July 3, 2007

Back to Basics

2007 1519 page14 capT WAS 10:00 A.M., THE HEAT OF THE DAY—IN our office at least—window-clad rooms perched on a high-rise building’s seventh floor. I shifted uncomfortably as the sun gnawed away at my back, spitting out the scraps it didn’t care for in brilliant beams on my computer screen. I squinted, pitifully attempting to pivot the monitor into some range of visibility. No such luck.
Oh, well, I shrugged. It’s not like I need it anyway.
Beep-beep-beep-beep, I hammered my supervisor’s extension into the phone.
“This is Jennifer,” a brisk voice answered quickly.
“Hi, Jennifer,” I began. “This is Angela . . .”
“Hello again,” she greeted me warmly, her voice tinged with laughter and some disbelief. “So our intern is out of work again, huh?”
“Yeah,” I admitted meekly, feeling guilty that she was being forced to concoct busywork projects for me instead of being able to get her own work done.
“Well, I guess we’ll just have to get you started on that archiving,” she said a little apologetically. I could tell she was nodding thoughtfully. “Sarah left you instructions, right?”
2007 1519 page14“Well, yes . . . but they’re not very detailed,” I said, abruptly scoring the understatement of the century. For one of the company’s most sweeping projects, the intern before me had left a grand total of four sentences of instruction.
“Well, then they’ll be a great jumping-off point for you,” she responded, optimism strained.
“Can you give me any pointers?” I inquired hopefully, already feeling halfway submerged in the yawning jaws of the project’s unwieldy vastness.
“Honestly, I know about as much as you do,” Jennifer confided. “If you have any questions, I’ll try to help but . . .”
“Gotcha,” I said, feeling more alone and less prepared than ever. “I’ll do my best to figure it out.”
I hung up the phone and tried to figure out which of the indistinguishable, glare-encrusted desktop icons signified Sarah’s file. Never before had I seriously studied the file. I’d only skimmed it, scoffed at its scanty size, and moved on. Now I had no choice but to become much more intimately acquainted. At long last I located the icon, double-clicked, and held my breath as the file flickered onto the screen.
If you feel like this project is confusingly huge, you’re not alone—I feel that way, too, Sarah had written. Even so, I think I’ve been able to break it down into four basic steps:
1. Create folders for every client (excluding those who already have folders).
2. Collect all of the magazines we’ve ever printed (excluding those already in folders).
3. Organize the magazines within their proper folders in order of publication.
4. Divide the folders according to the different departments’ color schemes.
If you need any help, feel free to call my cell phone; I’ll be in the country for a little while longer, and I’ll be happy to help you if I can.
Four simple steps, huh? I thought to myself, drawing my eyelids shut like blinds to shield them from the glare. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all. . . . It was nice of her to leave her number, but if it’s really that simple, I probably won’t have to use it.
Flippantly, I clicked the “x” in the top-right corner of the screen, peeled myself out of my sticky chair, and pitter-pattered down the hall, almost immediately forgetting about Sarah’s generous offer. Why bother others if you can do it yourself? My reasoning scrolled through my head like a screensaver. If I had I known what I was up against, however, instead of disregarding the number, I would have tattooed it on my palm.
It happened suddenly. One moment I was contemplatively resting my eyes, basking in the sheer achievability of the task at hand; the next I was gasping for breath, treading paper in a sea of magazines. The four steps had sounded so simple; unfortunately their “simple” was the same sort of “simple” that parents employ when they tell their kids to come help them for a few minutes—with something like cleaning out the garage.
Similarly, while my “simple” tasks were straightforward enough, the catch was that in order to achieve even one of them, I had to first conquer hundreds of miniature, hidden prerequisite tasks. For example, if I desired to accomplish step two and create new folders for each client, I first needed to figure out how many clients we had (both past and present), which ones already had their own folders, which folder size each client would need, where I could get these folders and their corresponding accessories, how to design their new labels using the computer software installed on my unit, and much, much more.
