Remembering Where You've Been

At the end of February, I headed two hours down the road to Omaha to see Jessica Hische speak. A snowstorm rolled through the state, so I booked a hotel in Council Bluffs just in case the roads were a mess. I checked in, got settled, and got ready to go 20 minutes west to Omaha.

Every time I stay at a hotel, I notice the details in the room. (Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows that I am obnoxiously obsessed with the details.) I notice the way the pillows are propped on the bed, how the towels are folded, and whether or not the toilet paper has been folded to a point. Most people don't look for these things, or even notice them.

I used to do housekeeping for a hotel. It was just about the least glamorous thing a college student could do in Ames, IA, but I found joy in it. I enjoyed the time to think, the opportunities to meet people from all over the country, and most importantly, I loved my co-workers and my supervisor. The work on the other hand was repetitive, mundane and sometimes appallingly filthy.

On a good day, I would have a board of rooms in which the trash would need changing, the towels and toiletries would be replaced, and the beds would need fresh linens. The finishing touches such as dusting, mopping and vacuuming would be done last. On a bad day, I would walk into a room that looked like a just-how-tacky-are-you-trying-to-be bomb ripped through it. There would be beer bottles and cigarette butts everywhere, the blankets would be strewn about the room and old pizza would be mashed into the carpet. Occasionally, you might find a dirty diaper in the corner or an used condom hiding in a pile of towels (true story). These guests would trash the room. If I had one of these rooms on a day that was already not going so well, there was hell inside me waiting to be unleashed. It was those bad days that changed the way I stay at hotels.

As I got settled in my room that night, I made sure to keep all of my things together to make sure I didn't lose them. It's not the housekeeper's responsibility to keep track of my belongings when I leave them there. The morning I checked out, I noticed how similar this hotel was to the one I worked at. Remembering what it was like to have a bad day with a full load of rooms, I went through the room and collected all of my trash and put it into one trash can. I replaced the liner since there was an extra bag at the bottom. The housekeeper wouldn't have to change the trash, because both cans had fresh liners in them. I stripped the bed, and left my towels in a pile. I discarded the used soap, and made sure the counters were clean. This saved the housekeeper a few minutes. I remember what it's like to be a housekeeper, and I guarantee that the woman who cleaned room 139 that morning, was pleased by what she found.

My 2015 resolution was to be humble in my success, and be humbled by my success. For me, this means remembering that I didn't always have a career that I love, and that the work I do doesn't determine my value as a person. Walking through the hotel, by unmanned carts and chatty housekeepers, I was reminded of a few of the jobs I've worked. I hated some of those jobs, and others I would have worked for free. I remembered vividly what it was like to lack a clear picture of what I wanted to do with my life. I have a few friends who are in that stage now, and every time the matter comes up, I find myself humbly grateful for where I'm at.

When we succeed, our past reminds us to embrace it with grace, and compassion for those who long for what we have. It reminds us that what we have is something that can be lost as quickly as it was gained. It reminds us that our success wasn't handed to us (most of us anyway), that we had to work for what we have. Had I not embraced the struggle of defining myself, had I not walked through those few aimless years, if I'd simply been able to drop a name and instantly have a six figure income, I don't think I'd be as thankful for where I am. As a creative, the fact that what I have is a gift is just one of the many things that drives my love for what I do.

Some would say that I have a lot to brag about. I say I have a lot to be grateful for, and a lot to work hard for.