On This American Life last week, Elna Baker did a piece on having to confess her sins to clergy for a large chunk of her life, starting in adolescence. She was taught, with a whiteboard, how we are born clean and without sin. The sins were represented by little dots drawn onto the board. Erasing the dots could only happen when one confessed, and ‘came clean’, to get their board white again.
Ms. Baker shared that this process involved revealing intensely personal information while fearing judgment to release herself of sin. This pattern of confession has affected her entire adult life. She worries about sinning all the time, and absolving herself of her sins while she’s living her life. I operate under a ‘you do you’ philosophy, so no judgment regarding sinners, or what a sin even is, or religious practices different from my own. But the story got me thinking about how I have always seen a whiteboard or as something so different. There are endless possibilities for design. That blank page could turn into anything. I use color and type and photography to make a story come alive so that it’s unrecognizable by the end. Why would I want to wipe it clean? If I did it would mean that I made a mistake.
Thinking about US being the white board makes sense too, but in no way, to me, in terms of our sins. More that we’re all born with a tabula rasa, a clean slate, and I love the idea of our life experiences filling in the picture. Bad decisions and good have made us all who were are. I have made plenty of sin-level-mistakes, especially growing up, but I learned, and continue to learn so much from them that I wouldn’t wipe them out. Maybe they fade over time, but it has to stay on the page and inform our decisions and our lives.
But the big moments, the life-changing brave strong scary moments, where we took a big risk, I want those all over my whiteboard, even if there were ugly at the time. I don’t want to lose a minute of them, because they add the bright splashes of color that remind me that my backbone is well in place and that I am strong and steady. In business, there is always room for understanding and kindness, but if I am not sure, assertive and confident in my recommendations, well then, I might as well wipe out the thousands of work hours that have taught me the lessons that brought me here.
To quote the great Mel Brooks “If you're quiet, you're not living. You've got to be noisy and colorful and lively.”