I will never forget him. He was a senior executive at Dell Computers. A former Longhorn, he had come to speak to our group of wide-eyed college seniors at the University of Texas at Austin, about our future careers, of course.
A tentative voice at the back of the room posed a question. “I…, I know internships are very important, and I’m an intern now. But I don’t think I’m learning anything because they just have me doing little things, like faxing, copying, filing and other menial tasks.”
I will never forget what this professional said in response as his gaze fixed on the intern. “If you remember nothing else from my speech tonight, remember this, “Nothing is beneath you.”
My ears perked. Fellow schoolmates leaned forward. What did he mean?
The Dell executive continued, “When I was a fresh graduate, I didn’t start out holding the vice president title that I have today. My first position, and I still remember my route like yesterday, was as a mail room staffer for our company headquarters. I sorted huge volumes of mail and carted them all over Dell’s offices and delivered mail to each and everyone – with seriousness, and a smile.”
My mind briefly entertained an image of him walking down a long and narrow corporate hallway, pushing a mountain cart of mail…
“You might think my job was menial, but I took every opportunity to remember faces and names, to show them my attention to detail, to show up day after day and be the most conscientious mail room staffer I can be. And guess what? I still spent the next two years in the mail room!”
A few of us chuckled nervously.
“But if you ask me today, is it all worth it? I say to you a firm “yes.” My career took off at the two-year mark and I am where I am today because I adopted an attitude early on that served me well. Because I told myself, “nothing is beneath me.”
The speaker’s advice touched me profoundly and I took it to heart as I sailed through internships and on to real jobs over the years. I have also had the privilege to share his story a few times during one-to-one mentoring sessions, or when speaking to college students at various schools. Book author Michael Gerber also underscores a similar philosophy below:
The work we do is a reflection of who we are. If we’re sloppy at it, it’s because we’re sloppy inside. If we’re late at it, it’s because we’re late inside. If we’re bored by it, it’s because we’re bored inside, with ourselves, not with the work. The most menial work can be a piece of art when done by an artist. So the job here is not outside of ourselves, but inside of ourselves. How we do our work becomes a mirror of who we are inside.” ~ Michael Gerber, e-Myth Revisited.
Well said, Mr. Gerber, and thank you, Mr. Dell executive! Your writing and sharing reinforced my belief that there is dignity in every job – from being a janitor, to being a receptionist to being the president of this country. Readers, have you had similar experiences as the intern or the Dell speaker? How have you handled yourself in the face of “menial” assignments? Would love to hear your thoughts, insights, takeaways, success or even horror stories!