What was your worst job and what did you learn?

November 14, 2011 — Leave a comment

It had to be the low point of my high school life. The high school janitor called in sick and there wasn’t anyone left to fill in. So there I was, cleaning the same bathroom that my friends and I used earlier in the day. It couldn’t get any worse.

Oh wait, it could. It turns out the high school cheerleaders were staying late that particular evening and saw me cleaning the bathrooms. There was no way I’d go on a date with them any time soon!

Janitor was in my job description because I worked for my dad who was the maintenance supervisor at my school. Typically, I worked light maintenance jobs and mostly did the yard work. I learned more from this job than I ever could have imagined.

What did I learn?

1. No job is beneath you

2. You can learn from anyone

3. Your work is your reputation


1. No job is beneath you

Pride is a dangerous thing. It can convince us that work is beneath us, and that we shouldn’t be subjected to it.

Our nation was built on the back of immigrants and other workers that never saw work as beneath them. They saw work as the opportunity to succeed in their American dream and soon many of them got there.

Many Americans have lost their fire because we’ve had things too easy, and it’s not just Generation Y as many pundits prefer to point out.

However, many of us do expect to come out of college with a plush corner office and executive level job. These expectations have changed somewhat with the Great Recession, but they’re still around.

Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” If you’re not afraid to do the dirty work now, people will notice and you will gain much respect. A bad attitude is one of the most dangerous things to bring into a work environment.

2. You can learn from anyone

You can learn from anyone in life and in work. Sometimes you learn what to do and other times you learn what not to do.

My dad always drilled this lesson into me. He would always listen to his crew’s suggestions and implement their ideas when the suggestion made sense. It didn’t matter that some of them didn’t even have a high school education; he listened to and respected them all the same.

This is advantageous for multiple reasons.

First, they’re the ones doing the job everyday, so they know the recurring problems. Next, when they felt listened to and respected, they reciprocate many times over through their hard work and respect.

I learned many lessons from my co-workers in the maintenance and janitorial departments. My favorite was how to mow straight, diagonal lines on the football field.

Just in case you don’t know, mowing the football field is a big honor in Oklahoma. High school football in Oklahoma is similar to Texas. It’s a very big deal.

When you mow the field; your work is in the spotlight on Friday nights in front of 4,000 people! How do you mow a straight line diagonally on a football field? Remember, this is about 120 yards when cutting diagonally.

To mow straight, you must stare a point on the far end where you’re heading and never take your eyes off of it. If you take your eyes off of your target and even try to follow the line you previously cut, your straight line will be no more. This is a very relevant lesson in life! Keep your eye on the target!

3. Your work is your reputation

Finally, through my position, I learned that your work is your reputation. I worked hard at the school and was proud of my work.

Many years later, my dad’s workers still talk about the work that my co-worker Joe and I did. It might have only been weed-eating or mopping a long hall, but we wanted the work done fast and right.

This set the tone for the rest of my work life and others have noticed. The key is to find what you love and then working hard will come naturally – I’m still working on this part.

In China Shakes the World, James Kynge wrote, “When people have money, they lose enthusiasm for work. Their lives are just too comfortable.”

Don’t be embarrassed of the job you have now or one you’ve had in the past. Use it as an opportunity to learn and better yourself. As Abraham Lincoln said, “whatever you are, be a good one.”

What was your worst job and what did you learn from it?


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