“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” ~John Holmes
I moved to Vermont to work at a ski lodge the day after I turned twenty-two.
I had finished college six months earlier; September 11th had made finding a “real” job in my field pretty much impossible, and I was ready for adventure.
Somehow I had been hired to be the head waitress in the lodge’s basement eatery, where we served family-style meals every single morning and six nights a week.
I had no waitressing experience whatsoever; I’m pretty sure I was hired for this position because I was older than some of the other employees, had a college degree (uh, in studio art), and had worked at a concession stand at the beach for three summers during college. I mean, at least I had handled food before, right?
Up until this point, my customer service skills were severely stunted. I barely tolerated customers; I rarely even spoke to them. The extent of my “service” skills involved making sure they got the right kind of soda and correct change.
In fact, at my very first job, as a cashier at a big box store where I had to wear a blue vest, a customer actually complained about me to management. I didn’t smile, I wasn’t friendly, and I wasn’t helpful. (In my defense, I was sixteen. And wearing a blue vest.)
One night at the ski lodge, I’ll never forget this, a couple who had come to stay every single year for the past decade pulled me aside so the husband could tell me something in private. “Your attitude comes off as very distant and aloof. I can tell you’re just shy, but you seem very unfriendly.”
For some reason having this older gentleman tell me how I seemed to outsiders absolutely, completely turned me and my attitude around.
He was right—I was shy, and also uncertain about myself. I was afraid to be friendly, afraid to come out of my shell and potentially embarrass myself.
But I didn’t want to be seen as unfriendly and aloof. I wanted to connect with people, I just didn’t know how.
As the ski season went on, I did my best to make little changes: more eye contact, more smiles, more conversation. I can’t say I immediately saw a huge shift, but I was trying.
Fast-forward another couple of years: after traveling around the country for a while (even living in a tent at one point; aren’t your twenties great?), I ended up back at the ski lodge again. This time, I was hired to work at the front desk.
The front desk?? Where all the people were? All the time?
Yup, that front desk.
By this time the lodge had changed hands, and the new owner said something to me about how to talk on the phone with customers that left a lasting impression. She said, “Smile when you talk, because customers can hear it all the way through the phone.”
She was so right. I still think about that any time I’m on the phone with a customer or client.
I can’t tell you exactly what happened to me during that ski season, but by the time my parents came up for a visit in the spring and saw me in action, they were impressed with how friendly and confident I was with guests, but not nearly as impressed (and happy) as I was.
All of a sudden I loved helping people. I was thrilled when guests came to check in, adored giving restaurant recommendations, and was elated to tell prospective clients all that our area had to offer.
Suddenly, I realized how wonderful it was to be kind—being friendly to others actually made me happier!
I don’t know why for all those years I had thought keeping silent or being disgruntled was good for me—I guess I just didn’t know any different.
After a year in Vermont, I moved down to the mountains of North Carolina (just as pretty; a whole lot warmer), where I landed myself another hotel job, this time at an historic inn. Within a year or so I was running the front desk and was managing events, and I loved it!
Friday afternoons when we got a crush of people, ready to kick off their relaxing visit? Pure bliss for me!
Sunday mornings, when guests were checking out and wanted to reminisce about their weekend? Utter satisfaction!
A brunch where the quiche turned out just right and the hostess had properly impressed her friends? My work was done!
New Year’s Eve? Best night of the year! I actually put myself on for the late night shift (I was in charge of scheduling) so my employees could be off, but I could be part of the fun.
The same group of guests came to celebrate every year, and I’d walk the hallways, being invited into open rooms for a bite of fancy cheese or a swig of champagne.
I don’t know how to explain it, other than being kind and helping others completed something in me I didn’t even know was missing.
If you’ve ever felt like you wanted to connect more with others, to offer kindness and support, but feel too shy or nervous about the possibility of being rejected, I want to tell you that stepping out of your shell, even just a little bit, can bring enormous rewards.
Pick something that feels easy and comfortable to you. Do you have to be on the phone frequently for your job? Try smiling when you’re talking on the phone, even if you feel a little silly, even if the person on the other end is being difficult or unfriendly. I bet you’ll feel really good when you hang up.
Perhaps you notice a new participant in your yoga class, someone who seems uncertain and hangs in the back. Do whatever feels best—smile, wave, walk over and introduce yourself. Imagine if you were in the same position; wouldn’t it feel great for someone to reach out to you?
Ask coworkers if they need a hand with anything. Ask friendly questions of your new neighbor. Volunteer for a local charity or library.
Anything that connects you with others and allows you to flex your kindness muscle will do. You’ll be amazed to see that being kind makes other people happy, but brings an even greater joy to you.
After working at the inn for a few years I moved on to a hospitality job at the local airport, and from there realized that I wanted to expand my kindness and help others on an even more profound level, but there’s a part of me that will always miss working at a hotel.
Interacting with guests taught me so much about myself. It gave me so much confidence, and it taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: to be kind to others was to be kind to myself. I hope you’ll open your heart to learning the same lesson.
Kindness image via Shutterstock