A few years ago, a friend who was an independent coach and consultant was struggling in her business. One day she lamented, “I guess I need to get a J.O.B!” – spelling it out like it was a “four letter word” (which, of course, “work” is!).  Looking back, it was clear that she was engaged in a version of the Dreaded Drama Triangle, in which she saw herself as a Victim, the need to work as a Persecutor, and a potential employer as the Rescuer.  I empathized, because I too have felt that way about certain jobs.

I was reminded of that interaction and another story when I read Seth Godin’s blog last Saturday, challenging readers to think about how they define their work.

Here’s the other story: About 10 years ago, I went to meet with a colleague who worked for Limited Brands (think Victoria’s Secret; Bath and Body Works, etc). in Columbus, Ohio.  As I arrived at his office for the mid-afternoon meeting, he asked if it was OK for us to meet in the cafeteria.

As we entered the huge cafeteria (the size of a soccer or football field), tables had been cleared out and hundreds of chairs set up theatre style, looking toward a temporary stage erected at one end of the room. “What’s going on here?” I asked.  “That’s why I wanted to come down here,” he explained, “there is a retirement reception that I want to be a part of – and that you should see.”

We covered the purpose of our meeting. As we were wrapping up, people started to flock into the cafeteria.  The room was abuzz.  “Wow!” I said, “Who is this person that is retiring? Must be a real VIP.”

A VIP, indeed!  He was a janitor –or, rather, a custodian (defined as a “person responsible for something valuable”).

As the ceremony began, the Chairman of the Board strode into the room (he had taken a break from his corporate board meeting to start the festivities).  He told the story of how this gentleman had come to work for the company in its early days and the impact he had had on those around him.

Many then came to the podium to sing his praises.  One that especially remains in my memory was that of a senior executive.  He told of a time when he was working late and the light above his desk burned out.  Frustrated, he called the maintenance department expecting to get voicemail.  Instead, the custodian answered the phone and indicated that the executive was lucky, because he was just preparing to leave and would be happy to take care of the light before going home.

They chatted as the light bulb was changed.  The executive thanked him for taking the time before calling it a day.  The custodian’s response, as told by the executive, was “I’m happy to do it.  My job is to maintain an environment in which you can do your best work!”  I was inspired.

Every “j.o.b.” can have either a trivial or a noble description.  Clearly he saw his work as a custodian in the noblest of terms. Creators do that.

How do you define your work?


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