Tchotchke. Great word, right? It’s fun to say. Yet its arrangement of letters is so nasty I suspect it’s used as a spelling bee tie-breaker. Still, being that I’m in marketing, I’ve heard the word tchotchke spoken thousands of times. That, along with bauble, trinket, novelty item, etc. I even remember an old school “ad guy” named Al who called on me as a client nearly 20 years ago claiming, “I gotta ‘gimmick’ for ya.”
Call them whatever you want, tchotchkes are giveaways. They are the free bait at trade shows. They are the honey that attracts a swarm of spendthrifts at events. I’m one of them.
I have a “chip clip” with a furniture store’s name on it. I’ve seen squishy stress balls promoting a local garden nursery. Tchotchkes are typically the items given away that companies hope will make their names memorable, yet have absolutely, unequivocally nothing to do with the product or service being sold. It’s no wonder the words tchotchkes and crap are often used interchangeably. But I argue that there are tchotchkes that carry a great deal of value. Many of them are proudly displayed at my place of work.
It wasn’t always the case that I surrounded myself with these treasures. Prior to that I held positions where I worried that having “crap” on my desk could be perceived as less than professional. I was a leader for cryin’ out loud. Leaders don’t have time to play with crap. I was an executive set forth to carry out the mission of the company. Sending a message that I was anything but serious about my responsibilities I feared could be career suicide. I mean, God forbid I have a tchotchke in my workspace that would reveal a bit of my personality. Acting as the talented Ms. Ripley (see my first blog post for reference), I felt I must personify the values of the organization. Having “worthless crap” surrounding my computer might expose an unseen side of me and provide a window to a personal weakness. AAAAHHHHHH!
That was me before. This is me after.
That’s right. A fearless warrior princess. She’s one of my tchotchkes that resides right underneath my computer screen. Serving as her podium is my therapy die. I roll it on rough days to see what type of therapy I should seek. Retail? Aromatherapy? Aspirin? Prozac? It just so happens on the day I took this picture, vodka was the answer to my problems. (Is there a time when it isn’t?) Here are some of the other decorative baubles that bless my work home:
What made me change my mind and showcase these beautiful gems? One reason is that I’m older now. I’ve learned from Dr. Suess to be myself. “Because the people who matter don’t mind, and the people who mind don’t matter.” I also display these riches because they serve as reminders. Each of them brings about a memory. And some, more than others, serve a distinct purpose.
The warrior princess was given to me by a co-worker when I was having a particularly bad day. I was struggling with a number of issues, personal and professional. And while my fellow comrade wasn’t aware of my internal strife, he bestowed upon me this warrior princess to help me fight through the day. He said she reminded him of me. I laughed when I received it so she had already begun to release her power. But long after my smile subsided, the symbol of what she represented stuck with me. Still today I keep her front and center as a constant reminder that no matter what challenge I may face, I have my faith and strength to fight it.
The desk-top dodge ball characters you see in the main picture above were a Christmas gift. They sit behind my desk in the direct line of sight of my office visitors. The dodge ball set was given to me by my brother and sister-in-law. Those two get my sense of humor. And seeing the set’s wooden blockheads every day reminds me that despite my family knowing how odd I can be, they love me anyway.
The cow? Well, the cow with the ball in its snout serves a dual purpose. For one, it reminds me of a woman I worked with who owned the cow’s arch nemesis – the pig with a ball in its snout. She was a fellow vice president who had excelled in our industry for 20+ years. She orchestrated our operations with a great mind built for business. She also knew the importance of balancing work with fun. She debuted the pig gun at a strategic planning retreat. She strategically shot me in the butt while I stood writing on a white board. We were a small leadership group facing some large pressures and the pig gun brought some welcome levity. It was a good reminder that while we were dealing with serious business, it was still just business.
The cow also serves the purpose of providing insight about my office visitors. I challenge some to use it and shoot at the dodge ball figurines. Their response tells me quite a bit. Some grab the cow right away and take aim. Others shy away with a look at me that says, “Really?” And in those brief moments, like the book Blink explains, I’ve gotten a quick, yet telling, glimpse of their personality.
So, you see, while some have chalked tchotchkes up to being worthless pieces of crap that serve no purpose, I disagree. Tchotchkes can mean a lot to people. They can serve as inspiration and provide valuable insight. They can reveal hints about our co-workers’ hobbies. They can show a person’s creativity and sense of humor, or maybe lack thereof. They can even tell about a person’s priorities. Perhaps most importantly, tchotchkes serve as much needed reminders for all of us that there is more to value in life than a paycheck. And for these reasons, my view of tchotchkes changed. While they may be cheap, I now consider many to be priceless.