How important are you to your company? A while ago I would have ranked myself somewhere between the guy who blows the leaves out of our parking lot twice a year and the woman who empties our trash and recycling containers twice a week.
But then I remembered a lesson I learned as a teenager.
My cousin, Karen, and I watched the original version of The Nutty Professor. In that movie, Jerry Lewis drinks a potion and changes from the nerdy professor to a handsome heart-throb. When the movie was over we reasoned that the only difference between the absentminded, dweeby professor and the suave, sophisticated Buddy Love was attitude.
Buddy Love personified self-confidence. Who doesn’t want to be around someone with self-confidence? When the plane is going to crash, I want to be next to the individual I think will be able to get us out alive. I want to be strapped in beside someone calm, confident and not likely to panic in a crisis.
For a week after seeing the movie, Karen and I strutted about, kissing mirrors and saying things like, “I’m not saying I’m perfect; it is just that I’ve never met anyone better." At the end of the week, we were still the same girls, but now we had attitude.
We were awesome.
As I mentioned in the last post, I work in a closet. Besides the filing cabinets, printer and fire extinguisher, there used to be a shredder squeezed between my chair and the wall. Important people from all over the company would swagger in and stand behind me to shred their crucial documents. It became distracting, not only because it is eerie to have someone stand behind me, but because I wasn’t important enough to use the shredder myself. Nothing I did was all that essential. When left alone with the machine it would jeer at me, pointing out my insignificance.
And then I remembered Buddy Love.
I sat up straight. Who is to decide how important a piece of paper is? Me. My dang papers were fabulously influential.
I stooped over and dug out all the papers from my recycling bin, mostly duplicate bills, shrunkled paper (yes, I’m important enough to make up my own words) I’d pulled from the jammed copier and empty envelopes previously housing invoices. These were all very important.
I shredded them.
Then, throughout the day, I’d shred the cover sheets to faxes and any inter-office memo with my name on it. Even sticky notes became exceedingly critical.
“Melanie, what the heck are you shredding in there?” my boss finally shouted one day. “I hear the shredder going all the time.”
“Just some important documents,” I yelled over the din of the devilish device.
One day I fired up the machine and stuck the end of my important document into the shredder. My boss walked in. Over the racket of the motor and the snarling teeth chomping proprietary information into indiscernible fragments of confetti, she yelled, “What are you shredding?”
I jumped and whirled around, my eyes widening. There was nothing for it. I had to tell her the truth.
“My adding machine tape,” I said.
Her mouth dropped open.
“We wouldn’t want our competition to see our numbers, would we?” I explained.
The next day they took the shredder out of the closet and put it in the front of the office area where the rest of the accounting staff sits to “allow easier access for everyone in the company.”
I miss the shredder. I’ve gone back to throwing the empty envelopes into the recycling bin and I rarely shred my fax cover sheets. Maybe what I miss most is the weighty feeling of consequence. But I have to admit, I don’t seem to miss the "important" people hovering behind me.
Originally Posted by Melanie Sherman as: The Earnestness of Being Important.