What’s in a piece of paper?

Forget the Paperless Society — It just doesn’t exist!

Documentation and Certification today are big, big business. With each passing year we spend a higher percentage of our time talking (and writing about what we do) to prove that we can do what we do every day of our lives.

It took me a full month recently proving that I am a self-employed writer and that I’ve been working in this capacity for more than 40 years. In the process I dredged up samples of work I’d forgotten I’d done and re-discovered college classes I took more than 40 years ago.

It may have been a blessing that I failed to find proof of work I did in the first five years of my career… lost in a move from one part of the country to another or or when my storage area was flooded. What to do about those five years? Well, I can claim to be five years younger — or someone will have to believe that I’m telling the truth when I recount those accomplishments.

There was a time I believed that what I have in my head and what I do (or can learn) right now is more important than what I did in the past. That diploma — the piece of paper that said I passed some classes — didn’t mean a thing to me at the time. I was too busy soaking up all the knowledge I could. When I first learned to write resumes they were considered past history…employers didn’t care about that. They wanted to know what I could do for them in the future. When I first started writing for a living as a cub reporter and feature writer, it was drummed into me that “nobody cares about you or what you think or do”.

When I established my business — and subsequently paid my corporate fees and taxes — I thought it was proof enough that my business was me and I am real. But, no. I just spent a full month proving that I am a business and that I am a female earning living by the sweat of my own brow for lo these many years.

Things have changed. Today if you can’t document everything — prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ve “been there, done that” — you may have a serious problem with credibility. Too many have made false claims and have padded documentation to the point where few are willing to trust each other any more. It’s a sad state of affairs. The rules have clearly changed through the years.

When creative people do business they really MUST document every project, every experience, every step of their development. A word to the wise, for those who are just starting their careers: Save everything…. save multiple copies of everything…and keep a chronological log of everything you do. Here’s just a start:

1. All personal information, of course, birth, marriage and death certificates, social security cards, every address you’ve ever lived at and phone number you’ve ever used. Don’t forget your tax documents and receipts.

2. College transcripts and diploma.

3. Proof positive that you’ve attended every workshop, seminar, informational meeting and advanced educational opportunity .

4. An ever increasing list of all vendors, creditors and customers you do business with…the bigger the better…name recognition is everything. Never mind that many will fade away, move or die through the years so the largest portion of these names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses will be obsolete. When you need them.

4. Samples of your work — doesn’t matter what it is. Save it! Not just 1-2 copies, you probably should save 30-50 copies of everything — for all those who absolutely must have samples of your work before they will talk with you. Hmm…I’m down to the last copy of too many of the projects I’ve managed to save copies for. (Let’s make that 75 – 100 copies of each because actuary tables say you’ll live and work even longer than I.

NOTE: Put one copy into a permanent portfolio of some sort – something you can carry with you to appointments. Do some serious work here. You want a portfolio that is big enough to hold books and full-scale newspaper pages (if these are what you do). And you want something that will last a good 40-50 years of heavy handling. Failing that, you’re going to be constantly upgrading this official display of your work.

Be sure that everything you save is on Archival paper and printed with fade-proof ink. Popular papers and inks over the past 20-30 years haven’t stood the test of time.

If you work on such things as eBooks, websites and digital photography, be sure you save samples of these too… both paper and digital. Many will morph over the years others may simply disappear with the stroke of a delete key. So you will not be able to prove your creativity unless you’ve saved samples. You can start with CDs and DVDs if you’re just starting out. But be aware that media changes over time. I lost some pretty incredible work when I moved, without thinking, to a new computer that didn’t have a diskette driver. You’ll probably go through a half dozen computers in your lifetime and if you’re not careful to save to a universal format of some sort — and update before moving into new technology — you may well find yourself with nothing useable when you need it.

Now, be prepared. You’re going to need to keep all this precious stuff somewhere. Plan to buy or rent a residence that has an extra room if at all possible. I made the mistake of trusting storage areas…don’t! If you’re single you may be fortunate enough to stack stuff in your bedroom and living room. I now have 15 cardboard boxes and a four-drawer file cabinet filled with samples. Much of it has been moved across country 3-4 times.

What’s sad about all this? In days gone by, I was taught that a diploma and college graduation was nothing more than your authorization to go forth and begin learning and doing.

I could have written a book in the month I spent documenting what I have done in the last 30 some odd years. There was a time when I wrote articles and had even forgotten about them once they went to press… because I was already working on the next project. Now that my energy (and so much time) is spent re-building written proof for one or another potential client or government agency, that book will have to sit on my stack of things to do….until I finish documenting yet one more time what I’ve done for someone else.

Author: 7577JMM

Retired - Published Author, Editor, Webmistress, Artist, Musician