Esmer worked at Garrett Middle School. He was an older man with stark white hair, a kind smile, and a slow gate as he meandered down the halls. Everyone in the school knew him. Everyone loved him. He had a way of making you feel at home and telling stories that were entertaining, endearing, and often a little too long.
When I met him, he had been married for a lifetime, lost his wife, retired from a lifelong career, and now spent his time cleaning up a school. Only, he wasn’t JUST cleaning up a school. He was giving it life.
As he went about his day, he would talk with the kids, staff, and visitors. I got my share of advice from him. He was filled with stories and life and covered by a kind smile that would put you at ease. He was all of these wonderful things while wiping tables and sweeping floors. Esmer was the school custodian, and his work impacted more lives than I can count, including mine. I miss him.
3 ways to find impactful work in unlikely places
Remember that impactful work is about people.
We work for people and with them. We build, create, nurture, teach, clean, etc. for people. It’s easy to get lost in the day to day of what we do when we should focus on who is next to us while we are doing it.
Esmer always had time for people. Every time I saw him, he had time for me. Looking back, I wish I could say the same. He was never too busy for a person, a connection. They were more important to him than his work tasks. He wasn’t there for the paycheck. He wasn’t there for the wiping or sweeping. He was there for the people. That’s what made him special. It made him great.
Stop worrying about what you do.
What we do isn’t who we are. Our work doesn’t define us. It doesn’t make us good or bad, valued, or not. Our work is just that, work. Our impact comes from a deeper place. Impact comes from who we are, from who we choose to be each day, and how we choose to connect with others.
Esmer’s work didn’t define him or make him impactful. I’m not writing about him eleven years after leaving Garrett Middle School because of his ability to clean tables. I’m writing about him because he was an impactful person, and that impact flowed through his work to others.
Bring your best self to work.
If you don’t love your work, it’s not easy to bring your best self. But, for impactful work, your best self is the only option. Only by bringing your best self to work can you create the connections and relationships that make your work matter.
What I remember most about Esmer is that he was an amazing person every single day. Because of that, his work, his very presence, was impactful every time I saw him. That’s the kind of person I want to be.
Impactful work comes from being an impactful person that lives intentionally. It’s a choice we make every day. Impactful work isn’t tied to the work itself, but the person doing the work. A custodian with a good heart and a kind smile can do more good in the world than we will ever know.