Who Am I Anyway? Am I My Résumé? *

December 24, 2009

I was born in Springfield, Illinois, a town steeped in Lincoln lore, and I’ve always felt an affinity for this President whose life held so many failures along the way to great leadership. My favorite Lincoln story is this: When he was asked how long it took him to write the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln allegedly replied, “All my life.” I am reminded of this every time I find a penny on the ground or get annoyed by their weight in my purse.

It’s easy to be impatient with my “progress” toward all the compelling goals I set for myself, and I need to be reminded that success is not always instant and that I do many things that matter whether or not they appear to count. “All my life” is many things, not simply the quantifiable evidence of accomplishment. When you’re immersed in any challenge, whether it’s school or a profession or something else, it’s easy to lose sight of the multiple things that you do that make a difference to others and to yourself.

In Follow the Yellow Brick Road, Richard Saul Wurman (1992) wrote something I immediately copied onto a 3×5 card and continue to revisit as I try to balance the expectations of the various others in my life with my own expectations of—and dreams for—myself. Here’s what Wurman wrote:

Describing your self in understandable terms–your life-work, your image of yourself, your priorities, what you would like people to think you do, what you do, and what you would like to do next–is a telling slice of reality and aspiration. We should all have a personal curriculum vitae or résumé that attempts to describe who we really are and not who we are trying to pretend to be.

Each of us does many things that are never found on a résumé, yet are integral to our value to others. For example, I am the person who keeps the lists that remind my husband and me of the daily, weekly, monthly things we need to do. I am the family rememberer. It’s not a position I particularly cherish. If I could hire a rememberer, I would. Unfortunately, all the memory aids invented still require my input. While some of my remembering may seem like nagging to those whom I remind of things that need to be done, it’s definitely the proverbial dirty job somebody has to do. When I get angry about being the listkeeper, I try to apply another favorite Lincoln quotation: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Every once in a while, this works.

Imagine that you have a dollar’s worth of pennies. Make a list that includes one thing for each penny that you do that doesn’t appear on a résumé, but is important to you and to others in your life. When you get to a hundred, remind yourself how much all of these things matter. Why imagine the pennies? They’re to help you remember that even things that seem insignificant can add up to something when they’re gathered together.

You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.
• Florida Scott Maxwell

* from A Chorus Line, lyrics by Edward Kleban


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