The moment that I confirmed that I had one of the greatest jobs in the world was perhaps the most boring, the simplest, the quietest day ever. I was just sitting in my office, glaring across my desk at a shelf full of books. Not one of those books was open nor had I just read anything.
I was literally just sitting, leaning back on my chair. The phone was silent – a landline at the time – and my computer screen was asleep. I may have had a pencil in my hand twirling it from tip to eraser, back and forth on my empty desk.
I could hear the keystroke of Betty’s computer, the person who managed the volume of paperwork that passed through my office on a daily basis, and I am quite sure that she knew that I was just sitting, staring into space in the office behind hers.
Without a moment to alter what I was doing or more importantly not doing, the president of the college and my boss stepped through my office door. I had no report I could grab and pretend to be analyzing it, I was not engaged in any important phone call, and there was no current meeting happening within my office walls. I was still just sitting. Without a moment’s pause, he snapped, “What are you up to?”
And I decided to go with honesty, “Well sir, I was just doing some thinking.” And it was his next line that sealed my belief that I had the the best job ever. “Great,” he said. “We hired you to think. Anything you want to share?”
For the next hour or so, he and I spoke about the what ifs, the possibilities, the far-edge dreams, the thoughts about what could be, what should be, and more. Some call it brainstorming. Some call it thinking outside the box. I usually called it wasting time with a purpose.
But most importantly, I was just reassured that my employer was paying me and counting on me to . . . think. To think about things that are. To think about new things, unknown things. To consider the unexpected and the unusual. To ponder with no particular direction. He was encouraging me to press on with the world of wondering.
And to me, that was wonderful.
I had spent a fair amount of time in a classroom as a student. And as we all know, students live in an endless stream of thinking time. Students read and listen. They investigate and ruminate. Students are afforded semester after semester to live in dreamland and to share those dreams with others.
Once we graduate and leave those hallowed halls, life changes. Mine did. I secured my degrees and took off on unexpected adventures, eventually landing back in higher education, but not as a student, rather as an employee.
Initially, I focused on productivity. I made sure that all my work – whatever that meant – was done by the end of the day. I tied up all loose ends, leaving no hanging chads to face in the morning. My office ran smooth as butter.
But. That is all it did.
As time passed, I recognized that there was no ingenuity to it. There was no bedazzling of anything. It was all paperwork in, paperwork out. And people in, people out. Those breathtaking experiences that I had as a student in a college class long ago – where ideas were rampant and the try and fail method was expected and praised – was not happening in my job. I was boring myself and I knew it.
The only thing I could do was , well, change. Which is when I started to do some thinking. Which was when the president caught me in the act of thinking. And affirmed the activity. And then joined me.
I truly believe that the best places to work are those that allow time for employees to dream. Somewhere out there are great ideas waiting to be found. The only way to do that is for people to have the freedom and free time to search. Employees also need extremely supportive employers and employment. Who allow wonderment.
Though I did not solve all the problems of the world, I am quite sure that the moments that I was encouraged to devote beaucoup time to thinking were the moments that brought about the most positive change to the problems faced in my areas of responsibility.
I don’t know what is happening in the world of work today. I do know that we are in the midst of the great reshuffle. I know that today’s technology is many light years beyond what was available for me. (I’m thinking AI and beyond!) I also believe that today’s generation is clever, capable, and creative.
I know that I still spend a great deal of time thinking about those what ifs. (It’s the best part of my day even if it looks like I’m doing absolutely nothing to those on the outside.) I can only hope that those behind me are devoting a boatload of time to sitting and thinking.
Because there’s nothing better. For all of us.