I’m sorting through files at work, files that cover roughly the last 10 years. It’s about four file drawers in volume.
It’s remodeling time at work. We’re facing a total of three moves. We were first moved three weeks ago, into the space we will eventually occupy permanently. But it has to be remodeled, and so we will move again to temporary quarters before we return to our redesigned workplace. I was moved from one office to a smaller office; I was fortunate, as most people moved to cubicles. What I will eventually end up with will make a cubicle look like an executive suite.
They tell us it’s collaborative workspace, designed to foster team communication and synergy.
Whenever you hear the word synergy, you know that someone is trying to save money.
There wasn’t time to do anything with these files except bring them with me. We had about a week’s notice of the first move; I had no time to do the careful sorting they require.
One pile is paper that can be recycled.
One pile is what needs to go in a special cabinet unit for shredding.
And one pile, the smallest, is what will go to the company archives.
It’s all mixed together, so it has to be sorted carefully.
The files represent the last 10 years of my work life. The height of the three piles tells me that most of what I’ve worked out can be recycled. The second biggest pile has to be shredded. The most valuable pile will go the archives.
It’s easy to start thinking of the book Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Is it really all just a chasing after the wind?
Here’s a brief that was filed in a lawsuit settled years ago. That’s an easy decision – public document, no pending litigation – it can be recycled. Others have to go to the shredder.
And here’s the speech I wrote for the CEO in 2006, given to a large group of college students. It’s a beautiful speech. I heard it when it was given; I was there in the auditorium, sitting on the front row. I flew to the event with the CEO on the corporate plane. That had happened only once before. At the dinner before the speech, I bumped into a fellow speechwriter I hadn’t seen in almost 15 years.
The CEO did a fine job with the speech. Actually, he did a superb job. The speech was widely distributed afterward. It was reprinted in Vital Speeches of the Day, which is a big deal for speechwriters and CEOs.
And now it’s almost eight years later. I’m not part of the speechwriting group. I’m called “social media strategist” which sounds a bit too presumptuous to me.
What do I do with the notes of my conversation with the CEO about the speech? Part of me says keep the notes with the final text for the archives. Part of me says that isn’t a good idea. I place the notes in the pile to be shredded. CEOs have to trust their speechwriters.
It’s easy to think that this is where all of our work ends up – recycled, shredded, perhaps archived and rarely seen except by an occasional academic researcher (our archives are managed by a local university).
Does this matter? I ask myself. Is it really all vanity?
I think about that speech. It didn’t change the course of history. But it did inspire a few college students to do something with their lives. It moved a few teachers and administrators to think about life outside the university.
And the important point is that the speech was done well. Written well. Written with care and attention, with a special effort to find exactly the right story that would illustrate it. Part of what that speech did was to tell that story, the story of a woman farmer in South Africa who brought in a crop so bountiful that she was able, for the first time in her 45+ years of life, to buy a pair of new shoes.
The story mattered. The speech mattered. The work – the hard work – I put into it mattered.
And it all mattered because I didn’t ultimately write the speech for the CEO, or for my own gratification, or for the story of the woman and the new shoes.
No, I wrote it for Someone else, because the work I do is ultimately about that Someone else.
And it matters.
The High Calling is hosting a community linkup on the theme of “Your Work Matters to God.” Take a look at the submission guidelines, and consider whether or not you might have a story to tell.
Top photograph by K Whiteford. Bottom photograph by Lucy Toner. Both via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. Community linkup badge designed for The High Calling by Jennifer Dukes-Lee.
This makes me think of the sermons I give. I used to type them out word for word, but I work from a brief outline now which means there isn't a lot left when the moment is done. This seems somehow right to me, the ideas are still there in brief notes, but the event is a once and done thing tied to the presence of God and others in that particular time and place.
I was reading recently about a monk who would work all year weaving baskets in a cave and then, at the end of the year, set them all on fire. I guess there's a lot of truth in that. (I do not recommend setting your files on fire.)
I remember vividly having to go through files as I was preparing to retire. So much documentation, which, ultimately, I knew only mattered to me as the editor and writer, and to a few of our reporters who understood the value of backup. I think I filled three huge recycling bins. The stories I wrote and edited live on somewhere in cyber space now or in bound volumes of newsletters, etc. I did bring home with me files that I thought might be useful, columns I particularly liked and that sort, but eventually even those went. I'm glad I let all that stuff go. I don't need any of it in this last phase of my life.
I'd want to bring those notes/that speech home with me. Hide them in my own file. Take them out and feed them once in a while. Let them feed me. But maybe you need to let them go. You gave them birth. And now they have to live their own life?
It's interesting to think about what we keep and what we throw away, and the significance of the process of our work vs. the end result of our work. So much food for thought.
So, are they gonna put you into a phone booth? Maybe you will be able to do some time travel in there.
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