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How a Stapler Taught Me to Take Action

It started back in 2011, on a late-fall day near the tail end of an unreasonably gloomy stretch of rain and sleet. I remember sitting in my office, acknowledging the initial stirrings of career disenchantment (a feeling not a lot unlike indigestion mixed with the way it might feel to have a missing limb; you know the leg is gone but it still hurts at night — which is obviously a wee bit disconcerting).

I was stapling a page full of mundane content to another page of equally uninteresting subject matter, and the stapler did something inexplicable: it had the nerve to run out of staples. I distinctly recall being taken aback — mildly inconvenienced, but mostly stumped. Who has staples lying around anymore?

I somehow found a box in the office supply room (probably the most fulfilling part of that day other than heating up whatever it was I brought for lunch) and carefully loaded a pristine row of 200 staples into the stapler, thinking (possibly out loud) with profundity, “I’d better not still here by the time I have to re-load this stapler.” The challenge was on. I beamed with optimism.

Move ahead to 2012, on a stunningly beautiful summer afternoon — the kind that makes corporate workers everywhere steal wistful, furtive glances out of their office windows. (Even prison inmates get a bit of yard time each day.) Sitting in my office, yet again, I remember stapling a mind-blowingly boring page to an even more mind-blowingly boring page, then feeling shocked by the sudden lack of stapling performance. Why? No more staples.

Dismayed, I reloaded my stapler, feeling a part of my soul crumble off and die. I whispered softly to my filing cabinet, “I’d better not still be here by the time I have to re-load this stapler.” Deja vu never feels good.

It then turned into 2013. Near the end of the year on an oppressively cloudy day not brave enough to just get on with it and snow, I remember sitting in my office after 8 p.m., so excited to be at the office so late! The circumstances don’t really matter here, because we know what’s coming next: I ran out of staples, again.

I resignedly re-loaded the stapler, as any remaining bits of pride oozed out of me like the hot lava of defeat. And I thought once more, “I’d better not still be here by the time I have to re-load this stapler.” My confidence was waning.

Let’s end this drama and fast-forward to today. I made it out alive in 2014 (with the help of a coach) and thankfully love what I’m doing. I somehow escape traumatic flashbacks when I re-load the stapler — which I still keep in the top right drawer of my desk at home (yes, I stole the stapler. We have a history, after all). This isn’t a tale of “hanging in there” like a poster of a kitten on a branch, or of “hanging in there” at work with blind hope as your strategy. This is really a tale of regret. I had a guttural desire for things to be better at work, and I was too busy and scared to make a change.

And then I felt worse about myself every time I let 200 staples pass me by, ultimately spending three years of my life certain it was so much better on the other side of fear but paralyzingly unsure how to get there.

I like to think I learned my lesson — that it’s just not enough to let good intentions and hope for more get me where I want to go — but I keep the stapler close to keep me honest. It represents the need to take action and to not settle, even for a single staple. I learned (and continue to remind myself) to live the life I’ve imagined by actually doing something about it, not just waiting for it to happen to me.

I wish I had done it sooner.

Jodi Wellman

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