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A Story About How Getting Organized at Work Changed One Man's Life, for Good

Updated on October 12, 2013
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Dr. Middlebrook is a self-publishing expert, author (pen name Beax Rivers), online course developer, and former university professor.

Messy Office Causes “Near-Miss” Career Catastrophe

In this Hub, I’m going to tell you a true story that someone told me, about a man who nearly “unorganized” himself out of a job. I have a friend who once worked as an independent marketing agent for a company that had about 200 employees. For several years, my friend’s main contact at the company was a man who was very competent and capable, but also very, very messy and unorganized. Let’s call the unorganized man “Dan,” even though that is not his real name.

My friend told me that whenever he had to visit his contact at that company, Dan’s desk and office was always in a state of chaos: It always looked as though a tornado had gone through and left nothing behind except debris. Although Dan had an assistant, he wouldn’t allow her to touch any of the clutter in his office or on his desk.

One day, my friend met Dan at his office before going to lunch with him. The clutter was worse than he'd ever seen it, so my friend decided to ask Dan why he wouldn’t allow his assistant to help him clean it up, once and for all. “How could anyone find anything in such a messy office?” my friend asked. Dan said it wasn’t hard for him to find the things he needed because he knew where everything was everywhere in his office and on his desk. Then, he went on to say he was sure that if he allowed anyone to organize things, he had no doubt he would never be able to find anything he needed ever again. In other words, Dan had convinced himself that his office and desk had to remain messy in order for him to know where things were.

Sitting on Top . . . of a Mess

You need to know that Dan was the top man on his floor, so no one bothered him about the clutter, and no one ever touched anything in his office—especially not on his desk. At that time, he had been with the company he worked for two years, and everyone knew the janitor was the only person allowed to touch anything in his office, especially on his desk. And the only reason the janitor was allowed to touch anything was because he had to empty the garbage can every day.

Make no mistake, Dan was very smart when it came to his work. He was well respected in the company because he was very good at his job, and even though he listened to and heeded the voice in his head that assured him his office had to remain in the state it was in, my friend found out at lunch that day that Dan was actually ashamed of his messy office. In fact, he said it embarrassed him so much sometime that he kept his door closed whenever the company president was going to be on his floor.

Dan explained how he always met with the company’s top boss in his floor’s conference room because he never wanted the president to see how messy he kept his office. You see, Dan had heard through the company grapevine that the president, who had a reputation for being a “neat freak,” had once fired someone just because they kept a messy office. That day at lunch Dan told my friend he often wondered if he had allowed the clutter in his office to become a “career hazard,” but was still afraid he'd lose his effectiveness if he allowed anyone to move things around. He said he worked well knowing where things were and didn't want to have to spend time learning a new system.

My friend found out at lunch that day that Dan was actually ashamed of his messy office.
My friend found out at lunch that day that Dan was actually ashamed of his messy office.

Gone a Moment Too Long ...

Months after that lunch meeting, one day Dan stepped away from his office for what he thought would be a brief stop in a co-worker’s office. But the chat was interrupted by a phone call from the company president’s office. All of a sudden everyone in Dan’s department had to gather in the floor’s conference room to talk about a big problem that had arisen suddenly, and his department had to deal with it immediately.

Before long, the discussion became an important meeting and Dan had to ask his assistant to go and get some papers and charts from his office that he’d been working on for a completely different presentation. As it turned out, what he’d been working on just happened to be exactly what he needed to use to show everyone the best way to solve the problem at hand. In her rush to get the presentation materials, Dan’s assistant left her boss’s door open. A few minutes later, while both she and Dan were away from the area, the president walked by on his way to the same meeting, and he looked in and saw the mess in Dan’s office.

