Never assume. Like all cliches, it is all too true.
Originally it was “Pride, Professionalism and the Shoe Shine Guy“. Those special, random few who teach us so very much about life and business. Sure, there are the obvious role models and examples, the speakers, the leaders of industry, the thought leaders everyone has heard, but then there are the folks that are right there, living the day-to-day grind, that are possibly the greatest teachers. Several years back there was “The Shoe Shine Guy”, and now to that special list I am proud to add “The Parking Garage Guy”.
We all have known those folks, we see them almost every working day, year after year, toiling away in anonymity. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to slowly build a bit of a passing relationship, a morning greeting, a smile, holiday wishes, and maybe even a quick chat from time-to-time. And then every so often, a little nugget of information slips out that slowly starts to reveal there is a special person sitting in that security booth. It took years, and finally his sharing that he was retiring at 81 (stunning…would have maybe guessed 65…maybe) to finally bring the entire story, all the lessons, into sharp focus.
To know Amha is to know a true professional. He was always present. He took pride in his work. He ran a tight ship. He knew who was where, in what car, where the good spots were, who might need a different spot and why. That garage was his domain, and nothing got by him. He was sharp, smart, respectful, polite, kind, but also no nonsense. It took a couple years to realize what was there every morning, the lessons that were being shared.
Amha is the classic American story. He came to this country almost 20 years ago from a “rougher” part of the world. I knew the neighborhood he and his family had left, I suspected why, and it was sort of our “secret”. I had traveled in those parts of the world in the early 90’s – it was not a good area or time. Always liked to think that he enjoyed the fact that there was someone here that just knew “where there was”. The other day as he shared the news of his retirement, he also shared more of the story. He confessed that after not being well received here as an engineer in his early 60’s who wanted to work, he elected to not just ride out his years on the couch. He chose to become a parking garage attendant. An Electrical Engineer who had already had an incredible career, was a man of means in another part of the world, willfully and apparently happily, took on a thankless, anonymous job. It all clicked into place when he shared the full story.
Professionalism and pride do not stem from a title. They are not contingent upon a level of authority, a scope of responsibility, the number of people led, the industry, the company name, level of education, or even the actual work. Everything and anything can be a profession. Being a professional is a state of mind, it is entirely our choice. Pride and professionalism comes from within and it is absolutely our responsibility to carry ourselves as such in all facets of life and business.
Pride and professional do not preclude being nice. That was the real lesson that did not fully register until yesterday. Genuine kindness. Doing the little something extra for someone. A greeting. A smile. Being present. Lending a hand without being asked. But above all, referring to someone as “my friend”. It seems so obvious, but it is so often forgotten. You see both the Shoe Shine Guy and the Garage Guy – they were nice people. They were good people. They work hard, they take pride in their work; their profession. But they glowed, absolutely glowed, when they spoke of their family and friends.
And with the kindness, the pride and professionalism, went gratitude. Being grateful for the opportunity to work, the place you live, the opportunity to help others, to build relationships, to be a friend. We owe it to ourselves, our families, our friends, to our clients and our co-workers, and to the Garage and Shoe Shine folks, to try just a bit harder, to be just a touch more professional, kind and grateful.