Nancy Pieters Mayfield harbored big dreams of being a journalist when she was young, but to even get through school she had to take work that was decidedly less glamorous. In doing so, she learned that it’s not the job you do but how you do the job that counts.
When I was in college twenty-five years ago, I spent four summers working in housekeeping at a luxury hotel in downtown Chicago. In other words, I was a maid. Each May, I traded my book bag and library card for a black uniform dress, a white apron, and a dust cloth.
I did not enter the world of housekeeping enthusiastically. My friends had summer jobs making ice cream sundaes, hawking accessories at the mall, or lifeguarding at the outdoor pool. I had been hoping to get a job as an office assistant for the county prosecutor: decent pay, an air-conditioned office, the gold standard for summer jobs.
When that fell through, the only option left was to join a handful of college students who took the twenty-five-minute train ride downtown each morning to work as maids during the busy summer convention season in Chicago.
It was tiring work, cleaning up to eighteen rooms a day. My poor attitude reflected my disdain for scrubbing toilets, changing bed linens, dusting, and vacuuming eight hours a day for the comfort of total strangers who rarely left a tip. I thought it was beneath me, a fledging journalist. My maid work was passable, my effort mediocre, until the day I was assigned to the eighteenth floor, which was a floor of newly renovated suites.
That was Lorena’s regular floor. The only time another maid set foot on it was on Lorena’s day off. If you left a trace of soap scum in the bathtub, a crumpled tissue under the bed, or a pillow unfluffed, Lorena would hunt you down when she returned, as I found out firsthand. She ended her lecture to me with, “Take some pride in your work.”
She did. And so did Rosalie, Helen, Annette, Pearlie, Earline, and all of the other career maids with more than one hundred years of experience among them. Their commitment to doing a good job and their belief that their work was a reflection of their character stuck with me throughout my professional career. I learned a lot from them those four summers.
Not a week went by without one of them offering some firm but friendly advice: “Where’s your commode brush? You don’t have one? How do you expect to get that bowl clean?” or “You don’t want to use that cleanser. That one will leave too much grit.” Don’t cut corners. Do the right thing.
Their pride in a job well done was reflected in how they carried themselves. They left the building at the end of the day in floral print dresses and carefully applied lipstick. They looked like they could have been attending an afternoon tea. And, most often, they were smiling and laughing, cheerfully bidding their coworkers a good evening.
Happy and content with a job well done. I believe there is respect in any job if you work hard and try your best.
Nancy Pieters Mayfield is a writer who lives in Dixon, Illinois, with her husband Trevis. A former newspaper reporter in northwest Indiana and journalism teacher at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, she enjoys reading, writing, kayaking, and cooking. Her bathroom is always spotless.
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