Like gnats, the majority of these miniature tasks were annoying, but largely harmless; the only time they became downright exasperating was when one presumed miniature task would arise that I didn’t know how to tackle at all, such as figuring out the customized (and often erratic) publication schedule for every single magazine that had ever come off our press. Worse yet, I couldn’t even be exclusive in which set of miniature tasks I tackled. Just as no garage overhaul is complete until it has triggered a basement barrage or an attic attack, none of my single large steps (and their accompanying to-do list infantry) could be launched without simultaneously deploying at least two of other mammoth steps (and of course their wee companions).
Simple? You call this simple? I glowered at my computer screen, indignant to see that I could still fully comprehend each and every step of Sarah’s main instructions. The end she had in mind was obvious; it was the means that had me up a creek.
2007 1519 page14Angela?” a voice called from the door. Cross-legged on the floor, I swiveled neatly, careful not to collapse the carefully stacked magazine pyramids surrounding me.
“Oh—sorry!” I exclaimed, embarrassed that my magazine organization system was barring my supervisor’s entrance to the room. Hastily, I untangled myself and bumbled to my feet, in the process grazing one pile of glossily covered Your Health magazines. Like a skilled bodysurfer, it cascaded across the room, airily kissing but not collapsing several other equally precarious piles.
“No, sit down!” Jennifer bit her lip to keep a wave of laughter from crashing into the room. “You look busy . . .
I guess everything is making sense now?”
I hesitated a moment, inhaling a deep, printer-cartridge-scented breath. “Not exactly,” I confessed unwillingly. Right now, I was only an intern, but I had my sights set on a full-time position with the company. As a result, I was torn between an urge to dazzle Jennifer with my awesome competency and a compulsion to come clean about my confusion. My voice sprang a leak. “It sounded so simple when Sarah described it! She had it divided into four easy steps . . .”
“That sounds nice,” Jennifer said.
“Yes, it does!” I continued. “But instead of four, they feel more like 400. And they’re not actually simple after all. . . .”
“Ah . . . I see,” Jennifer scrunched her lips together. “But Sarah left you her number, right? Why don’t you give her a call?”
Because that would be admitting defeat! my heart bellowed, but I swallowed before the words could tunnel their way out of my throat. “That’s a great idea,” I acquiesced unwillingly, my tired smile forced as I carefully navigated my way back through the magazine maze to my lonely telephone.
Although Sarah’s counsel didn’t make everything crystal clear, it did tie up a lot of loose ends. Kicking around ideas with her helped me step away from my frenetic multitasking free-for-all and refocus on the final goal: making our old magazines more accessible to our employees. Hearing her recurrent offer of help made my tasks feel more achievable. Plus, just being able to vent to someone who fully understood what I was up against helped my frayed nerves to settle and sharpened my resolve.
At first glance, God’s plan for His people on earth as defined through the Ten Commandments can appear as deceptively simple and utterly achievable by myself. Just like my own initial organizational efforts at that job, our attempts to independently tick off the steps for this salvific 10-step plan fall shorter than that of a toddler trying to make it past the measuring stick at a big boys’ roller coaster. Only when we realize that God’s special 10-point guide is more than a behavioral laundry list for our lives can we get anywhere near actually achieving it. Only when we realize that He never intended for us to broach the matter on our own can His plans for our lives even begin to seem for real.
Lucky for us, God refused to leave us at the mercy of our own shortcomings, rutted in wrath, rage, and frustration. Instead, like Sarah, He left us a method by which we could contact Him directly and enlist the Holy Spirit’s aid. When we dial, not only does He renew our resolve to achieve His ends, but He also reminds us of the end goal of His Ten Commandments: a life of love.
Because life has so many facets, some might believe that the Ten Commandments come up short, being too few words of advice for far too many applications. And to some degree, they’re right.
Although the Ten Commandments might not be the be-all and end-all of the instructions available to us, one thing’s for sure: they’re a great jumping-off point.
For more about the Ten Commandments, click here.
Angela Ford Baerg writes from Collegedale, Tennessee.