Several months ago, while pushing a buggy down a Walmart aisle with one of my kids, I heard someone call my name.
Now, before I delve into the nature of this particular encounter, in the interests of full disclosure I’ll admit that I often cringe when somebody I don’t know calls me by name in public. It happens more often than you think – not because I’m famous (oh, the horrors the likes of Brad Pitt must endure!), but because I’ve worked for many years in staffing in the same town. And I cringe not because I don’t enjoy talking to people, but because the chances are pretty high that it’s someone I interviewed and/or placed on a job once upon a time and, since I can barely remember my kids’ names, unless they’ve made a major impression on me or they are a long-time employee, I’m quite unlikely to remember theirs.
(Yeah, there’s also the possibility that the person addressing me left us on bad terms and wants to ‘hash it out’ it further in the Walmart aisle in front of my kids, but that’s a whole other story!)
I turned around to a normal looking guy about my age. He had his family with him, and he was smiling at me like I was a long-lost friend. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Without going into the entire conversation and the initial awkwardness of me not knowing who he was even though I interviewed him five years ago (he was cool about it :)), he proceeded to tell me that he was still at the company we placed him at back then, except now he is a line supervisor!
Over the years, I’ve experienced several encounters like that. Not all of those folks are still working where we placed them. Not all who are have moved into supervision. But all, in their own way, have reminded me of the tremendous privilege we have to be able to do what we do.
Carpenters build buildings. Doctors fix people. Plumbers fix toilets. Janitors keep things clean & sanitary. CEOs lead corporations. Factory workers make the things that make the world go ‘round. Everyone who produces a slice of that magical thing we call ‘work,’ that thing without which nothing that makes our lives what they are would exist, is a vital contributor to society. By doing something so basic and necessary as providing for their families, they are making their own magic, whatever it may be.
The gentleman in the Walmart aisle thanked me for giving him a shot all those years ago. Apparently I had taken a bit of a chance on him, at least from his perspective. He had been in a hard place in his life back then and, even years later, he was still grateful for the shot we gave him to make something of himself. And make something of himself he did, with flying colors.
Staffers, recruiters, and HR Professionals play a tremendous part in helping folks find their own way to contribute. We mentor them, counsel them, point them in the right direction. Sometimes, nary many times, the people we try to help will disappoint us in one way or another. But sometimes they will find us in the Walmart aisle and remind us why what we do can be magical too.