Nothing is important
In the office
I’ve worked from home for just over twenty years (Dim Sum Thinking turned twenty years old on July 12).
I love it.
Kim, who was much smarter than I, used to insist that I meet friends for coffee at least once a day when I was home.
She was amazing in many ways. She never asked, “what are you thinking?”
She knew that often the answer was “nothing”.
“Nothing” didn’t mean that I was literally thinking of nothing. It meant that it wasn’t worth saying out loud. Or I would have.
We could just sit together and happily think of our different nothings together.
So what did I talk about with the friends and co-workers I met for coffee?
If it wasn’t nothing, of course I would tell her. Maybe I’d even tell you.
Scheduling a meeting
Sometimes I’d work a contract where I had to go into an office now and then. On several contracts I would have to fly to the west coast and spend a week in the office with colleagues.
I was always shocked at how little work I got done while I was on site.
That didn’t mean it wasn’t valuable. It was incredibly valuable to have coffee or lunch or take walks with colleagues. It was great to catch up with with friends and former colleagues for dinner.
Even the actual work was great. In one job we would knock off a bunch of tasks while I was in town because my availability became the excuse others could use to focus on the tasks that I was working on. When I was remote, they were busy with a ton of other tasks.
Oh my goodness and the meetings. The regular meetings that ran every week at a set time.
In one job I would finish a meeting with a room full of people and most of us would wrap up only to all go to another meeting.
The meetings were essentially about something but they didn’t seem to really be about anything important. It seemed that fewer people needed to be there than were and that fewer minutes could have been spent doing what was done.
It’s not that we did nothing. In a way it was worse than nothing.
We didn’t do anything.
We would have been better off doing nothing.
Early in the pandemic one of my friends suggested we FaceTime regularly and so Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 8:30 we pause our work and have a cup of coffee together even though we’re hundreds of miles apart.
“What do you talk about,” his wife asked when they visited a couple weeks ago for one of those sit-in-the-backyard-twenty-feet-apart get-togethers. It wasn’t that she wanted to know. It was more that she was wondering what could have possibly happened since the last meeting that we needed to talk about.
He and I looked at each other and shrugged.
“Nothing really,” he said.
What do we talk to each other about?
Politics. Cooking. Articles we’ve seen or heard.
Lately, we’ve talked a lot about home-made yogurt. I’ve been making dairy yogurt while he’s been experimenting with oat milk yogurt. I’m planning on trying it so I have a lot of questions.
So, he’s right, nothing.
That, I would argue is the point. And that is what’s missing for a lot of us right now.
Understanding the value of nothing
I think that this has been one of the biggest things I’ve learned during the pandemic:
Nothing is important.
I’m not saying that there isn’t anything that is important, I’m saying that those moments of nothing are very important.
Find time this week to reach out to at least three different people just to catch up.
If it can’t be in person, how about a phone call or video call.
If it’s a text message or an email make it five different people.
If it’s a physical hand written letter or card, one is enough to achieve your goal, but I’m betting that if you choose this option you’ll go on to satisfy one of the other ones as well.
Imagine their surprise.
Why did you call? Why are you writing to me?
What’s wrong? What’s happened?
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 18. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe