Finding Significance in Unusual Places

Because I speak on the subject of transcending mere success and achieving true significance, I am often asked who I believe to have been most significant. I know they expect me to name some well known person from history. Usually though, I tell them about Valerie Washington.

Valerie’s Happy Restroom

I had the privilege of meeting Valerie Washington in 2007 in the women’s bathroom outside gate C-10 in the Charlotte, NC airport. She was a bathroom attendant who stays in the bathroom to make sure the stalls and counters are presentable. She made sure the toilet paper and hand towels were stocked, and any messes cleaned up.  That seems like a pretty crummy and thankless job – unless you’ve met Valerie. Valerie goes about her day singing and smiling and welcoming people to “Valerie’s Happy Restroom.”

I was amazed at her attitude. I found out when she would have a break and I offered to buy her a cup of coffee. I wanted to discover the secret to this enthusiasm. We sat for 15 minutes and she said to me, “There’s no big secret. Sunshine on the inside, make sunshine on the outside. If ya can’t have fun at work, don’t go.”

I asked her, “How do you do it? How do you deal with all the snippy people and the grumpy travelers?” “They just lost,” she said. “They running so hard, they don’t know where they is. They forget to stop and look around ’em sometimes. See, that’s where I come in. That’s why I’m here. I remind people every day that you gotta make your own sunshine. Ain’t nobody responsible for bringing you sunshine but you. They come in grumpy. They leave with a smile.”

Life’s Lessons

Valerie taught me that happiness is in the heart, not in the circumstances. Valerie taught me that significance is about knowing what your mission is and making the world a better place because you were there.

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