What A Janitor Can Teach Us About Knowing Our Worth

self-worth

During a visit to NASA space station in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He walked over to the man and said,

Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?

The janitors response?

I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.

What a great story!

That man saw himself, not just as a janitor, but as a member of the NASA team and he was right, he was helping to put a man on the moon.

I have been a caretaker and I understood my worth too.

There are many jobs in this life that people consider themselves to be above doing so they belittle the people who do them without giving thought to the fact that they are backbone of society.

I once went for a cleaning job at a well known department store. I turned up early in the morning – dressed smartly – and was shown around by a supervisor. During my interview, one of the cleaners came out of the toilets and the supervisor belittled this lady despite me standing there listening to every word. When I was offered the job at the end of the interview, I declined it and the main reason was the lack of respect shown to the cleaner.

Working as a caretaker in a nursery school, I understood that I was helping to make a safe and comfortable environment for children to learn in. Children can’t concentrate if they are too hot or too cold can they? I made sure that doors opened properly and bike wheels ran smoothly. If it could be mended, I’d mend it. If it was broken beyond repair, I disposed of it.

I looked after the building when it was empty during the holidays and was there to oversee any work that was done. I never saw myself as a just a caretaker. It was never just a job. I saw myself as a guardian of a wonderful old building that had been around since before World War Two. It wasn’t the best paid job in the world but it paid the mortgage and put food on the table and it made me happy to be there. To the children, I was Mrs W (or Mrs Woman as one little boy called me) to the teaching staff, I was an equal.

After the school closed due to council cuts, I took another job this time as a cleaner in a local warehouse. When I gave my notice in a year later, my supervisor said I was one of the best cleaners she’d ever employed and was sorry to see me go. She tried to convince me to stay by offering me more hours but I needed to make more money than she could offer as my personal situation had changed so the decision was made for me.

There had never been one word of complaint about my work and the company for who I’d cleaned for offered me a full time job working for them based on my work ethic.

Some cleaners turn up to do the bare minimum, it has to be said. It’s simply a job – a means to an end – but that’s not how I work. I often went beyond what was expected of me, especially in the kitchen where it wasn’t part of my job to clean the microwave or fridge. If I had time, I did it. I polished the desks in the offices upstairs taking care not to break photo-frames of treasured family photographs. I emptied the bins, hoovered, cleaned the windows and washed up the odd dirty cup that I found. I didn’t have to wash pots but I don’t like starting a new day by washing yesterdays dishes and I liked to think that the office staff appreciated not having to.

It was rare for managers to be working when I was but some would make me a coffee if they were working late. I’d also get the odd cake as a treat and at Christmas I received a bottle of wine and some chocolates along with the entire warehouse staff. It made me feel like I was one of the team instead of what I was – which was technically a contract cleaner.

If I mopped a floor and somebody walked on it, they were apologetic. I once saw a comment left by the previous cleaner which said how annoyed she was that people were walking all over her clean floor! What did she expect, for them to levitate their way into the warehouse?

There were some interesting moments which prompted this post but in the main, I was treated respectfully and enjoyed working there despite the ‘icky’ nature of part of my job, as in, cleaning the men’s bogs which usually required numerous blasts from an air freshener for me to be able to get through the door without passing out!

As a cleaner I was helping to keep a warehouse and offices running smoothly by ensuring everything was clean and tidy. Despite having the social skills of a wheelie bin, I did it all with a smile and – more importantly – I enjoyed the job.

Having done work like this makes me appreciative of all people who do these kind of jobs, even the binmen who piss me off by missing out my bin! Where would we be if we didn’t have a bin collection? Filthy, rat infested streets, that’s where!

When you wake up tomorrow morning, spare a thought to all the people who’s day starts long before yours. Think about the street cleaners who’ve been clearing away last night’s rubbish and vomit strewn streets so that you don’t have to see it.

Think about the cleaners who work hard to make shopping center floors shine and windows gleam. You may see them pushing cleaning trolleys about throughout the day so how about giving them an appreciative smile instead of walking straight past them?

How about the people who keep the hospitals clean? I’d say that was one of the most important jobs in there! The prevention of infection starts with them. A clean hospital means fewer infections and,as we know, infections can kill. Such is the importance of their job and in my experience the bedside manner of your average cleaner wipes the floor with that of many doctors and nurses. See what I did there?

Things run smoothly because there are people behind the scenes who make it possible. They do the jobs that you could never imagine yourself doing but they are necessary jobs. People might not be on great pay or have their own parking space but their worth is invaluable. If nobody did these jobs, our society would be very different.

Somebody told me once that I was ‘just a cleaner’ and my worth was based on what I earned. I saw myself as keeping a roof over my family’s heads which I’d say is pretty important!

The NASA janitor saw himself as being part of something much bigger and that’s how it should be from the cleaner to the MD because we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves.

