How My Life Perspective Changed at a Gas Station

[The following is one of my very first posts that I have now re-written. I AM DEDICATING IT TO MY SONS.  Sometimes life hands us disappointments, but it is how we accept these disappointments that matter.  Do we handle them with grace and still give our 100%?

What one of my sons learned this week is that showing up and giving your best DOES matter no matter what — YOU NEVER KNOW WHO IS WATCHING.]

“You can take the willing and make them able,
but you cannot take the able and make them willing.”
– Anonymous

When I was looking for a job, the following quote was said to me by my mother. I do not know the originator (would love to give credit where credit is due) but the words are absolutely true.  

An employer, for example, when given the choice between a skilled but lazy worker and a hard working employee who is slightly less skilled will select the latter every time.

Sometimes, life will knock us down and our pride and ego can be hurt. Sometimes we are forced to ‘pay our dues’ when the effort seems futile and pointless.  I learned this lesson . . . at a gas station.

“Always deliver more than expected.”
– Larry Page,
Co-founder of Google

When I was fresh out of college and looking for a job, the Persian Gulf War had just broken out.  Living in a military-saturated area, more than 40,000 local military residents were deployed and jobs were scarce. 

I ended up getting a job at a grocery store while I pursued more-desirable employment.  I would feel so humiliated when people from my high school or college would come to the store.  I knew what they were thinking—it was what I was thinking—you went to college for this?  But I needed money.  I was interning for free at a local chamber of commerce so that I could gain some marketable job experience.  My dad at the time did not understand this: “why don’t you go back to get your master’s,” he would say.  “Why are you working for free?”

I tried explaining that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life first.  I had been hitting a brick wall with my job search—the ol’ you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job—so I knew that I needed to find a way to gain work experience.  The internship was my way.

So, with my head down, I went to my  grocery store gig to earn money.  I finally resigned myself to the fact that I would run into people I knew; my confidence was at rock bottom.

It was at this time that I learned a valuable lesson—one that I still remember to this day—and it happened at a gas station.  In those days, full-service gas pumps were still an option. In fact at this station, every gas pump was full service.  In high school, the service attendants were often my fellow classmates. Post-college and on this day, it was a man whose child I used to babysit.  He was a bank executive, so seeing him wear the station’s uniform was surprising.

What impressed me the most was that he didn’t try hiding the fact that he worked there.  Instead, he walked over cheerfully and helped me pump my gas.  That was when it dawned on me that he must have lost his job in the throes of the Persian Gulf War recession.

gas-attendantUnlike me, some college graduate punk, who worked at a grocery store with shame, this man approached me with his head high.  He had more reason than me to feel down.  He had a wife, a child, and a prominent job.  But you wouldn’t have known it.  With a smile on his face and such a cheerful manner, he helped me—not just with my gas, but also with my perspective on life.

This man had experienced a disappointing and difficult set back.  But instead of surrendering to his despair, he faced it, embraced it, and did what he needed to do at the time.  This experience must have been so difficult and humbling for him. I am sure when he lost his job, he must have been devastated and felt as if someone punched him in the gut.  I am sure that he was scared, depressed, and wanted to cry.  He is human, after all.  And no human is without challenges.

I don’t know what happened later with this man. I can only assume that his positive attitude allowed him to obtain another job. 

Shortly after this incident, I had gotten a job in another city and moved away.  The job?  It was at a chamber of commerce; they said it was my nonpaying internship at the local chamber that made them take notice.

I regret not going back to thank this man, although I am sure he has no idea the impact he had on my life.  It was on that day that I promised myself that I would always try to maintain a positive attitude and do whatever job I am given with a cheerful attitude. 

As I wrote in the beginning, this post is dedicated to my sons. As a mom, it is hard to watch your children be disappointed, hurt, and upset. It takes everything out of you not to FIX IT, but instead, let your children work it out for themselves. You can only trust that you have empowered them to stay the course . . . and to do so with grace and a sense of self-worth.  You hope that they will know how important it is to ALWAYS GIVE THEIR BEST despite the circumstances.  Because, as I said above, you never know who is watching. . . it could be someone who can positively affect your future! 

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