When is the last time you consciously humbled yourself? When you said, “I’m sorry” to a family member? When you gave the right of way? When you gave time to a child when you were in a hurry? Humbling oneself can be a learned trait, but it doesn’t always come easy. It doesn’t seem to be a desirable trait in our factious culture, but I recommend it. The purpose of this article is to describe how I’ve had to humble myself since taking a part time job working at the local grocery store. I will comment on the challenges and benefits, so that you might choose humility as a way of life as I’m reminded to do the same. Transforming the menial into the memorable is the way of humility.
My wife and I relocated to a Florida beach vacation haven, but I started job searches before the move and I was shocked by the hourly rates posted for jobs in the area. How can people live on these wages? It’s called surviving, scraping by, doing without, going into debt way over one’s head, filing for public assistance or a combination of these. My pride kept telling me I was worth more than the starting wages I saw listed. The position I retired from was so much richer than what I saw on the job listings sites. How can I take a job that pays me such a low hourly wage? Even though my ego was large, I took a job offer at the grocery store.
Orientation training introduced me to other ways my future would be humbling. I was being retrained for a different kind of job than I had for the previous twelve and a half years, in fact, for the previous forty years. I was a trainee being told what to do and not to do, how to do it and how not to do it. I realized that I wasn’t going to be in control of anything but my attitude and behavior. I could already feel the ‘kicking against the goad’ arising in my spirit. I knew I had a trait of resisting directives and that humbling myself was going to be the path to succeed in my new job.
I was hired as a cashier. I learned that this included bagging groceries, but I soon found out it included a lot more than those jobs. I’d never bagged before. The store’s motto is ‘where shopping is a pleasure’ and ‘where work is a pleasure.’ Bagging groceries includes assisting customers out to their cars, retrieving carts left in the parking lot, restocking the bag supplies, getting bags of ice for customers, cleaning bathrooms, returning unwanted items to their proper shelves, taking damaged items to the designated areas in the back of the store, sweeping the floors, vacuuming the rugs, cleaning the coffee pot and making a fresh batch, ‘blocking’ items on shelves, cleaning up messes, etc. This list of responsibilities is quite different from my previous job. I did some of these tasks in my previous job, but not on a regular basis. Now, I’m a manual laborer again, which reminds me of my ‘grounds’ job at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, my bus boy job at Mt. Charleston Restaurant outside of Las Vegas, the newspaper jobs and my first ‘real’ job pitting peaches in Fairfield, California as a twelve year old. Shifting gears from a white collar position to manual laborer has been humbling, but it reminds me that I’m supposed to emulate Jesus’ humility by serving God and others. What circumstances are you living with that present you with the choice of humility or ego? What life lessons have you learned about humility in your present situation? Below are some lessons I’m learning or relearning.
Learning new skills is humbling. I made so many mistakes scanning items on a cash register or have had to call for help as many times, that I lost confidence in myself. No associate ever belittled me, but I was internalizing the mistakes or need for help and concluding that I wasn’t qualified to work as a cashier. I felt so poorly about myself that I wanted to find a hole to crawl into and hide. Fortunately, I’ve persevered and I’ve seen some daylight at the end of the tunnel. I keep telling myself that a cash register is based on logic and that if I stay long enough I will learn all the processes that it is capable of performing.
Gain a greater respect for manual laborers. Working for the store for the short amount of time that I have has given me new firsthand experience serving as a manual laborer. Standing on one’s feet for 3-5 hours at a time is tiring. Retrieving grocery carts in a parking lot in ninety degree temperatures and 95% humidity makes one sweat profusely. Cleaning a public restroom initially made me feel lower than low. I’m viewing the task with a new perspective however as I think about cleaning the restrooms so I can use them myself. The goal is to make shopping a pleasure for the customer and a clean bathroom is a component of that pleasure.
Acquire a greater self-awareness. A customer I was bagging for came across as lecturing me. I felt belittled and angry. Shortly after the customer left, a supervisor asked me how I was doing. I thought I was doing fine. Since I wasn’t prepared for the question, I told her I was doing fine. Following further reflection, I realized that I was upset. I spoke to her that I hadn’t been prepared for the question, that I had a negative experience with a customer and her question led me to address my emotions more honestly. I told her that I have a tendency of internalizing my emotions.
Get acquainted with customer service to a greater degree. I was pleased with the store’s commitment to service when I examined its website. It sounded like my previous company’s philosophy. Since the two companies are in different fields, I didn’t realize I’d get a deeper appreciation for what customer service looks like. My purpose at the store is to make shopping a pleasure for customers. We don’t simply bag or cashier, we strive to make customers happy.
Learn to pray more. I pray for myself as I prepare for work. I pray for my associates too. I pray for customers. Just yesterday I talked to a young couple. They were married the day before in Enterprise, Alabama. The new husband asked me for advice after I told him that my wife and I had been married for thirty-nine years. My advice? I said, trust God, be patient, ask for wisdom, be kind, be humble and persevere. The bride said she had just been reading about humility. As they departed the young man asked me to pray for them. I said I would and I have. I am humbled as I experience the joy of serving others in what I view as such a menial role. I’m reminded that one’s spiritual mindset can transform any menial position into a memorable one. What can you do to transform your menial into memorable?