It’s Not The job, It’s How You Do It That Counts

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.



Filed under Leading, Personal Leadership

4 responses to “It’s Not The job, It’s How You Do It That Counts

  1. Jim Sullivan

    Thanks for the story on Disney and the “dignity of work” philosophy of Tina and your grandfather.

    It reminded me of a family trip to Disney with my wife and our 4 children several years ago, who all were under 10 at the time. We arrived on a Florida-sweltering day in June, only to find that our room would not be ready for several hours. We were staying “on property” at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. We arrived and were escorted to a changing area where we could access clothes to hit the park with our kids! They were ready to go. We placed our bags back in the storage area, next to the bell captains stand for arriving guests. They were swamped with arriving families and what could have erupted with short-tempered tourists was handled with diplomatic calm and grace. I noticed a sign next to the exit door leading from the bag storage area to the front arrival pull-in area for the arriving guests. The sign simply read “Stage Entrance”. Even though this was 15 years ago, I have never forgotten that simple message that was imparted to the Disney staff.



  2. Andrea Laudat Blackmon

    Len and Jim thanks for sharing your Disney stories. Len, the situation with your dad at the school made me think about my mother who left the Caribbean Island of Dominica at the age of 19 with a teacher’s license. She made her way to England where the only job she could get in 1959 was a Nurses Aide in a London Hospital. There she met my dad who was also from Dominica and had three children. 35 years later at the age of 67 she retired from her position as a Nurses Aide at a retirement facility in Cincinnati, OH. I asked my mom how she could get up everyday at 5:30 a.m. for 35 years to go to a job that involved lifting, feeding and cleaning seniors. My mom shared with me that the reason that she was able to do her job every day for 35 years is that she knew that she was providing the best care possible to these people who were often neglected by their families and mishandled by the younger employees. She was comforted by the fact that in her care they were well taken care of and it made a physically unbearable job much more bearable.

  3. I think you have just uncovered a flaw in our value system. There was a time that men and women who had a ‘trade’ were valued. Now we’re ashamed of them. Well, you know what? We need to re-think all this. Jobs are drying up. Not everyone is university material; and, even if you are, where are you going to work once you graduate? We need to teach kids to be entrepreneurs and encourage them to go out on their own — and teach them some of the skills they’ll need. And we need to encourage kids to learn trades — whether it’s contracting or plumbing or carpentry and cabinet making or whatever. There is honour in whatever you do when you do it with your whole heart — and when you take pride in it. And we’re running out of trades people — in many countries it’s a dying art. Like in India, where young people no longer want to do what their father’s and grandfathers and great grandfathers did. I think it’s a great shame.

  4. I personally see people who DO HAVE a college degree, and a “white collar” job, who hate their work, and feel they do not contribute much of value. Sometimes people think they are “entitled” to more than their job and employer provides.

    If things are that bad, I suppose my advice would be to leave and find a better place (but the grass is not always greener), Many “glass-half-empty” see the negatives, no matter what they are doing.

    Looking at a situation through a positive lens, is a choice we ALL get to make.

    I think we all need to accept the notion that there are always aspects of our jobs that may be less than rewarding or satisfying. (I absolutely detest doing budget reports). It helps, to think about the job AS A REFLECTION OF US, NOT us . . . as a reflection of the job.

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