Memories (and lessons) in a manilla folder

4 minute read article Leadership   Technology   Wisdom Comments

I have a manilla folder that’s been following me around for years. I’ll find it, laugh at the memories (or cringe), then put it away and forget about it. Years later, I’ll find it again and the same thing happens. The only thing written on the folder is my name.

I found it again today while my wife and I were organizing things in the storage unit we’ve had since moving into our current home in 2019. The old house was bigger. The new house we purchased in 2019 is smaller, so much of our stuff has remained in storage because we know this isn’t our forever home.

Getting Organized

The storage unit has been a mess since we moved my dad closer to us late last year. He had some things that wouldn’t fit in his apartment, things he didn’t want to get rid of, so…into storage they went. If you’re paying attention you’ll notice that my family likes to keep stuff around. As an example, my mom recently gave me a bunch of drawings and papers from my elementary school years. I still have home-ec and shop projects I made in high school in the late 80s.

Our project in the storage unit was to get all of his stuff in one place, and make our stuff more accessible. The intent was NOT to go through boxes and Rubbermaid totes, but it was hard to resist. I opened one, saw the folder, and immediately knew what it was. It came home with us.

Reflections of a younger me

The manilla folder has been around since the late 90s. I know this because much of the material was pinned to my cubicle wall while I worked with a small, amazing team in Grand Rapids, MI from 1997 until 2000. Many of the things are dated between those years.

The manilla folder with my name on it

In those early years, I was young, cocky, and thought I had all the answers. Trust me when I say I am grateful that I learned some hard lessons because of my attitude, but the 51-year old me is a bit embarrassed to think about some of the shenanigans I pulled back then.

There is a big “Do not disturb” sign I printed.

Do not disburb!

There are lots of Dilbert cartoons I clipped from newspapers, and some I printed. The newspaper has yellowed over time, but the humor of Scott Adams still hits.

A Dilbert cartoon from November 18, 1999

A Dilbert cartoon from sometime in 1998

There are quotes from famous people. BTW, feelings you may have about Nixon aside, it’s a solid sentiment.

Let us being by committing ourselves to the truth - to see it like it is, to tell it like it is - to find the truth, to speak the truth, and to live the truth.

There’s a sheet that has a snippet of lyrics from a great Metallica song. This one got me in “trouble”, but that’s another story.

A piece of paper that says don't waste your breath on me and I won't waste my hate on you

The last “new” material looks to be from 2005 when I worked for a pretty dysfunctional company in my home town. I doubt any of it was out in the open at that job because we were only allowed to have five personal items on our desk. Oh, and we were NOT allowed to put our coats on the back of our chairs. We just had to ignore the HR Directors office with the dozens of pictures, the plants, the sweater hanging on the back of her chair. Mmmmhmmm.

This is one of the Dilbert’s from that timeframe:

A Dilbert from sometime in 2005

Problem Solving

As I was reading through everything today, one piece of paper jumped out at me. Now that I see it (again), I vaguely remember it. I have no idea what timeframe I printed it, but it was something I must have pulled from a book, or maybe a blog. No matter the source, it’s good advice, especially given my last few posts (see this, this, and this).

It says:

Explain the problem

Describe any solutions, including pros and cons of each solution.

Suggest a course of action and explain why that course of action is best

A sheet of paper that says Explain the problem, describe any solutions, including pros and cons of each solution, and suggest a course of action and explain what that course of action is best

Good stuff, right?

This one is going back up in my office. I know I struggle with jumping right into a single solution without fully understanding the problem. Getting clarity is important, and explaining a problem is a great way to gain clarity. It’s also important to think about multiple solutions to a problem and then consider the pros and cons of each.

During that 97-2000 gig, the team had one of the best developers I’ve ever worked with. Pete could look at any problem, come up with those pros and cons and suggest a course of action before many of us even had a chance to fully understand the problem.

Waitasec! PTA+

Going back to yesterday’s “Pause, Think, Act” post, these three new steps can easily fit within the “Pause and Think” stage.


Think: Understand the problem. Think: Come up with solutions along with pros and cons for each.

Act: Suggest a course of action and explain why that course of action is best.

I’m grateful I found this folder (again). Not only did I enjoy reading the old Dilbert (and FoxTrot) strips, but seeing the quotes and signs (and some things I didn’t mention) was fun.

Now I gotta figure out where to bury this folder so I can “find” it again in a few years!

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