My understanding of vocation, calling and work was partly shaped while I was a seminarian in the US. As an international student, I was allowed to work up to a maximum of 20 hours/week. This was the advantage that I maximised it fully in order to support my studies. One of the many jobs I took as a seminarian was a cleaner, a job that was easily and usually available for international students from the Two-Thirds World. As a cleaner, I had to clear the rubbish, clean the toilets and vacuum the carpet in the common areas in one of the dorms.
Taking up the position of a cleaner was the direct opposite of my career prior to entering seminary. I had just resigned from my job with a large property developer where I was involved in the portfolios of business development, property administration and property management. One of my functions was to manage several properties under the group's umbrella. This was achieved through working together with a property management team,including a team of cleaners. Back in those "good old" days in the office, I did not even have to lift a finger to throw any rubbish and clean the toilet. A phone call away would do the job.
But the situation in the seminary was very different. All of a sudden, I found myself on the other side of the equation in terms of my "career." This was then I discovered the meaning of vocation, calling and work. I must confess that the first couple of weeks were rather difficult for me to work as a cleaner - it's not that I despised the work, but I could not help but to make comparison between myself and the cleaners back in my previous job that I left a few months earlier. But I discovered that even as a cleaner in seminary, there was dignity in my work. I was earning an honest wage. I was making ends meet. But beyond that, I was making the dorm a much more pleasurable and conducive place for my other fellow students to live and work in. I was contributing, in a small way, to the well-being of the fellow seminarians.
It was then I suddenly realised that cleaners were not invisible workers in an organisation. They had a big role to play. They made significant contribution to the lives of the office workers. If only I realised this fact while I was still practising as a property valuer. If I had realised this, I would have gone the extra mile in ensuring that the needs and welfare of the cleaners in my previous office were better taken care of.
If I could turn back the clock and go back to my previous career, I would have made more frequent visits to see cleaners in their common room and find out what could have been done to make their work more enjoyable and pleasurable. Perhaps I could have provided an extra microwave, kettle, and perhaps some hot beverage for them for their tea break. Perhaps a provision of a locker could also have added to their convenience. Perhaps I should have looked into the equipment used daily by them. Perhaps their common room could use with a coat of fresh paint to brighten up the place....the the list goes on.
To me, this was one small area I could have been a positive influence and agent of transformation in the marketplace - it is to care for and demonstrate the love of Christ to people in our workplace regardless of position and influence, status and power and other artificial boundaries that we may have drawn up intentionally and unintentionally.
More often than not, reaching to the poor and marginalised in the marketplace is void of glamour and does not have the ingredients of making it into "success" story. Neither will it earn us the reputation of being "successful" or throw us into position of limelight in the eyes of others (for my previous posts on this subject, see here, here, and here).
Having said that, any takers for the vacancy as a cleaner?
Cartoon credit: Tim Hicks