How my job as a janitor shaped my perspective on life
No one forgets their first job. It’s a rite of passage, a declaration of independence, a character-building journey. But for me, it’s been more than that. Because one observation I made as a pimply, awkward pre-pubescent teen at my first job has shaped my entire perspective on life.
I was eager to start working. Most of my friends had cool first jobs, lifeguarding or making ice cream cones at the tiny Dairy Queen knockoff in my small town. But I was as a janitor at our local elementary school. Much less sexy, but my best friend Sara swore it was a great gig. Mostly because she got generous breaks to cruise around on her school driving permit and smoke cigarettes.
I didn’t smoke cigarettes, but I trusted Sara’s judgment. On my first day as a janitor, I began my relationship with an orange commercial-grade vacuum. It was rugged and sturdy, and I can still feel the handle in my palm. The job duty was simple; after school let out each day I was in charge of sucking up all the remnants of destruction that 25 kids managed to create.
I’d start at the long end of the hallway, proceeding through each room in record time. It was gratifying to see the cup of dirt grow in the clear receptacle on the front of my vacuum. The art room was the final room on my route. Those four walls contained something interesting and different from all of the other classrooms that I cleaned. Creativity was everywhere in that room. Clay stuck to tables. Paper littered the floor. Chalkdust camouflaged blackboards. But mostly, there was glitter everywhere. It took an eternity to suck each of those minuscule pieces of shiny plastic up. And it frustrated me. But one day that frustration turned to introspection. I didn’t know it then, but that glitter was life-changing.
It’s funny how adding a handful of sparkling multicolor glitter can turn a pile of dirt into something beautiful and captivating to look at. Just a few specks turned some unsightly floor dust into something different, something hopeful. And therein was my aha moment. It clicked. I made a connection. Life can be tough. It can be complicated. There can be too many decisions or not enough options. It can be a massive pile of dirt. But I realized that there might be specks of glitter in those messes if I was willing to look for them. Maybe there won’t always be a grand silver lining or a bright light at the end of the tunnel. But if I could find one shred of optimism, one fleeting positive thought in all that dirt, maybe I’d be able to push through.
Since my days as a janitor, I’ve spent my life looking for the glitter in the vacuum. And it’s made all the difference. I’m calm in times of turmoil. I’m steadfast when things are uncertain. I navigate tough relationships effectively. Because even when circumstances suck or people suck, I choose to look for that glimmer of positivity. The intentionality I gained from one $9 per hour job set the trajectory for my life, and I’m forever grateful.