I’ve been thinking a lot lately about work.
Those fun things we’re all trying to juggle.
I recently resigned from a job that was important, in many ways fulfilling and aligned with a significant amount of my skillset. It was stable, secure and paid the bills. I know this is more than some can say. And I know it seems crazy to walk out of those things without any guarantee of the next thing.
For various reasons though, I felt a sense of call to step out of that stability.
A long-term stirring;
a quiet and persistent voice;
a gut-churning I couldn’t ignore.
To walk into some specific things I have felt compelled to do.
To apply in my own life the messages I have told numerous young people:
1) YOU need to believe in YOU if you expect others to, and
2) You should pursue purpose over pay-checks.
into risk and vulnerability.
And as much as those two things have freaked me out – experiencing them has been vital to growth and learning I’m experiencing at the moment.
But, before I finished up in my job, I couldn’t help but think about two ladies I learnt important lessons from in my time as a Youth Worker.
Their names are lollipop lady and pork-roll lady. Well those aren’t actually their names, but for the time being let’s pretend they are (and we’ll address this a little later).
Lady number 1:
Every day when I drove to work, I drove past lollipop lady. She worked as a ‘crossing guard’ at one of the local primary schools. In other words, her job consisted of stopping the traffic to allow children to cross the road safely. Important, yes. Exciting…probably not. In essence, a simple yet important job that almost anyone could do, and a lot of us may feel would be a waste of our time and talent (because we’re sooo important, right?). Let’s come back to that. The important point: lollipop lady conducted her duties with a sense of dignity and gravitas that consistently blew me away. She was a lollipop lady on a mission. A glimmer in her eyes and a spring in her step told me that every single day she understood she was saving children from certain death and delivering them into the loving arms of education. She was to the lollipop industry what a dolphin is to Seaworld.
Lady number 2:
On special occasions when I had a spare fiver and a hunger for something other than tuna and saladas, I would walk up the hill to Ken’s pie shop (yep, that’s right – I’ve revealed the location; you can go get an awesome and well-priced pork-roll if reading this has made you hungry). Upon reaching the top of the hill and entering Ken’s pie shop, I was greeted by the most genuinely happy human I’ve ever encountered. She was not Ken. The bakery did not belong to her. But she made pork-rolls and displayed the best customer service under the sun. Was her job important? Somewhat. Exciting? Not really. And in contrast with lollipop lady who was at least helping save children from getting hit by cars, pork-roll lady was only saving people from lesser lunch options – no life and death here. And yet, every single time I went to get a pork-roll I was taken aback by how genuinely happy – nay, outright joyful - she was. Not in an artificial, over-the-top, annoying way. It was more of a childlike contentment, a cool, calm consistency, like she never, ever forgot that it’s a beautiful gift to be alive.
So, here are a couple of things I learnt from these ladies.
1. Any job – no matter how major or minor, how varied or repetitive, can be done with purpose and joy.
2. When simple jobs are done with a sense of great importance, they have a huge overflow. On several occasions, simply observing these ladies influenced my perspective on my entire day and moved me from mental whinging to gratitude.
But, what was the secret to their success? Dare I say, there are plenty of people out there in similar jobs who are just counting down the hours and wishing they were doing something ‘bigger and better’. What set these ladies apart?
Well, I’m just speculating. But here’s my theory.
Lollipop lady and pork-roll ladies have real names. And those real names matter because their identity is not built on their jobs. I’ve got a hunch they each have a strong sense of confidence in who they are, completely separate to their jobs. And that’s why they are so good at their jobs! And, I’d also say they see the beautiful fruit that even relatively simple jobs bring. Children crossing the road to go to school is important. Pork-rolls can really brighten someone’s day. There is purpose in the little things. Sometimes changing the world starts with making someone a pork-roll and being really happy about it.
So whatever you are doing today – do it like it matters. Because it does. And remember that your name is not barista. Or teacher. Or politician. Or poet. You have a name, and your identity is something you bring to your job – not the other way round.