I’m in the process of setting up a new office for my consulting work with Youth Catalytics. It feels like such a luxury to be escaping a cluttered home office space for a stand-alone suite across town. This move holds untold promise for me: no more shoving my partner’s papers, pencils, decking screws (??) and business cards off my side of the desk each morning; no more fighting the urge to switch a load of laundry in between emails; no more mental energy-drain from blocking out the toddler glee in the background; no more completing half a day’s work while still in my pajamas and then frantically showering before a Skype video call—wait, I’ll kind of miss that last one.
Once I got beyond envisioning how very organized and tidy my new space would be—which, if you know me well, you know gets me very excited—and how much more efficient and brilliant my work would become, I started to wonder what I really need to fuel this kind of work. What elements beyond the practical ‘tools of the trade’ must absolutely be brought into this space? As much as I love my poetry magnets and the smattering of inspirational quotes and edgy political bumper stickers that grace the filing cabinet, would they be enough to inspire me, to connect me every day to what drives my work? And what is that exactly?
I don’t know if it’s cliché to say, but honestly, the reason I sit at my computer every day and read and research and write and develop is because I know there are young people out there suffering. I know because I’ve met them. I know because I see them; in every town I live in or drive through, there are teens walking around thinking no one really cares about them. And that no one should bother to anyway. And while I occasionally worry that having left the drop-in center and the shelter to consult is a shift akin to ‘selling out,’ most of the time I’m confident that using my skills to support direct service workers means I’m still, in some way, there.
Packing up my old files and rifling through papers, I came across the perfect centerpiece for my new office. It’s an old drawing, from ten years ago, done in black ink and torn carelessly from a spiral-bound notebook. It was a rough draft of a contest entry for the annual youth conference logo. It was kicked around a few different offices at the agency where I used to work and then given to me by a coworker on my last day. It’s a caricature of a funny, talented and intelligent young man and his friends as they looked each day, shuffling into the drop-in center.
I love it; I always have. It’s such a close representation that, of course, it reminds me of them. It also reminds me to look for young people’s hidden gifts, to respect them as contributors. But what makes this drawing perfect and real for me is that scrawled at the bottom, is the artist’s own commentary that, ‘By the way… This is sh*t!’ His inability to just let it stand, to let it be amazing, to let himself be praised, that’s what it’s all about for me. Next time I run into him, I’m going to thank him for shaping this new space, in my office and in me.
~ Jen Smith, Research Associate