Snail Mail and a False Sense of Accomplishment

I saw an elderly gentleman walking to his mailbox the other day carrying a stack of letters in his hand. I was just able to see him place the stamped envelopes in the box with an accomplished look on his face before I drove past.

It made me think of how much I enjoy sending letters. Maybe it’s because I have a pretty significant Type-A side of my personality, but I enjoy things like sending mail, filing applications, and filling out forms. Now I don’t want to spend all day doing this stuff, but something about these physical actions of moving things forward feels very satisfying. I could say the same about making homemade soup, building a piece of furniture, or getting rid of some old junk (all of which I enjoy doing). It just feels good.

But in our digital age of email, emotional labor, and intangible work, things like “snail mail” can be a little dangerous. Now I understand that we all have to pay the bills and get stuff done that requires actual physical labor. There is nothing wrong with working with your hands and sending actual people actual stuff. The visible results make these tasks very appealing. The danger is in how easy it is for our little tasks to take the place of the other work that needs to be done. The satisfaction we get from physical tasks can be used as a cover to avoid the intangible work that ever looms above our conciousness. Have you ever had a project due and decided to vacuum the house or clean out the garage? Exactly. Much of our work has nothing to do with putting something in mail or moving things around with our hands.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re done with something, or when you can check it off of your list. A meaningful conversation with a friend, taking the time to prepare for a meeting, reading, studying, and praying are all important but very hard to quantify. Yet they have tremendous value and demand our significant investment. The fact that results/progress can be difficult to measure may make this type of work even harder than physical work, and thus less appealing. But it’s still really, really important.

Anybody can move a stack of bricks, but nobody can give the time and attention to your wife, your kids, or people that need your mentoring wisdom. So don’t forget to invest your time into things that matter, even if the progress can’t be measured by a standardized system.

“Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.” Albert Einstein


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