Someone told me once that you can tell a lot about a person by what they keep on their desk.
That nugget of wisdom was given me when I was just starting my journalism career and nervous about going into an office to interview someone. I can’t remember whether my jittery nerves ever calmed enough to allow me the freedom to look around or whether the desire to not throw up was my overriding emotion. However, since that first interview, I’ve tried my best to check out desk art.
Everyone tries to keep their desk neat. Papers are normally stacked in the center, behind the nameplate and off to the side of the computer. Impressive is the look most are trying to achieve.
However, it’s the stuff on the periphery that normally tells you the most about a person.
I know a person who had a sign on the side of the desk saying “Big Ideas,” with about four things listed underneath. I decided I needed something like that on my desk. And probably in my life. I need to get some Big Ideas, and strive to reach those goals.
Once, I saw a desk that along with the normal family activities, had a calendar marked in red with children’s game times. I’m certain that person didn’t make all the games, but my guess is they tried, and felt bad knowing they were missing any red-penned game time that was staring them down.
A friend has her children’s photos from years past stacked on the back of her desk. Every year, an updated picture fronts the list, and we go through the older pictures, remembering. I enjoy that as much as she does.
It dawned on me not long ago that people probably look at my desk to get a sense of who I am, the same as I do others. And what would they see?
For most of the week, they’d see a mess. In my mind, it’s an organized mess with piles separating the “to do” from the “ta-done” work. I like to think of it as busy, but my guess is co-workers might think of it as crazy.
But on the periphery, they’d see the real treasures in my life.
There are pictures of my husband and children. I put those nearest my computer so I can look at their faces smiling back at me throughout the day. Those faces make me smile, and always remind of fun times we’ve shared.
On the other side of my computer, there are photos of my mom and sisters and daughter and neice, all sharing a wonderful “girl’s time” together. All of us are smiling, with the younger kids clowning for the camera. The pictures are a few years old, but when I look at them I remember that day as though it were yesterday.
I have my ode to the Beatles, my favorite band ever, in the corner of my desk. My nephew went a few years ago to England, and I requested he take a picture of himself crossing the street made popular on the Abbey Road cover. He did that, but also bought me a subway token with Abbey Road on it. I look at it every day.
There is a scrap of paper taped on a wall on which is typed the website that live streams my puppy’s time at doggie daycare. Truth be told, I’ve never looked at it, but it’s there just in case I want to peek in and see if my pooch is behaving herself.
I also have an inspirational thought I saw in a magazine from Ann Curry, who was given the advice from her father. It assures you that perhaps the best thing you’ll ever do is something you’ve not even thought of yet. (Perhaps I should send that back to Ann, given the last few months in her career.) Anyway, I appreciate that optimism. On really bad days at work, I read that sign several times.
Sure, I have the obligatory listing of inter-office names and phone numbers, but those aren’t typically the things I focus on. It’s the non-work things that give me peace of mind and lift my spirits.
Guess that wisdom I was given all those years ago is true: it’s what we keep on the periphery of our lives that really tells people who we are.