Lessons From the Angry Janitor

Lessons From the Angry Janitor


Originally published a few years ago, sometimes we all need to be reminded that sometimes life’s most important lessons are learned by doing the most menial tasks. Rj

He was 6 feet 2 inches of pure anger, one hand holding a broom and the other hand held in a tightly clinched fist, standing in the men’s rest room in the local grocery store. When I walked in the pure fury of this young janitor was palpable in the room. He had the look on his face of someone about to explode with anger, but was holding it back in a pressure-cooker of pent-up emotion.

“Are you OK?” I asked as I got inside the door.

After a few moments, he looked up from his locked gaze on the floor and said, in almost a whisper: “They’re making me clean the bathroom.”

“What?” I asked.

“They’re making me clean all of the bathrooms in the store.” He replied, with even more pent-up anger in his voice.

“So, why are you mad?” I asked him.

He told me that he only worked there part time, he was a high school student, football player, student council…and on and on about his famous standing in his high school, and that he had been accepted to some big Ivy League college to study business, and in spite of all of this he was told by the store manager to clean the bathrooms.

I had to laugh a little as I listened to his story, but after he was done I told him the story that many of you already know…

I told him this: “I am the owner of my own company and make a six figure income operating it. I have employees and travel to many exotic places to work and vacation. I work with the top level of executives in my industry, and the one thing I have in common with most of those executives is: We all started out as janitors…doing the job you are doing right now.”

The look of surprise on his face was an amazing transformation. “Are you serious?” he asked.

I told him: “Nobody gets to be the president of a company unless they know every job in the company. You have to know and be able to do every job, including how to clean the toilets and polish the floors. I worked for a year as a janitor for a Zale’s Jewelers before I was even allowed on the sales floor. And to this day I can run a floor polisher and clean a toilet, and am not afraid to do so. That is how you get to be the president of a company, by learning every job that must be done to make the company operate.”

“So this is how you started?” he asked.

“Exactly, and every successful business person I know did the same.” I told him.

You could feel the tension just evaporate. He stopped for just a minute, smiled just a bit, said “thanks,” and turned and started applying the broom to its intended purpose.

I believe this young man learned an important lesson that day.

I can tell you that every time I enter a rest room and see a young man cleaning the place up, I compliment him on the excellent job he is doing, and tell him that this job is how I got my start, and I wish him good fortunes with his future for starting out so well.

You would be surprised at how many times I have seen the “lights go on” with these young guys.

This is all a true story.

Every gemology student’s dream job:

Approximately 70% of the new ISG students I meet want to become an International Gemstone Buyer and travel the world buying gemstones for a jewelry company. I tell them: So do I, but that job is so rare that you should probably consider some other part of the industry. I tell them that they should be prepared, even with their gemological diploma, to start out as an entry level sales person in this industry. They will never fully understand the operations of this industry unless they learn it from the entry level and move up. That is how successful people are made in this industry, by learning all of the jobs that are required, and moving up one step at a time.

Not everyone has to start out as a janitor, but I have to tell you it helps. When you become a jewelry store manager and the toilets overflow, or your regular cleaning person is out sick, you better know how to clean toilets and polish floors. Because in the end, being president of a company, large or small, means you have to know how to do every job in the company.

For some of us, that first job was being the janitor. To this day I can run a floor polisher better than anyone I know. I also have thousands of people around the world read this newsletter due to the professional respect I have earned as President of the International School of Gemology.

If you ever feel there is a job in this industry that is beneath you, the number of jobs available above you will be limited in scope and reach.

If you have the opportunity to start as the janitor, be the best darned janitor the company has ever seen. You might be surprised at where it can lead you.

Robert James FGA, GG
President, International School of Gemology
Janitor, International School of Gemology