At least once a week on my lunch break, I go to UPS. I stand in line, my package and prepaid label in hand, until I’m summoned to the counter. There, I go through the familiar motions of saying where I’m shipping, giving the label, waiting for the receipt. In our online-shopping culture, buying items from the magical ether of the internet and then shipping them back when they haven’t fulfilled my need has become a part of my routine.
The man who works at the UPS store I frequent is a middle-aged Pakistani. (I know because I asked — no assumptions about his nationality were made.) Since I’m his regular customer, we smile when we see each other, acknowledging that, yes, it’s me again, yep, with the Zappos box again. We make small talk while he tapes up yet another box with yet another pair of shoes my child didn’t like. Every week, I receive the greatest pleasure from watching him work. This man is meticulous in what he does. He closes my box neatly. He rips off just the right amount of tape and places it on the box. He puts my label inside the clear plastic envelope and carefully, gently applies it to the top of the box. All his movements are measured, precise. His counter is pristine; his tape dispenser always full.
As I watch him service customers time after time, closing, taping, offering receipts, making conversation, I’m reminded of what my father has told me relentlessly while I was growing up. The importance of taking pride in what you do cannot be overstated. It’s a concept that was hard to grasp at 12 years old, but has become so obvious to me now.
Pride. Taking pride. Wherever our path may lead us, doing our job as if it’s the most important work in the world is what separates the exceptional from the mediocre. I think of that often now; anytime I watch a clerk at my local bagel shop carefully wipe crumbs off the counter. I think of that when my child’s teacher, certainly overworked and running haggard, sends me an email she didn’t have to send, just to let me know a bit of news about my child’s day at school. I consider the importance of taking pride when my doctor, shattering the stereotypes about detached, impersonal physicians, follows up after my appointment by sending me a medical article on the subject we discussed in her office.
And I’m grateful. I’m so grateful for all the people that do a million jobs around our city, our country, and my world. They teach, and heal, and sweep, and cook, and tape up boxes. They write code, and write novels. I’m grateful when I am privileged enough to witness pride in the work coming through in a thousand small ways.
Sociologist Martha Beck is credited with saying, “The way we do one thing is the way we do everything.” When I watch my UPS friend carefully tape up my boxes, as if he’s shipping his heart in them, I can only imagine the love and attention he applies to everything else he does. Our world is a richer, warmer place because of him. I’m sure of it.