Once or twice in the past, I have been accused of being an over-achiever. I find this to be a poor descriptor because I don't think I've achieved very much. Instead, I prefer to think of myself as someone who puts to use every moment of time that I can. Very little time is spent on TV or idle relaxation. Indeed, in addition to work, parenting, and homemaking, my leisure activities are often combined so more can be gotten out of less. Examples: Movies are enjoyed on the iPod while I lift arm weights on the stair machine at the gym. Books are read while nursing. E-mail is read and sent while I'm on conference calls.
But, the more I try to fit into less, the less truly gratifying it is. This is especially true when it comes to work. While I enjoy, for the present, being a corporate slog and working 50-hour weeks, I don't actually "see" the positive impact of my work. One must go through a long set of connections before my work in managing the development and installation of code for a corporation connects to assuaging the hurts of suffering children throughout the world.
It's at these times that I feel greatest personal satisfaction from good old fashioned manual labor. Painting a bedroom is more satisfying to me than saving $100,000 in production costs. Washing the car and cleaning the garage engenders a greater sense of completion than bringing the count of my unread e-mail down. And, lately, seeing things grow in the garden (however pitifully!) is more pleasurable than producing reports.
In this post you see a picture of a tomato plant (heavy with growing tomatoes). I made this. Well, truth be told, I'm not solely responsible for its creation since I bought the starter plant from a farmers' market and planted it. No matter how much satisfaction I derive from making things, I'm not so foolish to think that I'm attentive enough to living things to do a good job of nurturing them from seeds -- thankfully, children are capable of expressing their ire so I remember to feed and water them. Plants are not so capable.
But the point is that I did make this, with the help of my older son who helped me dig and relocate worms and lady bugs, and my husband who helped me water it, too.
This single tomato (and the ones that will follow) are, to me, a greater testimony of my worth and contributions as a human being than all the certificates of recognition received by my past employers.
This leads me to believe that corporate America can learn something from someone like me. Instead of gift cards to Best Buy and shiny gold coins and signed certificates of appreciation with accompanying recognition points (all of which can be redeemed for more stuff), perhaps we should usher in the Age of the Tomato. Produce is then awarded based on your contributions and capabilities. A sample recognition plan may look like this:
You're the Zest! Recognize with a the gift of a low-cost, easily-used condiment, like a lemon or lime, which comes with paring knife and zester. This is a spontaneous gift that could be awarded following management presentations, a corporate event, or after someone has helped you produce a report. Estimated cost, $7 or less.
Lettuce Thank You! This is for the person whose contributions are a bit more meaningful, probably designed for an experienced entry-level person or a more junior mid-range contributor. The gift would be a small bag of salad fixings, including lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radishes, and a salad dressing, along with tongs and a nice wooden bowl. For the extra special mention, this can be upgraded to include a bottle of vegetable oil (to keep the wooden bowl polished) and a substitution of the standard iceberg lettuce for some nicer dark or gourmet greens (think watercress, spinach, frisee, etc.). Estimated cost, $8-$13.
You're In-herb-spensible. For the seasoned (ha ha!) chef or exceptionally qualified nurturer, reward them with this premium gift of herb seeds with the supplies needed to create a hydroponic herb garden. This is especially appropriate for project or people managers who have made significant contributions. The hydroponic garden can be upgraded, as desired, to a Sur la Table-quality herb seed and garden kit for the senior-level management executive. Estimated cost, $20-$170.
Criteria for award includes not only the person's contributions, but also his/her corporate rank (which may determine overall gift value), and his/her abilities to produce (ha ha!).
This recognition program provides growth opportunity (ha ha! I'm killing me with the puns!), as well as truly useful gifts that allow a person to enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of gentle labor. Additionally, this is an entirely green, environmentally-sensitive program (perhaps it should give partial attribution to Al Gore or Ralph Nader) that provides healthy food into employee diets, potentially reducing health care costs.
I would market this concept, but that would contribute to more e-mail, meetings, and other less-satisfying labor. So, I release this idea into the world for all corporations to benefit. For myself, I ask only for my just desserts and hope to receive a cut of the take.