advancement vs. the old tried and true

Posted: January 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

I was new on the job.  I would be training with my predecessor – but only for a couple of weeks.  “Just learn the basics,” my supervisor urged me.  My assignment was to update the systems and practices in place.

Every bit of equipment I used in those first two weeks was outdated.  An old electric typewriter.  Carbon copies.  Handwritten notes.  Hundreds of variously aged sticky notes all around the desk and in every drawer…holders of the details.  An old computer with billing software that no one seemed to completely understand. 

At the end of my two weeks of training, it was time for my predecessor to move to her new position – a promotion.  She was fretful abut leaving me to learn on my own – I was still making so many errors!  She wanted to stay with me until I was getting it perfect.  I smiled and assured her that the things I mess up are the things I learn best – the pain and embarrassment of getting it wrong stamps itself on my memory in a way that lasts. 

For the next several months, I didn’t change much at all.  I hammered through, using antiquated equipment, techniques that frustrated me, and processes that were unnecessarily laborious.  I wasn’t ready to make changes yet.  First, I needed to be sure I understood why things were as they were, how each process was related to the bigger picture, and what things I was blinded to, simply because I was too new and inexperienced to know what I was looking at.

The day that I started to make big changes was hard on my predecessor.  she worked in the next office over, and I could see the panic in her face as I filled the trash can to overflowing with items I now knew weren’t needed any longer.  She was kind and polite about it, but I could see she wasn’t sure that the 100 or so days I had held the position were training enough to qualify me for such a massive disposal project.  She was a person of value to me, so I tried to go gently and show respect as I pressed on, tossing things out. 

In the months after that, I was fully supported in bringing things around.  New equipment, new processes, new techniques.  I had a lot of fun, shaping and changing the position, bringing it out of the distant past and into the present. 

It is fun updating, upgrading, advancing, improving.  I imagine there are fields that this can be done quickly and with wild abandon – just a big adventure.  But in the type of work I do, a full understanding of what came before me is crucial. 

While I have made some advances in the office I where I currently work, it was not outdated when I started there.  Still, it has seemed very important to me not to change anything unless and until I understand it deeply.  I have worked there about three and a half years and I am just now finally comfortable that I know enough about the files I inherited to make some changes.  I know now how each file is related to the other files.  I understand a lot more about the history of our organization than I did when I started.  I have been through multiple rounds of the usual annual processes.  I know who shows up to ask what kinds of questions.  I know what sort of things should be held on to, and I think I have a reasonable idea which things can be let go. 

Really, doesn’t this concept apply to all of life?  It’s not at all wrong to change, upgrade, update, and try new things.  But before we throw old things out, shouldn’t we be sure we have a clear understanding of their place in the bigger picture?  Of their historical significance?  Of what might be lost next week or next year or in a decade if we let them go by the wayside? 

Maybe this doesn’t apply to anything in your life, or at least anything you can think of  For me, it’s a handy rule to keep me from making rash and regrettable decisions. 


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