(No; this isn’t the piece I was working on yesterday that I said would wait until today. I’m still working on it, and one day I’ll share it with you. One day soon, but not today. Today, day 48 of this 56 day challenge, you’ll have to make do with something else: a much-shorter, tighter version of a post originally titled, “Joel, the list, the folder, and OMFG,” published in April 2016.)
One year for my birthday a colleague with a marvelous and dark sense of humor gave me a standing file folder emblazoned with the letters OMFG in a pretty shade of aqua with tangerine accents. It’s very lady-like looking, despite the OMFG part.
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.
One day, 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 were, by this cleaning day, long since 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 more than a decade’s worth of daily calendar/notebooks, and my three special file folders, which are labeled: Resources, Articles & Resources, and Good Ideas.
For visual reference, the first two folders, Resources and Articles & Resources, started out as bright, primary green, the standard green that comes in the five-color file folder assortment box. Good Ideas started out as neon Astrobright pink. I will always see these folders in their vibrant original colors, even though those colors have faded considerably.
Resources was the original folder, and the original document for which the folder was created was a set of tips from a motivational speaker’s training session that I attended at the start of my marketing career.
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 the person who gave it to me was very proud of those paperweights, you just could tell, and I liked him 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.
The topic of the 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 thought of myself, at the time, as a typist, working to cover rent until I could figure out what to do with the rest of my life, 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.
By the time the speaker got to item #2, “Have a Vision for Growth and Progress: work from document, not thought,” 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.
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).
One day a national account manager job opened up, and I wondered if maybe sales, and not marketing, was what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life. 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.
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. My “How to Be a High Performance Person” dot-matrix-printed list didn’t really fit in with the new office decor. 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 job, 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 a friend 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, 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 yet another new folder, a neon pink one labeled “Good Ideas” and filled mostly with articles from Fast Company and Print and Inc. and 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 Resources, too; but it outgrew its sub-folder and now has its own notebook because it won’t fit in OMFG.
Last week I was looking through OMFG and its companion containers, searching for the training materials I wrote for the creative brief seminar. I was looking for these materials because one day, not today but one day, I am going to teach again. As I leafed through articles, assessments, notebooks, tear sheets, Post-It notes, and all of the countless artifacts that have helped inspire, motivate, and shape me over the past 35 years of professional work, I realized each entry was filed away with the idea of what I might do next, what I might one day become.
And I realized, OMFG, that’s how we invent ourselves: Slowly; then all at once.
This post is 48/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.