As he walked into the meeting the president remarked to Dan about the mess he’d seen when he peeked in looking for him in his office. Dan said he felt like his stomach jumped into his throat, making him very uncomfortable. It was hard for him to hold his head up for the remainder of the meeting. He was so ashamed that for the rest of the time he was there he only looked up when he had to speak. At one point, he had to rise to give a brief talk using the presentation boards and charts he’d had his assistant bring to him. After that, he dropped his head in shame, worried that he’d be fired once the meeting was over.

Problem Solved?

After the meeting, everyone--led by the company president, congratulated Dan on the ideas and strategies he had presented during his talk; ideas that, eventually, helped Dan get a promotion to vice president at that company. You see, what Dan presented that day helped the company solve a big and costly problem that had cropped up suddenly and unexpectedly. His quick thinking ended up saving the company lots of money that, down the road, would surely amount to double-digit millions of dollars saved.

Dan later told my friend that on that day, he couldn’t even hear the words of praise that were being heaped upon him. He said the only thing he could hear or focus on were the words the president had uttered as he had come into the room, about the mess he’d seen when he’d peeked inside his office.

When things settled down that day, Dan went back to his office vowing that from that day on, he would keep a neat office. He would get it organized and keep it that way. Never again would he allow something he had complete control over to cause him so much humiliation. After that meeting, with the help of his assistant Dan spent the rest of the day working on straightening up his office. Before the day was over, his once messy office was neat and clean, and there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

Another Visit, Another Chance

Early the next morning, the president stopped by Dan’s office to congratulate him once again on the tremendous and strategic cost saving measures he’d proposed, and on helping to save the company’s image in the industry in which it competed. Dan told my friend that on that day, he had met the president at the door of his office with his head held high, and that after a confident, hearty handshake, he had proudly invited the man to come inside.

This time, Dan said, when the president looked around the office, he remarked about how neat and organized it was. Then he turned to Dan and said, “I suppose you had to tear the place apart yesterday when you were getting ready for that impromptu presentation, but based on the ideas and strategies you came up with, well, I suppose it was well worth all that disarray!”

Dan never again allowed his inner voice to talk him into keeping a messy office. My friend tells me that, to this day, if you were to pass by Dan’s office, you would find it amongst the neatest, most organized offices in the building where he now works. Oh yeah—he doesn’t work for the same company anymore. After two more years there, he accepted an executive VP position at a much larger company, and that’s where he is now, still holding his head high. Not just because he wins awards and accolades for his work, but because when people stop by his office, they always complement him on how neat and organized he is!

The Sharper Points of This Story

Dan was already a star at work, even before the day of the impromptu meeting. But he allowed the clutter he kept in his office to keep him from feeling like one. If there is something about you that makes you feel unworthy, you should do something about it. Change it. Don’t listen to self-talk that works to keep you feeling unworthy.To maintain healthy self-esteem and respect from coworkers, I believe it is important to make sure that your self-talk at work is not talking you out of doing the right things, believing in yourself, and having and demonstrating respect for yourself and your abilities.

Think about it. If you love yourself, believe in yourself, and have respect for yourself, then there is no reason you should not have confidence in you. When you do what it takes to have confidence in you, you will give your all to any endeavor you choose to engage in, and you will do your best to engage in activities you know will enable you to shine. You may not be able to always get the outcome you want from everything you do, but you can always get what you want from you. And that alone is a great reward and a great accomplishment—to know that you have given something your all.

Dan learned not only that keeping his office organized was a way to impress his boss at his old company, he also found out that it made him feel better about himself. And, he learned to not allow his external circumstances or his immediate situation to influence his opinion of himself, no matter what, as a person of value and worth. He was the same capable guy, before and after he organized his office, but organizing made him look like the star he already knew he was.

One lesson we can learn from Dan's story is that once you become aware of negative thoughts you might be harboring about you, or thoughts you have that might be holding you back from accomplishing a goal you have, then you should immediately quarantine and question those thoughts. After that, you should begin to counter any negative thoughts with positive, encouraging self-talk that can lead you closer to accomplishing your goals by helping you gain all the self-respect and confidence that you need to have inside, and that you deserve--from you.

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