Over the holiday break my family was in Florida, making the perhaps-poor decision to visit Universals’ Islands of Adventure Theme Park in Orlando between Christmas and New Year’s. As it turns out, this is the busiest week in the year and on the day we went, the park was so crowded that they stopped selling tickets at about noon.
The shortest wait time was about 70 min for any attraction (except the Hulk coaster which only attracted a few hardy souls who love 4G’s upside down – no, not the cell phone kind). As you might imagine, there were a lot of unhappy and cranky visitors that day.
One of the memorable experiences had to do with a visit to the ladies’ room by my wife and our daughter in law. Ladies, you can imagine the mob scene, with lines out the door, and more chaos than anyone should have to endure to address a bodily function. In this particular restroom, Mary and Lisa encountered a Universal employee named Tina. She was the attendant in that rest room. (Here is what I think her job description was, from the Universal Studios web site.) What amazed them was how she performed her work. She was boundless in her energy and enthusiasm. She was directing ladies to the next available stall, telling people that she would hold their bags, and even watch their kids while they went inside. With eagle-like attentiveness, she scanned the scene, provided direction, told jokes, and provided a refreshing level of service to masses of tired park-goers. She did this with pride, energy, and caring.
Tina was a blond-haired woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s. I have no idea what Tina’s pay grade was at Universal, but I can’t imagine many people aspiring to be where she was at that stage in her life. But if she had any misgivings, you surely couldn’t see them. You saw a sparkle in her eyes, a bright smile, and a sincerity in her voice that my family talked about a lot that evening over dinner. Tina had left an impression.
This episode also reminded me of my grandfather, who in his late 60’s took a job as janitor in the High School I was attending. I think he was just looking for something that allowed him to stay active. Back in Poland when he was younger, he was a school teacher himself, and I think he liked being around young people. Since he was old, and didn’t speak English well, he was a source of amusement for my then-classmates. The kids would sometimes make messes deliberately – just to see him come around with his mop, bucket and waste bin. Even while being taunted or made fun of, he just held his head high, as he continued to sweep or to mop.
I sort of felt embarrassed about this situation at the time, and one day I asked him about his job, and if he knew that the kids were making fun of him. I wanted to understand how he felt about the job and why he did it. When I thought about how Tina had made such an impression on my wife and daughter, I remembered what my grandfather told me during that awkward conversation. When I asked him why he took a job that was beneath him . . . he thought for a moment and then looked at me with his piercing green eyes, as he replied . . . “I believe” he said, “that there is honor in any job if you do it to the best of your ability. The honor”, he continued, “does not come from the job, it comes from here” (as he pointed to his chest).
For most of us, jobs matter. I think it is fair to say that for many of us our job IS our complete identity as an adult. If someone asks us who we are or what we do, we mostly describe our job title and who we work for. Job titles seem to matter. They define our status, our measure of our contribution to society, and seemingly define our worth as people. These are notions that I think are well worth challenging.
Sometimes we can be disappointed that we didn’t get a promotion, or a raise, or a bonus. It can let the air out of us a little. But these have little to do with honor or value . . . and shouldn’t have much to do with how we choose to do our jobs.