Friday, January 20, 2012

Panda Express Guy

Monday came and went and already it had been a rough week at the office. It's great to have a steady, paying job in this economy, but it's also increasingly clear that my work situation is a prime example of the fallout from said economy - one person doing the job of two or three. I left that evening after a hard day's toil with untouched piles of folders on my desk, coworkers who needed much more from me then I had time or energy to give them, and a magazine that surely wouldn't hit the stands on deadline. I don't think I smiled once.

I sat at Panda Express with my daughter that night waiting for my son to arrive.  I couldn't stop watching this kid working at the counter - you know, the guy who greets you as you walk in and asks you how many entrees you want and whether you want fried rice or chow mein? I never expect much from the workforce of today's youth, but here was an energetic, hispanic kid who couldn't have been more than 20 with a smile and energy level that was off the charts. "What can I get for you tonight?" he asked everyone enthusiastically. He was patient, helpful, and somehow able to establish a rapport with each person who appeared in front of him. People were smiling, laughing - many of whom no doubt had had a day like mine. When my son finally arrived and we made our way to the front of the line, the guy asked us, "Would you guys like a sample of our Beijing Beef?" He looked my son straight in the eye, "Hey why not, it's free, man."  My boy, never easy to win over, flashed his best smile and reached for the toothpick. I can't adequately explain it, but this guy made it like a party in that place. It was infectious.

How much could this kid be making? Eight-fifty an hour, tops? And how long had he been working before we arrived? Probably hours. The place was packed and the line at the counter had to work at mock speed to keep metal containers filled with orange chicken and broccoli beef. Made no matter to this guy. He was just lovin' life back there. I pictured some wealthy executive coming in for a meal, noticing this guy, and hiring him as marketing manager right there on the spot.

I decided to go into work the next day with a smile on my face. I was going to be helpful, cheerful, and make it about my coworkers instead of all about me and my impossible work situation. I was going to actually talk to them about their lives. I was going to enjoy my circumstance with these amazing people I get to work with every day. I have continued this approach each day since. You may have guessed it has turned out to be a really good week.

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful lesson, and one I truly believe in. It seems like such a waste to not give and get the most out of our short time. Simply because one is at work is not excuse to be less than our best.

    I even take it one step further and preach that it's easy to say one is a good person, but it takes a workplace to really test yourself.

    That said, I recently stumbled across an anecdote by Loren Michaels (famed producer of SNL and 30 Rock). Early in his career he was frustrated by NBC smashing his great, creative ideas. He went to the corporate president to resign and was told that the company would do fine without him. He was just hired to do a job. If he brought passion to his work, that was just a bonus for them, but they never asked for that.

    The entire story is here. I might not have told it exactly right, but it did give me some solace a recent evening after butting heads with a "pointy headed boss".