By Lorraine Glowczak
Insight reprinted by request
I once met a young woman who is a well-respected and knowledgeable dog trainer. It seems she knew the moment she popped into this world what she would do and be when she grew up. Although, when asked as a child what she would do, she would confidently respond that she wanted to be a zoologist and did, in fact, obtain a degree in Marine Science. But it was the canine variety where she was called and eventually found her true niche.
I remember being asked that same question when I was in the second grade, in 1973. Mrs. Dooley asked all 15 of us what we wanted to do with our “one wild and crazy life.” I panicked. I really didn’t have a clue and I knew I had to think of something fast. I was in the second row, so I had a minute to ponder a career that would impress my peers.
Billy said, “I’m going to be a professional football player.” Vickie was next to answer and then it would be my turn. “I want to be a ballerina,” she said. The pressure was on and I still hadn’t come up with anything unique. I wish I would have simply told the truth and said I didn’t know because, after all, I was only eight years old. But instead, I blurted out, “I want to be a cashier when I grow up.”
Silence. Complete silence from not only Mrs. Dooley but my classmates as well. I was embarrassed. I had no clue why I even said that. The word, “cashier”, must have been on the previous week’s spelling test.
The lesson from this story comes in the form of two questions: Why the silence? Why my shame?
What I didn’t know then is that I would go on to do something, by society’s standards, that might be considered a rung below a cashier. The perception was confirmed about six months after I started my own cleaning business – scrubbing away at residential and commercial properties. While I was proud of being a sole proprietor, I was soon reminded of my seemingly unimportant career path when I arrived home one day. Feeling proud of my entrepreneurial endeavor, the self-satisfaction came to a screeching halt when I heard the message on the answering machine (this was before the popular use of cellphones). The message went something like this:
“Hello Rainy!”, my highly educated friend from an elevated social standing began. “I do realize that cleaning is quite the lucrative business, but – oh Rainy – cleaning for others is so beneath you.”
I knew she saw within me a different potential, but she did not see the value in the service I offered to others – but perhaps more importantly – the service I offered to myself. I was preparing to become a writer.
If you ask anyone who works with their hands, they will tell you that some of their most creative thoughts occur during routine and mundane activities. In fact, according to an online magazine article written in “Psychology Today” by author and medical doctor, Carrie Barron - it was stated:
“Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action…. foster[ing] a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous, joyful, creative thought.”
In another article, “Lessons I Learned Cleaning Other People’s Homes”, written by Inka Linda Sarvi, captured what I learned for myself in the cleaning business. Sarvi was hired by Zenith Cleaning as a communications and marketing professional, who was also required as part of her position, to clean homes and offices.
She said that every time she finished cleaning a space, she couldn’t deny how peaceful she felt. “I now look forward to how good it feels to get lost in the relaxing rhythm of wiping surfaces and the meditative concentration of focusing fully on one task at a time. The strangest and most fascinating part is how when I clean, I’m constantly struck with new ideas for short stories, poems, songs and paintings, as if my creativity is no longer gated by the constraints of time or assignments.”
She continued by saying that it didn’t make sense to her how cleaning something that inherently makes a space better and helps others is so looked down upon. “It illuminates the truth that the stigma around it is no more than a collective illusion, just one of many other falsehoods that make up the fabric of our society.”
I will admit I’m glad my career in cleaning for others is now behind me, as it is hard physical labor. I pull weeds from my flower garden now to take its place.
What I have learned about physical labor is there is no shame in working with one’s hands. If I ever had an opportunity to return to the past and to my eight-year old self in Mrs. Dooley’s class, I would proudly announce that I would grow up to be a sole proprietor of a cleaning business. I would then quickly add, “I’m going to be an author, too. I promise to give you all a signed copy of my first bestselling novel. As for the other many books on the New York Times best sellers list, you must purchase those on your own. Thank you very much.” And then I would have taken a bow.
I suspect there would be silence as a result of my overly self-assured announcement. But I would be proud that I would one day be working with my hands – not only in cleaning the homes for others to add sparkle to their homes, but in the typing and the sewing together of words that could potentially put a sparkle in others’ lives.