Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lesson #37: There Are No Small Jobs, Just Small People

By age seventeen I had successfully cornered the market of babysitting in my Culver City neighborhood.  I was getting bored, burnt out, and ready to work with adults.  Given that my penchant for staying up all night was increasing, I decided the only logical next step was to start waiting tables during graveyard shift at the local Denny's.  With my bravado and audacity, I walked in at 3am, told the manager I wanted a job, and somehow convinced him it was totally legal for minors to work night shifts.  I was rewarded with a job offer, but not to wait tables as I had dreamed.  I was told I could work as a dishwasher scrubbing pots and pans, as well as the toilets, from 11pm-7:30am - take it or leave it.  I took it.

My grandfather told me "There are no small jobs, just small people." I took that to heart, and scrubbed those pans and bowls like never before.  I felt so proud that I had been given such an adult responsibility, and took it very seriously.  I brought integrity, devotion, and commitment to that job, as well as to keeping the bathrooms clean.  The hard work paid off: I was soon promoted to a busser position, and then waitstaff.  I approached each and every one of these positions with reverence, fascination, and gratitude.  I came to resent high school even more as I felt it interfered with the thorough and well-rounded education I was getting at Denny's.  I would have rather scrubbed a toilet that sit in a high school classroom.  Come to think of it, I still would.

Over the next twenty years I did clinical work in corporate settings, non-profits, and government agencies.  I knew some people in these environments who approached their work with passion and devotion.  But I also experienced plenty of supervisors and higher-ups who came to work with resentment, anger, bitterness, and business practices that were less than ethical.  One even was convicted of embezzlement from the agency!

My grandfather's words continue, "No small jobs, just small people."  The measure of a person is not in the job they do, it is how they do it.  You don't have to love every job you do, but you always have the option to bring love to every job you do.  All work has value when it is done with integrity and commitment, even scrubbing toilets.  It is because of this distinction that I have been able to take on a myriad of a positions, both high and low on the "food chain," that have assisted in getting the personal and professional experiences needed to learn many of the 40 Lessons discussed in this series.  And it is because of these values that I can still perceive freedom in the midst of a troubled economy.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, bullying, caretaking fatigue, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at


Daniel Ramirez said...

I think this is one of the most important lessons to learn. And its always good to have this reminder. Thanks for the post.

Fina Jiri said...

thanks...its very motivating

Unknown said...

Very good advice for young & seasoned workers..