My first paying job was cleaning the bathrooms of the First Baptist Church of Carrollton, Ga. This was also my sister's first job. The money we made was our money. We could decide how to spend it: clothes, records, books, eight-track tapes, whatever we decided.
I was proud to clean those bathrooms. When my job was complete, I knew that people had a nice, clean place to go, and that had and has real value. People appreciate clean bathrooms. Just go into a dirty bathroom, and you will understand why.
"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits for working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday," presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (my father) said this month during an address at Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines, Iowa. Earlier on the campaign trail, Dad had mentioned that students should take jobs as janitors in order to learn work habits.
Indicating that the controversy over whether students should work as janitors was "a good example of how hard it is to take the world that works and bring it over to the world that fails," Dad also provided other examples of jobs students could hold: they could "sit in the clerical office and greet people that came in. What if you paid them to work as the assistant librarian?"
Gingrich noted that the real problem was that "they have no habit of 'I do this, and you give me cash.'"
For these ideas he received pushback regarding students cleaning bathrooms.
What's wrong with cleaning bathrooms?
Cleaning bathrooms wasn't the most glamorous job, literally swabbing out toilets, wiping down sinks and making sure that the towels were restocked, but I knew that it was useful work. It gave me a sense of pride on Sunday mornings to walk into the gleaming bathrooms.
I wasn't required to clean them at any certain time, just prior to Sunday morning and Wednesday night so that the bathrooms would be clean at these times for the programs at the church. This taught me how to balance my time and my schedule among school, band, ballet and my job.
In addition to learning how to plan, I also experienced the link between a job well done and compensation. I cleaned the bathrooms, and I received a check in my name once a week. The feeling of accomplishment was more important than the small amount of money that I made. I learned that hard work can lead to compensation and that almost any job that adds value to those around you and is well done is a job to be proud of completing.
In addition to cleaning bathrooms in high school, I have worked as a skating waitress at Sonic Drive-In restaurants (yes, including hose, black shorts and a change belt), a hostess at a restaurant, a banquet waitress, an ice cream scooper, a telephone switchboard operator (yes, I am old enough to have flipped switches to connect people), a bookkeeper and a seed counter.
I learned a lot: It is important to show up on time and stay until your shift is done or all your work is done, whichever comes later. Not only does the work have value, but so does the worker.
Whether it's cleaning bathrooms or flying jets (which I have never done), if you do a good job and add value to the world around you, then your work has value. It doesn't matter so much what you do, it's how you do it. A valuable lesson for all to learn.