I regularly work late in the office…and by that I mean the ‘AC shuts down and lights turn off’ kind of late in the office.
Staying late also means regular visits from the janitorial staff who work their way through the office at night to pick up the trash/recycling from the day.
Earlier in my career, when the janitorial staff would come by my desk, I’d briefly stop my work and acknowledge their presence, perhaps with a simple hello. However, over time, as the same janitor started coming by day after day, we graduated to common pleasantries (e.g., how are you, can you believe this weather, etc.).
After several weeks and months of this, despite near nightly conversations, I found it rather depressing that I knew very little about this man and his story…in fact, I didn’t even know his name.
One day, I decided this needed to change…it wasn’t right to see someone everyday and to not know their name! So I introduced myself and shook his hand. He seemed a bit surprised at first, perhaps a bit shy…he didn’t speak much English, but we had a short conversation…his name is Julian.
From that point on, we continued to have longer, less superficial conversations. I learned that he had two jobs to support his family, working as a janitor from 6-10pm and afterwards working the ‘night audit’ (until 7am) at a nearby hotel in the city. Several months later, deep into the recession, I learned that he had lost his job at the hotel and that he was having trouble finding another job. Limited English and limited education made a challenging job market all the more difficult.
After a few months, I started travelling again, so my evening conversations with Julian came to an end.
When I returned to the office, several nights in a row, Julian wasn’t there…one day, two days, a week, 6 weeks…I feared he had lost his janitorial job as well. After 8 weeks though, as I heard the familiar sound of the trash barrels being wheeled around the office, I saw Julian. It was great to see him again. Even though our chats were quick, I always enjoyed speaking with him.
I learned even more about Julian in subsequent conversations, he had been in Colombia for the past 8 weeks, his home country, visiting family and friends. He still hadn’t found another job, but he had decided to do something about it, he was enrolling in college, to study accounting and to improve his English…very inspiring!
The promise of America, the American Dream…we often hear about…but I suppose I had never really experienced it this closely. In today’s economy, when most references to the American Dream are made in news stories arguing that it is disappearing for this generation, it was refreshing to see it firsthand. Julian had made sacrifices to improve his family’s life and continued to do so, working the night shift and attending classes in the morning, struggling with homework…
While I enjoy chatting with Julian, to be honest, I hope that one night he doesn’t show up and that someone else is in his place. I’ll certainly miss my conversations with him, but I’ll be far happier knowing that he has moved on to far bigger and better things, making a better life for his family.
And to imagine, I wouldn’t have learned any of this if I hadn’t said hello…
Do you have a Julian in your life? Do yourself a favor, say hello, you’ll be glad you did!
I welcome and look forward to your comments!