On being ... smater than the average bear

By Ingrid Sapona

Did you know you there’s such a thing as square-bottomed, extra capacity hanging file folders? Well, I discovered them this week – and they’re great! I know this “discovery” might not seem a likely topic for On being…, but in the process of finding the file folders, I discovered a little something about myself too.

A couple weeks ago I decided to replace two wooden storage boxes in my office with a small (two-drawer) wood filing cabinet. The boxes were attractive and sturdy enough to support my printer, but I was getting tired of having to move the printer every time I wanted to get something from the boxes.

The cabinet required assembly, but it was a piece of cake. Per the instructions, the last step was to attach metal edges along the drawer tops to accommodate hanging files. Though I dutifully attached them, I thought it was a waste because I had no intention of hanging files in the drawers.  I’d be using the drawers basically for storage and not all the things I planned on keeping in them were files.

After assembling it and admiring the new addition to my office, I began filling the drawers with paperwork, journals, brochures, etc. The shapes and sizes of the things I put in the filing cabinet were not uniform and certainly not all suitable for regular files, and I noticed that they were – as paper tends to be – heavy.

Though the drawers felt sturdy, I couldn’t help think about the problems I’ve had with the bottoms of another filing cabinet that’s made of similar material. Over time the drawer bottoms of that cabinet sagged under the weight of the contents, making it hard to get the drawers open and eventually giving way completely. I managed to figure out a way to shore up the bottoms, but I have to be very careful with them. As I finished filling the drawers of my new cabinet, I decided that maybe I should give the hanging file idea more thought.  

So, yesterday I went to buy some hanging file folders. I thought the decision would boil down to letter or legal size and maybe colour. Little did I realize the variety available or that someone had invented hanging files that are designed to hold non-standard things like binders. As I hung them and carefully placed stuff in them, I couldn’t believe how sturdy they are and how much easier it is to get at different things. When I was done, I was mad with myself for having resisted the idea of hanging files before, without even looking into the option.

In thinking about it, I realized I rejected the manufacturer’s suggestion because I thought I knew better. I figured they recommended using hanging folders because they’re more modern than the old-fashioned ones and because they assume that folks only use the drawer for files. I decided that, clearly, the recommendation wasn’t meant for those who use the filing cabinet as a place to store things that don’t all fit neatly into traditional file folders. So I did it my way all these years. And, when the file drawer bottoms sagged, I rationalized that it was because they were cheaply made.

After I realized my previous filing cabinet problems were a result of my substituting my judgment for the manufacturer’s, I immediate remembered another similar incident. For years I had a slow draining shower. I tried all sorts of things, including chemical clog-busting products. Invariably they’d help a wee bit for a few days, but the difference was minimal. Eventually I came to the conclusion that there must be some Z-shaped pipe that simply caused the water to drain slowly. My bathroom sink also drained slowly and in that case I became convinced the shape of the pipe trapped air and that the water drained slowly until the air pocket popped.

Anyway, one day I saw a new, super-strength clog-buster and I figured I’d try it. The instructions said to use the entire bottle at once. That seemed like overkill to me. After all, my drain wasn’t completely clogged – it was just slow in draining. Surely the instructions were for situations where the drain was completely blocked, not for cases like mine.

But, figuring this wasn’t the first time I’d be pouring money down the drain, I decided to follow the directions, rather than my reasoned judgment. The results were amazing. The shower drains as though it is new – and it’s been that way for six months. The difference was so dramatic, I bought another bottle to use in the bathroom sink.

Despite the fantastic results I had with the tub, when I went to use it on the sink, I still hesitated about using the whole bottle. But again, rather uncharacteristically, I decided to defer to the manufacturer and poured away. The results were equally unbelievable. (All I can say is there must be some amazing air-bubble bursting ingredients in that bottle!)

Yogi Bear was a popular cartoon when I was young and a friend used to always tell me I was like Yogi: smarter than the average bear. To this day, whenever I come up with what I think is the definitive explanation for something (like the air in the damned bathroom sink that caused the slow drain, or the cheapness of the file drawer bottoms being the reason they sagged) or when I come up with a clever solution to a problem (like the way I shored up the sagging drawer bottoms), I pat myself on the back, knowing I AM smarter than the average bear.

But every now and then some discovery reminds me of the undeniable fact that being smarter than the average bear means there are bears who are smarter than me and their way of doing things is at least worth a try.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... a note to self

By Ingrid Sapona

Writing a letter to your “teenage self” is quite popular these days. The idea is to write from where you are now to the person you were as a teen, offering advice based on insights you’ve learned from living your life.

Such letters have also become a popular way of dispensing wisdom and advice. CBS Morning News occasionally features “Note to Self” pieces by well-known people. The theory, I guess, is that these famous folks have insights into their own lives that the rest of us can learn from. The CBS pieces are usually interesting, though not necessarily because of what you might learn from the person featured but because of what you might learn about them and their life. But, ultimately, I think the true value of the “note to self” letter comes from actually sitting down and writing one. It seems like a great way to take stock of your life and the lessons you’ve learned from various experiences.

But that’s not the only kind of “note to self” I’ve been thinking about lately. A resignation letter that appeared in the newsletter of an organization I belong to got me thinking about what can happen when someone “takes note” of a dream or vision they have – even if the notice they take is fleeting or seemingly inconsequential.

The resignation was written by Juliette (not her real name), the manager of the organization. After saying how much she enjoyed the work and the people – and how much she’ll miss it – she explained her reason for leaving. Seems she and her husband have bought a boat that they’ll be sailing south on and living aboard in the Caribbean. Other than the fact that Juliette is 20+ years shy of what most people think of as retirement age (her husband is closer to the traditional retirement age), the story isn’t particularly unusual – at least not in my social circles.   

But, what really got me thinking was a story she closed the letter with. She mentioned that in her university yearbook – in response to the question of what she saw in her future – she wrote: “buy a boat, sail into the sunset, and return to shore only for supplies and Jimmy Buffett concerts”.

Given the reference to Jimmy Buffett and the hackneyed “sailing into the sunset” comment, I thought she was probably joking. But, the next time I saw her, I couldn’t resist asking if that story was true. Laughing about how many folks have asked her about it, she confirmed that, in fact, that’s what she wrote in the yearbook. In talking with her, it was clear that even she seemed surprised at the turn of events that have led her to this next chapter of her life, as she put it.

One of the reasons I like that story is because it speaks to the power of putting visions – dreams – into words. My guess is that what she wrote in the yearbook she meant more as a humorous response than as a comment on her life goals. And yet, the future she wrote about has come to pass. Though I don’t know her too well, I certainly don’t think she single-mindedly pursued that “dream”. Instead, she probably simply went on with her life. But, by putting the idea out there – even rather lightheartedly – on some level her subconscious acknowledged it and led her to choices that have resulted in her sailing off into the sunset.

The story also resonated with me because it reminded me of a vision I had when I was 17 about where I would end up. It happened one day when my parents and I were visiting Toronto from Buffalo. I was standing in the square in front of Toronto city hall and all of a sudden I thought: “this would be a good city for me to live in some day – a place I’d be happy”. Talk about a note to self!

Though the thought definitely registered, it seemed a far-fetched idea and so I ignored it and got on with life. I went to university and grad school and then started my career. But, looking back, I can see a lot of little steps and choices I made along the way that created the pathway that brought me to Toronto – a place I am, indeed, happy.

What about you? Any notes to self that your subconscious might be quietly working on? Don’t know? Well, maybe you should dig out your year book…

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona