Over 17 years ago I crossed paths with two women at Queen Alia Airport on my way to Dubai. I was 30 at the time with a general attitude of discontent with myself and everything in my close environment. Those two middle-aged women were restroom attendants.
The restroom was so impeccably clean that the floors and walls were shining. One of them then looks at the other and complains that she felt very embarrassed that the restroom had one pit latrine (whereas the other 4 or 5 were of a modern design). “I wish they would change it”, she said. “I don’t know why I feel so embarrassed, but I feel as though people are visiting the bathroom at my own house, so it has to be perfect.”
As if I wasn’t shocked enough till that moment that she took personal responsibility for the condition of an item in her working environment which existed for over two decades at least, until the second attendant responded: “Well of course you should feel embarrassed. This place is like our home”, reiterating emphatically. “It’s where we earn our daily living, and it enables us to put food on the table”.
Out of everything I was ever taught and learned about employee engagement over 16 years of working in human resources and all the related motivational theories since the 1950s, those amazing women summarized it all in just under 1 minute. John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”.
Their hearts full of gratitude, they had the quiet and towering dignity of someone who earns an honest living through committed hard work giving it nothing less than their 100%. Their self-worth didn’t emanate from how well-connected they were in the local community, what they owned and how much they earned, what their job titles were or the extent of their popularity and what great extensive accomplishments filled their CVs. Nor was their self-worth so vulnerably attached to the appreciation of their efforts or even if anyone greeted or noticed them at all. It stemmed from very deep within, fixed and unshakable regardless of anything more that life may have to offer or what it may take away.
To me, they were invincible.
Image created for Muriel’s Blog by Jordanian Artist Waleed Qutteineh.