“As long as you look for someone else to validate who you are by seeking their approval, you are setting yourself up for disaster. You have to be whole and complete in yourself. No one can give you that. You have to know who you are – what others say is irrelevant.” ~ Nic Sheff

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Confessions of a Cleaner

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Once upon a time I was a domestic engineer, in other words I was a cleaner!

Cleaning wasn’t the most glamorous job I’d envisioned having, but it paid some bills and put food on the table. I joined a company and they gave me the job of cleaning a warehouse, (mainly offices and bogs), by myself! So, er, go me!

Apologies if you don’t like the word ‘bog’ but in this case it’s apt. Particularly for the Gents!

I was issued with a tabard, (a most unsexy uniform worn by workers in the catering, cleaning and healthcare industries, in case you didn’t know), pleas for a protective suit and face mask went unheeded, though my supervisor did grant me extra air fresheners and rubber gloves.

The worst part of cleaning is the toilets. It’s a SHIT job, literally!

I had a big sign made up so the Neanderthals would know when the toilets were out of bounds because I, the FEMALE cleaner, was in there cleaning…obvs! Mostly they obeyed the sign which allowed me time to do my thing with the mop and VAT of disinfectant.

But it was in this latrine most foul that my eyes were opened to the depravity of the male species.

Being a sister, wife and mother meant that I had loads of experience with unidentifiable organic life-forms and general man-pong but this was in a different league altogether. We’re talking Biohazard level 3!

Arming myself with two cans of Pine Fresh, (one in each hand), I’d walk up to the Gent’s door, kick it open with a swift boot from my size 4 slip-on and call out..

“YOOOO-HOOOOO, ANYBODY IN HERE”?

Occasionally someone would fart, (man-code for yes), so I’d hover outside wafting a duster about until they exited the room. Then I’d slap the “DO NOT ENTER, CLEANING IN PROGRESS” sign on the door and wade in blasting both cans of air freshener simultaneously, a bit like Lara Croft (if Lara Croft was like Nora Batty)

This ritual was necessary for me to be able to work in that room without falling into a stench induced coma. For those of you who have never cleaned professionally, (specifically toilets), but who do have teenage sons..well, you know that smell when you walk into their bedroom first thing in the morning and you nearly die from the fumes? Well multiply it by, ooh erm, a million and you might get the idea.

Monday was the worst day to clean the Gents because they’d all been on the lash the night before with maybe a curry or a dodgy kebab on the way back from the pub….OK, I’ll leave it there! The graphics are burned into my memory but I’ll spare you!

Removing The Sun, (open at page 3), or the Daily Sport, (open at any page), from at least one of the cubicles was a daily occurrence. There were normally copius amounts of bog roll strewn on the floor, chocolate wrappers and half-eaten pies. Yes PIES!!!

Who the hell eats a PIE on the toilet???

BARF-A-RAMA!!!

On one occasion I prodded open a cubical door with my mop and saw a vending machine cup on the floor and next to it was a page 3 lady with large breasticles pouting at me.

WARNING!! IT GETS EWWWWWY!!

On closer inspection, the cup was a third full of some transparent liquid and what looked to be a PUBE, floating in it. I’ve seen some sinister looking stuff drop out of the vending machine but never that!

By now you have probably exceeded the maximum on your Vom-o-meter and I apologise but I exceeded mine on day one of the job.

Mums, if you have little boys at home, take a good long look at their innocent little faces. Hold them close to your bosom and savour the moment because in a few years, they too will turn into creatures capable of such foul deeds. I’m warning you, as is my duty.

Then there was the time when the door burst open and in strutted a young man who proceeded to whip Mr Winky-Dinky-Do out into the urinals.

The sign was clearly on the door and I was standing in the middle of the room… I’m small but I’m not a Borrower!

Standing there leaning on my mop, I said, “Oi, didn’t you see the sign on the door?”

He winked at me, (with the eye on his face), and said “Yeeeah, I don’t mind if you don’t, I’m bustin!”

I think I’d been flashed…

Didn’t quite know what to do with that so I Iaughed at him, which was possibly not the reaction he was after!

Nope, this kind of cleaning isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need a certain kind of attitude (or the ability to develop one) and it helps enormously if you have no sense of smell.

My claim to fame is that I came across some graffiti one day that said “I’d sh*g the cleaner”! It’s not everybody who can claim fame on the loo wall. Well classy!

Of course they could have been referring to the previous cleaner who was about 60. And male.

Who knows?

If you see a miserable cleaner, you now know the reason why. Pity them because they’ve seen some bad stuff, you know? If you see a smiling cleaner, they’ll most likely be high on a concoction of tranqs and disinfectant!

“Golly, I just love cleaning toilets”. Said no cleaning lady ever.

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This post is dedicated to Sheerie, as promised. xXx