People – What Can We Learn From Them?

People are a good thing.


People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.

-John C. Maxwell-

I’m not sure why,  but lately I’ve been thinking about the people I’ve met throughout my life.  In my last post, I shared a little bit of Liz’s story with you.  Today I want to tell you about a couple of men who once worked for me.

It was sometime in 2004 when I was about a year into running my first service business, Facilities Cleaning Group, Inc. in a small town in Iowa.  I was approached by a local organization that was in the business of finding work for special needs adults or adults dealing with emotional or mental issues.

The first person they brought for an interview was Tom, not his real name, Tom had lost his mom at an early age and had been raised by his sisters.  Tom came to us severely overweight and lacking in self-esteem.  He made no conversation and would only answer questions with a yes, no, or as few words as possible and all the while staring at the ground.  His hair was combed over his eyes almost as if he were hiding from the world.

The counselor told me that Tom’s goal for his life was to become a janitor.  He’s the first such person I had ever met with such a goal.  Tom’s only obstacles were that he had no self-direction to find his dream job, and he had no experience as a janitor, but we hired him on the spot anyway.

My approach to training Tom was simple, mostly because I didn’t know any better, but I just had him follow me around his new building for about two weeks with no pressure to speak, smile, or even look me in the eye.  I just talked to Tom, gave him direction, hoped it was taking root, and told him he could do this with no problem.  Tom never said a word back.  Once in awhile, I’d catch the beginnings of a smile beneath all of that hair and knew that someone was listening and enjoying his new job.

After about a week, Tom began to get the hang of things, and by the end of week two, I was able to leave him on his own.  In the months that followed Tom gained new confidence.  He slowly began to look and act differently.  He was acting like the 20-year old that he was!  In time Tom’s hairstyle changed and we could see his eyes, he was talking and telling jokes, he even bought a used car – his first!  Eventually, he found a girlfriend and lost a bunch of weight!

It wasn’t long after Tom came to us that we hired another man to help Tom.  We’ll call him Joe.  Joe came to us with severe depression that he had been dealing with for a great many years.  Joe held a Bachelors degree in the sciences and had been a very successful person well into his 40’s.  One night he and his family suffered a car accident, that accident took Joe’s family away from him as they all lost their lives. When Joe recovered, he was alone and deeply depressed.

As Joe fell into a deep depression, he lost his job, all of his positions, and became an alcoholic. When we hired Joe, we weren’t sure if he could hold onto his sobriety long enough to keep his job.  He had attempted this very thing a few times before but had no luck in sustaining his gains.

I think that the best thing that ever happened to Joe was to meet Tom, and the best thing that had ever happened to Tom was to become a janitor.  Tom and Joe became best of friends and helped one another to bear the punches that life can offer, despite their 40-year age difference!  They had a great time together each night as they worked to get a 3 story office building clean in 8 hours.

Joe’s loss was tremendous, and he may suffer depression for his whole life, but when he was at work all of that disappeared as he was contributing and earning.  Joe was also being a father and friend to the parentless Tom, contributing what he could to another human was giving Joe a reason to keep trying.

Here we had a young 21- year old inexperienced boy, a sixty-year-old recovering alcoholic with a 4-year degree, and a first-time business owner who had no clue what he was doing.  But together we were all right for one another.  Together we built a company that took the town by storm, together we took on other challenged adults and changed many of their lives too.  Not all were a success, but most were.

I was thinking about those people today; I miss them.  I sold the company in 2007 and lost contact with all 18 of my employees.  Some had issues of the heart that they were dealing with, others had issues of the mind, some were homeless when they came to us, and some were born with mental limitations that they will carry on into seniorhood.

I tell all of this not to brag, but to drive home one point.  We’re all people, flawed, hurt, challenged, limited, and inexperienced.  But we all have lives, family, hearts, ideas, feelings, a history, and something to contribute.

Next time you’re ready to call it quits, next time you want to choke a coworker, next time you’re angry at the world, remember the simplicity of Tom’s dream, the cathartic relationship that helped Joe out of his funk, and know that there’s a little bit of Tom and Joe in all of us.  Despite the obstacles, Tom and Joe both rose above their challenges and so can we.

Tino Hernandez

Copyright © 2017 Tino Hernandez –