Norm Amundson, in his “physics of living” model, speaks of the importance of the backswing to any effective type of forward motion. As I prepare for an upcoming move of my home and offices, I’ve been taking the time to sort through files and boxes that have travelled with me over the course of my whole career. With the advent of cloud-based storage, “Google” searches, and e-statements, there’s simply less need for holding on to boxes and filing cabinets filled with paper and shelves of books that we haven’t looked at for years.
Before this move, I’m determined to open every box and critically examine every file, ensuring that everything kept is intentional. Ironically, this isn’t necessitated by downsizing as it is for many of my peers. Rather, it’s motivated by a desire to travel lighter, declutter, and surround myself at home and work with only what serves a useful purpose or is something I actually treasure and want to be able to look at again.
The process of doing this takes time and both mental and emotional energy. Tackling too much at once can be overwhelming. Our career engagement model speaks to the importance of matching challenge to capacity, so I’m finding it very important to pace myself and also to build capacity by sharing the workload with additional staff in the office and family and friends at home. A colleague’s son has helped by bringing up boxes from the crawlspace, shredding, updating our database, and scanning documents to be saved online. My daughters have helped with decisions about which items of their father’s, aunts’, and grandparents’ to keep. My core staff have helped with decisions about what to save and how best to archive it. We’re all approaching the tasks with humour and we’re delighting in shared memories.
From a career management perspective, if you have the opportunity to tackle a similar project, I’d encourage you to open up some of the old binders and files and notice who you were in comparison to who you have become today and who you hope to be in the future. It’s been interesting to me to see comments from supervisors of my teaching practicum from almost 40 years ago – and recognize some of the same challenges today as well as areas where I’ve greatly improved. It’s been interesting to reflect on the future I’d imagined as I read scholarship applications written when I was 16 years old – I’ve lived out some of those dreams, shifted a few of them, and far exceeded my wildest imagination in terms of the opportunities I’ve had to travel, learn, and serve in a variety of professional roles. It’s been interesting to reflect on the various projects and people that, combined, have contributed to the knowledge and competencies that I’d never consciously noticed were developing. It’s been encouraging to see growth and continuous improvement – from my earliest handouts handwritten on old mimeograph paper to published books with my name on them today.
It’s also been interesting to see evidence of some mis-remembered details. Today’s constructivist and narrative career development theories refer to the stories we tell – the files and boxes have, in some cases, revealed a different story than I’d come to believe was true of my past. In many other cases, though, they’ve added rich details to stories where the colours had been fading. It’s worth saving some treasures to look back on at various turning points in our lives – a backswing that gives us the strength and courage to move forward with renewed energy, enthusiasm, and engagement.