Monday, July 8, 2013

Taking Note of Note-Taking

An 80-page 6-by-9-inch stenographer's notebook is arguably the most valuable object I have in my possession in Washington, D.C. Surely it's worth more than my janky iPhone 4 that keeps powering off at random, or my earbud headphones that fell apart somewhere in the middle of the National Mall. Thanks to cloud computing I still have my music and photos. But it's the notes I've taken so far that I'll remember this summer by.

I take notes as much as seems socially acceptable. It's because I'm afraid of forgetting. I'm detail-oriented when I write, but I can't articulate concepts when I speak to save my life (this is why I'm no longer a Spanish minor). As an ASME intern, I meet someone new almost daily, usually in a formal meeting designed to give me career insight. Whether during lunch at another publication or a one-on-one "FaceTime" session within AARP Media, brain-picking and networking are daily activities. I'm always self-conscious that I'm writing down too much, bleeding my semi-cursive, eighth-grade-girl handwriting onto the page and hoping the other person doesn't notice how much of their advice I'm taking to heart.

The mantras these industry mentors have shared are surprisingly refreshing. These people aren't just lecturing me to start a blog or snatch up my domain name (although these are both things I've had at one time and failed to maintain). The lessons they've shared with me go beyond than the usual kernels of wisdom (or as The New Yorker editors might say, "chestnuts," as in the cutesy been there, done that ideas). A two-hour conversation with Mike Lee, AARP's senior advisor of digital strategy, made me feel like my head was spinning.

He talked about programs that are in effect right now that provide iPads to shut-in senior citizens who would otherwise remain isolated. It's a parallel to a program he's been involved with, One Laptop Per Child, which uses open-source software in kid-friendly laptops and has distributed them to every kid in Uruguay. His point was not only to convey the reach and possibilities of new media, but also to explain an integral aspect of his worldview.

Even my high school newspaper teacher used to spew mantras all the time, year after year until they seemed to lose value. We rolled our eyes every time she'd give us a borderline sermon and say, "and you can take that to the bank!" But I remember she was the first person to preach to me the importance of being both well-rounded and having a narrow focus: a "scope."

Mike Lee took it a step further. At 51 years old, he said that he's now expanded the "T-shaped person," breadth and depth philosophy to more of a "plus sign," with another branch of perspective in terms of how one can best serve humanity.

It's this type of advice that sticks out, among watching Fourth of July fireworks all across the Maryland horizon from a rooftop, celebrating 21st birthdays and visiting New York for the first time. This program is halfway over, and I'm glad I'm taking time to write things down. The gist of all the advice so far? Find out what the world (or even just your editor) needs, and make it happen.

Written By Lydia Belanger, Northwestern University, AARP The Magazine
Edited by Stanley Kay, Northwestern University, Washingtonian Magazine

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