Change The Culture - Part III "Dishes"

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In 2014 I worked at a family summer camp, running games and playing music for kids. In our off-hours, we had to take a second shift washing dishes. It was the worst. Imagine digging through buckets of dishwater, guacamole, and refried beans for hours. That was me. I got sick three times in ten weeks. 

In the middle of the chaos, the lady who managed kitchen cleanup was one of the kindest, most encouraging people I had ever met. 

She gave me little plastic emeralds as I sorted silverware, telling me my hard work was really meaningful. When we would set tables for the next meal after everyone was gone, she would ask about my family, and tell me about the songs her DJ husband chose for the radio. She played music over the speakers and we all sang together as we worked. She told me she was grateful that I worked so hard.

One day it dawned on me: when she was 25 years old, did she think she’d be managing kitchen cleanup at a tiny camp when she was 50?

Did she have career aspirations? Visions of success? Did she have dreams to create something meaningful? Probably. Look where she is now. 

We live in a world where executives’ daughters don’t show up to their funerals, but teary-eyed students give janitors bear hugs at the end of the school year.

What’s the rub?

Obviously success and significance are not mutually exclusive. We don’t have to choose between making money and being nice. But our culture strongly prioritizes professional success over relational significance. Our culture champions cross-country relocations to make an extra $5,000. Our culture draws a thick line between hourly work and “big kid jobs”. Our culture spews out travesties like plagiarism by making students feel like the diploma is more important than actually learning.

We make sacrifices for the culture of American success. But what for? When we die, our success is forgotten. But this culture is ingrained in us from childhood, and it’s incredibly difficult to eradicate.

We need to change the culture.

If we want to change the culture, we have to empower people.

Don’t underestimate the residual power of impacting one person. One empowered person quickly inspires their spouse, children, family, friends. The ripples of this positive culture reach the shore and reshape the landscape for generations.

It starts with Friendsgiving. You’re the kind of person who creates non-traditional experiences for the benefit of others. American culture coaxes us to use that initiative to build a successful career. But the single-minded pursuit of success loses its own game. Economies change, money is spent, people die, and work is forgotten. We go back to the drawing board and we discover the influence we desire lies in how we work, not in what we do. Now we’re free to create whatever we want with the pressure off, knowing that our true significance is in every interaction with each person. And the exciting part? If we’re focused on enriching others’ lives, we’ll have a much easier time being successful.

Joshua Reese