journals a try, especially if it meant buying a pretty new notebook and pens to go with it.
With the exception of a few months during the Palm Pilot/Handspring era, I’ve kept a running notebook collection ever since. I’ve saved every one of them, because I’ve used them for reference more times than I would have ever imagined needing them. I have a pretty good memory, but the notebooks take it to another level. If you ever want to know what we were thinking that one time back when we decided to do whatever it was we decided, I can retrieve the history.
From time to time a work problem surfaces that I just know we’ve solved before; and that’s when I dig out the notebooks. And, sometimes, the folders.
They’ve grown thicker over the years, those folders, and they are still growing. Each folder has a slightly different, organic theme. Resources now holds several sub-folders, including a yellow one labeled “Myers-Briggs Team Reports.” One labeled “StrengthsFinder materials” used to live in Respurces, too; but it outgrew its sub-folder and now has its own notebook, which is wedged into the red pleather open-top box because it won’t fit in OMFG.
Recently, Resources gained a printed copy of my StandOut report, Marcus Buckingham’s recently revised self-assessment test that is the next iteration of the StrengthsFinder work and that I think might be a good tool for my work team. According to my report I am a Connector-Equalizer, a “quintessential network-builder” who loves “saying the words, ‘I know the person who can fix this.'”
I tucked the report in between the slightly-faded Don Hutson list from 1991 and the “Born to Network” magazine ad, all of which live in Resources, which is the front-most folder in OMFG.
One day last week I pulled out my chair to sit down at my desk, and I looked at my happy aqua-tangerine folder-holder thing and thought: OMFG, that’s how you invent yourself; slowly, then all at once.
Food | Week of March 7, 2016
It’s a Plated week at our house (thank goodness), so three of my decisions are already made. Which is awesome, because #springsports and #schooltesting and #niceweather. Unfortunately, not all Plated recipes are published in a way that I can share, even by directing to their site; so I’ve added some links to recipes that look equivalent if I couldn’t share the original recipe.
- Plated: Cheese Tortellini in Tomato-Basil Broth (here’s a (super-quick) alternative, from Iowa Girl Eats)
- BBQ Turkey Sliders | Sweet Potato Fries
- Plated: Lemongrass Pork with Long Life Noodles
- Plated: Beet and Butternut Squash Skewers with Goat Cheese and Quinoa (here’s an alternative, in the form of a salad, from NY Times)
- Baked Eggs with Herbs | Spring Green Salad | Sourdough Toast with Garlic Confit
So, I read the list. It’s good. I’m just wondering how you felt about being “paternal?” 🙂
Ha! Kinda carbon dates the list to 1991, doesn’t it!
Nah. More like the 1970s. 🙂
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I wish we’d really left all that behind in the 1970s. Really, I do.
Unfortunately, I was there for most of that. I can say from pure experience that it’s getting worse not better.
I wish you weren’t right. But you are.
Another great inspiration today. Sitting in MSP on my way there. When can you get together?
Actually, could you plan weekend retreats with all your smart, thoughtful friends?
Do you follow Paris Review on Tweetie? Great quotes. Good ideas.
Xxoo – ak
angie keesee studio aka 901.355.7755
Would so love to see you, but since we cut cable and switched to Roku streaming, I’ve finally been introduced to your pal Walter White, and I will be otherwise occupied until his story runs its course. xo
My mother says I came out of the womb making a list. But you outdo even me. 🙂 And Word Perfect? I know it’s an old person thing to say, but that was the best word processing program ever (and having used it, I understand html a bit).
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Ditto both WP and html (just a bit, not so much that anyone would ever ask me to do anything, which is the reason for limiting all kinds of skill development, I think, even -in retrospect – cooking). And I wish I were a model list maker, meaning one who is able to keep lists tidy and organized and connected. Unfortunately I have a bad habit of making a list, misplacing it, and then starting a new one. The folders might occasionally make me look organized, but the truth is a much different story.
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I love your evolution and return to your roots. It really makes that “slowly, and all at once” point.
I never thought of it, but I have an equivalent to your work notebooks. Since I’ve been self-employed for the last 15 years, I’ve kept a notebook in front of me most of the time to write down to-dos, appointments, notes from phone conversations, etc. All dated, so yes, I can go back to June 2001 and see what I was doing. Supplemented now by Google calendar and e-mail, but I wouldn’t give up the paper.
I wouldn’t give up paper either! I believe the studies that indicate our brains store information differently when we write information by hand, compared to entering notes by typing (or saving to a reader). Also, doodling is often helpful. Cheers, Audrey. Happy writing.
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I remember your list….It was good times!
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It was good times, and great people!
I was so inspired by your ongoing menus I made my kids Baingan Bharta, chappati and coconut soup last night. They said I was the best mother ever (clearly you would be Miss America and the POTUS rolled into one.) I should have been inspired by even the semblance of folder-ly organization that I cleaned up the three foot pile of papers stacked under my desk, but instead I cleaned out the refrigerator. We’re all just works in progress is right, slowly and all at once. (OMFG)
Well I want to come have dinner at your house! For 100 reasons, only one of which is the food – but the food is definitely on the list of reasons. I made lemongrass pork with long life noodles last night, and my kids said I was the worst mother in the whole world; so there’s that. Work in progress. Slowly then all at once. OMFG. xo
Literally LOL’ed. (Am more scared of lemongrass than fish sauce…)
Someday, and we can eat out! xo
I’m thinking we just need Malbec; to hell with fish sauce and lemongrass.
I’m just sayin’…. road trip ladies! We could eat out together, AND, I’d eat what either of you is wiling to cook! So there’s that. 😉 As the old lady of this plan, I am so tired of meal prep, I will eat most things. And add Malbec, and well, it’s too beautiful!
Loved the lists, and the genesis of your evolution, but the storytelling! Jen you can talk about making pudding and have me spell bound. xox
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