Photo by Karolina Szczur on Unsplash

When I was in college, I had a part-time job on campus at one of the dining facilities, a take-out deli. In addition to the customer-facing duties like making sandwiches and staffing the registers, sometimes we did behind-the-scenes chores like restocking the lines, portioning supplies for later or cleaning up in between crowds. While our deli mostly served out of paper and plastic, a few times per shift we’d have to bring a few sheet pans or trays of serving pieces upstairs to the main dining hall’s dishroom.

The dishroom was a pretty gross place, TBH. I am pretty sure I almost wiped out a few times due to the grease on the floor and lack of tread on my shoes. There was a big long conveyor that would take all the dirty pans and trays of flatware through the cleaning and sanitizing and one person would need to collect pans as they came out clean, yet steamy, and either finish drying them or put them away.

In addition to employing us workstudy students, our dining services also employed a lot of adults from surrounding communities in the non-culinary positions. Some were retirees looking to stay active; some were part of a program for developmentally challenged adults; a few I suspect were just people down on their luck and being given a second chance at success in a part of the facility where they could excel relatively unsupervised. One such place was the dishroom.

I often saw Dishroom Guy (I never knew his name) as I brought pans upstairs. He would be jamming to whatever music was on the radio, hustling and bustling the dishes. Without fail, he would be the first to speak “Hey, how are you doing today?”

Me: “I’m good, how are you?”

Dishroom Guy: “Excellent! Just excellent!”

Being a pretty self-sufficient person, each time I planned to run the dishes through myself and wait for them but he never let me. He took such immense pride and ownership in his job, each time he said, “I’m here for my shift, and this part’s my job. I’ll do it. Hey, you need me to bring these back downstairs? ‘Cause I can do that, ok?” I’d nod in acceptance and he would always say, “Excellent!”

When he reappeared downstairs with our dishes, we would say thank you and he would say, “You have a great day okay? Excellent!”

Over the last year I’ve thought a lot about some of the things I lost along the way climbing the ladder of my career and for a long time I lost that “excellent” feeling. It was hard to feel that way about my daily workload when I was the only one going the extra mile or when I was the only senior person digging deep and working outside my comfort zone. Eventually (I suspect this is normal) instead of just doing the work I spent a lot of time thinking about “why I am doing X, Y and Z in my role? Why isn’t so-and-so doing it too?”

With time and distance I realize now that being “forced” to ditch the title, dig deep and work like I’d never worked before was such a great gift because it has made me a better PR person and will eventually make me a better boss when I am in that position once again.

For starters, being employed – getting a regular paycheck – is excellent. Knowing with certainty that the work product going to the client is excellent is, well, excellent. And the feeling of competence and a week well spent while entering time sheets on a Friday is excellent. Getting my hands a little dirty reminds me how important it is to stay current, and not get too caught up in titles and roles because everyone is replaceable, and I don’t want to be the one replaced!

There are many who think that getting a big title, having an assistant (or some direct reports) or managing a large budget is a harbinger of success. I used to think that. But I’ve had all those things, and none of them ever provided me with the feeling of “job well done” on a Friday that I usually feel now, when I am fully engaged in all my work, doing everything from the most senior-level strategy down to pitching trade media like I did when I was in my twenties.

I would bet Dishroom Guy felt that way about his job. Every. Single. Day. So if a guy who works in a steam-filled smelly commercial dishroom with little room for advancement can see the excellence in his job, then so can all of us. Even when we are lacking an assistant, don’t get the promotion, are doing work that our peers aren’t, working harder than the boss – whatever. Sometimes I catch myself mid-thought just about to gripe and moan and I remember that guy, and it humbles me a little.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Google “increase job satisfaction” and see dozens of posts like this about how to build job satisfaction yourself rather than waiting on titles and worrying about what others are doing.

Here’s to an “excellent” week!