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The Box

The Box

The box has sat on the bottom shelf of one of four tall bookshelves in my office at work for almost exactly 10 years now. It’s a standard-issue banker’s box, white with black lettering and holes at either end for handles, a bit worn in places, nothing remarkable about it other than its simple presence in a space that’s otherwise filled with the tools of my trade: institutional publications, books on writing, and promotional collateral talking up the academic programs of the graduate school that has been my professional home for over a decade now.

The box is empty.

I’ve thought about sticking it in a closet a number of times over the years, but never have. Its original purpose was to carry all of my personal things—framed family photos, a leather padfolio, and a cornucopia of knick-knacks I’ve picked up along the way that carry memories or meaning for me. The box was in my hands the day I walked into this office, and will be there again the day I walk out.

Over time, the box itself has assumed its own weight and significance. I first acquired it in 2004, in the process of moving from the interior office I had occupied for several years into the corner office formerly occupied by my boss at the large non-profit he had hired me into seven years before. It was the moment I was promoted from middle to senior management. Vice president of public affairs was the title I was assuming then. Fifteen years later, my title is executive director of communications.

On July 1, as a result of a difficult downsizing my current employer is going through, that title will disappear. I’m feeling that loss, but I’m also buoyed by the knowledge that on that date my title will revert back to the ones I’ve always cherished the most: husband, father, son, brother, friend, writer, citizen. On my last day in the office, I will pack all of my personal things into the box, again, and bring it home.

The box, I realized after it had sat on my bottom shelf for many months, is both a symbol and a reminder. Though my tenure has been lengthy with three different employers, the reality is that, in the end, jobs come and go. The things you bring to the job—skills and knowledge and values and character—are what travel with you. The items that will go back into the box again soon encapsulate everything that’s really important to know about me—photos of Karen and our children, a glass paperweight from Venice, a Buster Posey baseball card, a set of refrigerator magnets illustrated with every model of Fender guitar.

Wherever my next office might be, the box will travel there with me, a reminder that every job is an act of stewardship, a temporary role in an organization with a larger purpose that I’m there to support. It’s also a reminder that what’s important in the end isn’t a title or an office, but the experiences and talents and beliefs that give you the ability and agency and determination to make a difference. That right there is everything you need, and, I can assure you, it will all fit in one box.

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