FRANK TALK ABOUT WHAT WE DO WITH OUR LIVES

Entry #18 (2013)

“Bring us into your world. What is something about your work (past or present) that outsiders typically don’t understand? It can be something required by the job, something that happens on the job, something you feel about the job—but whatever it is, do not exceed 800 words.

Things Left Undone

I never completed the project.

I got away with not completing the project.

It’s too late to complete the project.

Ten years later, it still matters to me that I didn’t complete the project.

No one besides me knows that I didn’t complete the project. Maybe no one else cares.

“The project” was a lengthy “process improvement” undertaking in which my organization secured an external consultant to congregate and confer with an array of stakeholders in multiple individual programs and agencies that are all under one umbrella. The goal was to aggregate, review, and recommend improvements to a process that had gotten unwieldy and ineffective. I was the point person for the consultant (done), the facilitator for the meetings (done), and the minute-keeper of the meetings (not done, not one single word). The Executive Director had explicitly instructed me to keep detailed notes of the meetings so that we could keep track of the flood of details exchanged, as well as who said what.

There is an Episcopalian (and other faiths) prayer that asks forgiveness for “things done and left undone.” I am sure I have done things that are problematic to my organization but it’s the “undone” things like “the project” that haunt me, and I am pretty sure a lot of people would be surprised to know how frequently I teeter on the high wire between checking required tasks off the list and not doing them in the hopes that they will go away. These people probably all have their opinion on things I do well and things I don’t, but avoidance of finishing things and the kind of “shoplifting thrill” frisson of dysfunctional emotion I get out of it is not likely to be on their list.

For my “minute-keeper” responsibilities, I did take copious handwritten notes. I recorded the meetings. The handwritten notes on legal pads and the mini discs accumulated. As the pile of paper and digital media mushroomed, my avoidance of starting to type them up into the comprehensive, detailed set of minutes my Executive Director wanted grew at the same rate.

Instead of sitting down and typing up notes, which would have been the logical thing to do and would have given me a sense of accomplishment, I turned this into such a monumental task in my head (How will I keep up with the speed at which people speak on the recordings? What if I can’t read my handwriting? How will I categorize the documents when I save them in Word? What will I call the folder when I save it? What will I call the folder?! Honestly…..).

And instead of starting, I worried about what would happen when my supervisor realized I had never started. It grew and grew in my mind – I could envision the confrontation, the (obviously) impotent response of “I haven’t done it yet.” This same cycle had occurred before with my Executive Director and I had promised myself it wouldn’t happen again.

The irony is that the things in my life for which I don’t get paid (do a blog post, for free, for a charity that feeds hungry kids? Go without shoes for a day, take pictures, blog, tweet, instagram post, pin) will typically get done and often be turned in early. I don’t avoid them because it makes me feel so darn good to do it and I feel confident about my blogging skills.

Why, then, can I not apply the same enthusiasm and drive to the task that is my family’s bread and butter (and my house payment, our insurance, the cushion between being able to do a minimal few “fun” things as a family” and collection calls)?

If I knew the answer, a methodically prepared set of archived minutes would be tucked away in our organization’s archives.

No one ever asked if I had completed the project.

The Executive Director moved on five years ago. The well-compensated consultant composed a well-crafted report that included all of the details that mattered. I finally threw away the voluminous handwritten notes that never “grew up” and became typewritten documentation.

It remains a thing left undone. I am still balancing on the high wire and wish like hell I would step off of the high wire and on to the solid ground of “done.”

***

Back to the other entries.
  1. “Forgiveness for things done – and left undone.” This writer has become quite undone over a task so old nobody else even remembers it. There’s a woman from high school I would apologize to if I could: she has likely forgotten the slight of thirty-five years ago, but it rankles me. Just like my foolishness, this person is hauling around a manikin of the original issue, unrecognizable except to them. For God’s sake, let it go.

  2. “Completion” certainly can be elusive in the workplace, in ways big and small.

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