Entering the holiday season has many of us thinking of the gift of giving, to not only family and friends but also strangers. Money is particularly nice to receive, so we know it’s an ideal go-to gift when it comes to donating, tipping, and supporting others’ ventures. However, there are other presents we may offer those whose paths we cross this (and every) season. I’ll tell you a little story, if you’ll let me indulge…
I recently traveled to Dallas to present at a professional conference. On day one, my presentation was scheduled for the first slot at 8:00 a.m. Anyone who’s been graced with my presence at that time knows mornings are not my thing, to understate it. Jet-lagged, caffeine-deprived, I squirm from under the sheets, start steaming water for my tea, shimmy into the shower and hype myself up to “Music Makes Me High.” I’m still tired. It feels like the wear and tear of adjusting to a new job, working long hours and traveling frequently are catching up to me all at this very moment. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to the other side of the massive conference hotel and deliver a winning presentation. I don’t think I have any of myself left to give. So, there I am leaning heavily against the window, zoning out to the glowing sunrise above the city skyline.
“Hello, would you like your room serviced today?”
I turn back to my tossed towels and rumpled sheets. “Uh, yeah. Yes please,” I shout as I head to the door. The cleaning lady enters. She’s young. I estimate she’s about 19 years old. She smiles and begins tidying the space. She asks me if I’m here for the conference and inquires about what we do at this conference. I explain that it’s a convening of tons communications scholars, professionals and professors from around the country. She squints at me in mild disbelief and asks if I do that kind of work. She says I don’t look old enough and my students must think I’m one of them.
The cleaning lady is now my best friend.
Her name is Ké. She tells me she couldn’t take my classes because I talk about the news media and that gets boring for her. She doesn’t think she can make it through college, because school just isn’t for her. I ask Ké what she wants to do. At first she shrugs, “I’m still not sure.” She says she knows she wants to move on from working at the hotel because she wants to do better for her son. So, I probe with questions about her interests and hobbies, the same way I do with my students and mentees when I’m helping them through career soul-searching. She finally comes out with her interest in studying finance and pursuing a career in that field, and I am able to guide her through the first steps in reaching those goals.
That morning, I found enough in me to share. Of course, I tipped her for her work, but I chose to give more than the standard. I spoke with her about her dreams for a few minutes the next day and the next, until I left. With every bit of time and mentorship I gave each morning, I received so much more from her positive spirit. I felt re-energized by her hope and her friendship for those few days. With that, I had enough in me to deliver my presentation, serve on two panels, attend several sessions and events, plus fulfill my Public Relations Chair duties for my division.
On my last day at the hotel, the cleaning lady – no, my new friend, Ké brought me a small, thoughtful gift of treats that she learned I liked. I turned over the card attached to read her expression of gratitude for the time I took out of my schedule to talk with her and brighten her past few days at work. I was humbled and reminded that giving is not simply good etiquette. It rejuvenates us and keeps us connected.
May your season be an abundant cycle of giving.