Talk to the Janitor

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!

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2 Responses to Talk to the Janitor

  1. Hi Mika,

    Great to hear from you!

    Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your story from Kind Over Matter, it was certainly an excellent reminder (especially with Thanksgiving only weeks away) to be grateful for each and every day and to recognize that the daily ‘struggles’ we deal with often pale in comparison to the problems that Richard must overcome on a daily basis.

    Best of luck with your new product launch early next year, I hope it is an enormous success!

    Hope that you have a safe and happy holiday season with your friends and family.

    All the best,


  2. Mika says:

    Hey Geoff,

    The closes “Julian” I have in my life was this homeless man and his dog I would always see in my neighborhood. Every now and then I’d give this homeless man some money and food for his dog. When I found out his dog was unjustly killed, I took a few moments to offer the homeless man my condolences and to get to know him a little better. MANY random strangers did the same thing to him. Sometimes I’m caught up in my own little world that I forget to share humanity with others less fortunate than me. I wrote a guest post about this at

    Oh and fyi my pen name is MIKA. Back story behind that- I wrote an ebook and didn’t want to use my real name at the time. Since then, I’ve created a relationship/ personal self-development blog to funnel in traffic for a product I’m launching in Jan/Feb.

    Thank you for this post. It’s another great reminder to always share humanity b/c everyone has their own battles/problems they’re experiencing. You may never know the lasting impression they could make in your life (or vice versa) unless you put yourself out there.

    Hope you’re doing well and that you’re not working too hard 🙂

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