what do I really bring to the table?

A great many of us, I am willing to wager, want to believe that we are doing something meaningful in life.  That whatever it is we do, it is making some kind of difference to someone.  It is quite reasonable that the “someone” is one’s supervisor, by the way, and that the “meaning” is in the quality of the work we do.  Not everyone is out saving the world.

However, there are people about whom we marvel when we consider the work being done.  The people that are, in some ways, saving the world.  Inevitably, one thinks twice about his or her own accomplishments in such situations.

Perhaps not everyone is as introspective as I am (please don’t ask me how I’m feeling when the new year or my birthday is around the corner, as I really get gloomy then).  And perhaps…though unlikely…there is a reader of this blog that has worked with cancer patients or started a school in a third world country.  The type of stuff that makes me sit back and just say “wow.”  But right now, I’m willing to bet if you took a look at the work of some of my colleagues, they would make all of us sit back for a bit.

Note – this is not a post about how I think my work is lame.  Not at all.  I enjoy my work and I do feel that I make some difference – for good – here and there.  It is a post about how much I admire the work of others.  I am incredibly lucky to call some of these people co-workers.

Look up the Northern California Innocence Project and find out more about the amazing work they do.  Look up the cases of Maurice Caldwell and Franky Carrillo.  Those are just a couple of the articles you will find in a quick search.  Both of these men were imprisoned for YEARS.  DECADES.  Wrongfully.  And, with the help of other law firms that generously donate their time, the lawyers at NCIP overturn these convictions not just on DNA but on poor defense attorneys, prosecutorial misconduct, or inaccurate “eyewitness” accounts.  This is truly inspirational material.

The other day, I was over at the NCIP offices and was joking with Paige Kaneb  – one of the supervising attorneys – about how we had purposely turned off her DVD-playing capability on her computer just to mess with her.  Totally random joke and, admittedly, the kind that I make too often (oh, you’re having problems?  that’s right, we decided to turn the internet off for you today..).  But then I thought some more about that random chat later and realized that this person, this completely accessible, friendly person that is laughing along with my poor attempt at humor helped free these two men.  Paige also mentions that she wants the DVD feature so she can watch footage from the LAPD.  So she can help free someone else.

Later that day, I’m talking with Linda Starr, the project’s Legal Director, about what kind of laptop she needs.  My questions are about how often she will be traveling with the laptop, what kind of battery life she needs, and other practical but banal items.  Linda will be using that laptop on the road, helping to poke holes in the incredibly fallible human component of our legal system.  But the laptop is just a tool used in pursuit of justice.  It’s Linda herself, her devotion, and the work that comes from that devotion that just amazes me.

Yes, part of me is feeling this sense of disproportion between my concerns about the accuracy of our equipment inventory and the work at NCIP.  I’m the little elf that keeps the machine going while Linda and Paige (and don’t get me started on Cookie Ridolfi, who is a force of nature, to say the least, and worthy of an entire blog post) make real change.  I make sure DVD players are working and talk about what kind of computer one should buy.  Maybe I get to do something “exciting” and suggest a mobile broadband hotspot so that they can help work on these cases in the field.

And even if someday I’m the president of a university, or working in strategic development in a major tech company (yes, those are my goals), part of me will still think that what I’m doing pales in comparison to anything Paige, Linda, Cookie, and others do on a daily basis.  And today, as the head of technology at the SCU Law School, my work feels somewhat narrow and tangential.

Paige, Linda, Cookie, and to all of the others at NCIP – on the odd chance you ever see this, please know that I feel lucky to be able to be the one that helps with your printers and DVD players.  And that I hope that, maybe just a little, the strategic plans I work on today for the law school’s technology future will help make your jobs easier.

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