When I started working at age 16 I took a job that was common for teenagers, fast food. I was your friendly drive through person. My manager always scheduled me for that position because I had a great smile that made people happy and a strong voice so they could hear me over their cars, music, sound of traffic. At least this is what she told me. 😉 After that job I moved on to retail and then almost 20 years of airline customer service; on the phone, face to face at the gate and ticket counter, supervising multiple gates for arrivals and departures and then finally in the air as a flight attendant. When I left the airline industry my service work did not end. I worked in restaurants serving food and drinks. Then I went to school and learned how to be of service at a different level. I learned how to help others figure out what they want with an intuitive combination of questions, silence, support and celebrations. I learned how to be of service by helping clients feel safe so that they could become calm, quiet and relaxed so to work out their difficulties through stories and metaphors – hypnotherapy. I became a teacher, another service job. While the teacher leads the class and directs the learning, they are in service of their students and support their students to learn, grow and expand. And I am still in service of others in the work I do today.
Being in service of others brings a wisdom and experience to the provider. It can create anger and even rage when taken advantage of or belittled. Being in service of another teaches humility and pride both at the same time. My time in service of others has been some of the most demanding, exhausting, heart warming, frustrating, fun, enlightening experiences of my life. Those moments helped me to become well rounded, compassionate and strong. I would not trade them for the world. But I sure would have loved to have gotten better pay for the work I did.
We, many of us in the US, belittle those who work in the traditional service industry. They are likely the ones to make minimum wage, with no sick pay or any other benefits. They are often the ones who help care for others. We belittle their character, their intelligence and their ability to hold down a “real” job. I tell you what, it doesn’t get more real than cleaning up someone’s puke all over the restroom after you have already done 7 hours on your feet with a migraine, smiling at people who treat you as though you are less than them….
I remember once, when I was working for the airlines, I was at a departure gate. I don’t remember what exactly happened but I made one of the flight’s passengers unhappy. He looked at me in the eye and sneered “You are in customer service, right?”
I kept my gaze level with his, knowing from his tone he was gearing up to be rude, and answered “Yes.”
I will always remember his response “Well then if you are in customer service, then you are a servant. And since I am the person you are talking to, you are my servant. So give me what I want.”
I paused for a moment to process what he said to me and to make sure he actually said what he meant to say, no correction. Yup, he meant it because then he smiled at me as though he had won. I was his servant.
But then, it just came out. I laughed. It just spilled out of me without forethought and out of control, I laughed. He was shocked. His mouth dropped open and I remember wondering if he had used this line before and it had actually worked? “Sir, Yes, I am in customer service. No, I am not a servant. And no, I am not talking to you any more.” And then I just stood there and looked at him. And I waited. He stood in front of me staring at me for about a minute, probably doing in his head in response to my statement, what I had previously done in mine in response to his. Then finally he told me he would be reporting me and he stomped away swearing. I smiled to the people around me, took a deep breath and said “Next please.”
Back to my points on being in service of others; to know how to respond to people, work with them, get them to work with you and stop them from taking advantage of you or others is a powerful skill set. That skill set is gained in working in service of others. There is a deep, quiet honor that can come with working in service of others, but if you have never done that you are likely to never know that.
This is why I say –
Never, never, never choose a leader who has never worked in service of others. A leader who has not been in service of others is likely to not see nor understand that they are in service to those whom they are to lead. It is likely they will never work to support nor fight for those who report to them unless it benefits them. The best and most trusted leaders are those who understand service. They are the ones who will be listened to and respected by those who report to them and by default are likely to be much more successful. To be in service of others is to be vulnerable. To know how to be vulnerable is to know how to be strong, truly strong with strength of character.
And now –
My political statement for the moment –
Voting to put someone into government office who has never been of service to others in their career, or their life, is often a mistake because they just don’t get it and it’s unlikely they will fight for, be in service of, you.