5 Workplace Lessons From A Waitress and A Pipe Inspector

For as long as I can remember my parents have worked extremely hard to provide for our family. My mother is a waitress at a Chinese restaurant and my father is a pipe inspector for an oil company. We would often sit at the dinner table and talk about different things they experienced at work and in life. Here are five things they taught me through those talks, watching their example and hearing about their experiences that have led me to be successful in the workplace.

1. BE A TURTLE

As a waitress, my mother deals with all kinds of people daily. Most people are cordial but there are other people that are not. She has had people threaten her verbally and physically because of something trivial like they didn’t get their refills fast enough. I asked my mother one time how she kept her mouth shut and not lose it in front of the customers.

She explained to me that she is like a turtle, letting all the negativity bounce off her shell.

The Takeaway: It is easy to get sucked into negativity at a workplace, be it through negative conversations about other co-workers or situations that arise. We need to avoid negativity when we can, but if we get caught in a negative situation, we need to be like a turtle and let the negativity bounce off our shell.

2. NEVER GET COMPLACENT

In high school, I was an A’s and B’s student and thought I was doing pretty good But my father would always get on my case when I dropped a point or didn’t gain a point. There were times my report card would read 99% and the following six weeks it would be the same. He would always ask why is that not 100%? I would explain that at my school that is not how grading worked but that didn’t matter to him.  He made sure I understood that I needed to challenge myself every day to make improvements no matter how minor so that I could continue to grow intellectually.

Even now, I continue to do this on a daily basis by reading articles, books and trying new things that are out of my comfort zone. I am also very curious about how things work and usually end up doing research on things that grab my interest.

The Takeaway: Learn something new every day.  Challenge yourself to be better at your craft.  Use whatever resources you can.  Take a class from a college, check out a book from the library, or have lunch with a mentor in the same field.

3. DON’T ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT OTHERS DO

For a long time, I didn’t know exactly what my father did.  I knew he inspected pipes that would be used in oil rigs and other places where oil was being removed. In my mind, I just assumed that inspecting pipes meant running them through a machine that did the inspection and that was it. However, one night he came home with these binders full of material. I asked him what they were for and he replied that he needed to study for his test. I chuckled and told him he was crazy because the type of work he did was easy. All he had to do was just run the machine, right? Boy was I wrong.

When I opened one of the binders the test questions were all physics and math that I hadn’t learned yet. I asked him to do one of the problems, just to make sure he wasn’t pulling my leg. My father laughed but did one of the sample questions. I took the test key and checked it, he was right!

The Takeaway: Don’t let your stereotypes or assumptions about a person’s job blind you from the importance of other people’s work and skills. It may look easy but they have been trained or educated for their position.

4. BE DEPENDABLE AND HONEST

As a waitress at a Chinese restaurant, my mother had to be at work by 10:00 a.m. every day to start her 12-hour shift. Part of her job was brewing the tea, cutting lemons and placing silverware on all the tables before customers arrived. Her boss would often add to her duties when they were running behind. After a few years, I noticed that she sometimes would work the cash register. This was strange to me because the only other person who ran it was the owner.  The owner didn’t trust anyone else because he had other employees who would steal from him. But over the years my mother earned their trust and they let her handle the money.

The Takeaway: By doing good honest work, you build trust with your superiors and co-workers.

5. ADAPT TO CHANGE

My father started his career working from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. He did this for a number of years until the company he worked for decided to rotate shifts. This meant he would be working from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. for two weeks, and two weeks from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm.  This was a major change in routine for him and for the family. I asked him if he could request to continue working during the day and he replied that this is the way it was going to be. I never once heard him complain.

I asked him if it bothered him that they made the change and he explained to me that it is part of his duty to be able to adapt to whatever change happens at the company. My father is still employed at the same company even though it has a different name than when he started, it has been sold at least four times and a lot of change has happened. He has made the proper adjustments and adapted to all of it and continues to be successful.

The Takeaway: Change is inevitable. It is up to you if you are going to sit and complain about it, or make some changes and continue to move forward with your company.


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