A penny for the waitress- they remembered, but what did they think?

Warning – very long post – a bit of a ramble.

In the summer of 1989 I went to work at a restaurant called Tony’s Texan in Midland, Michigan. It was one of those dark diners that was part of a regular strip mall on a main street in town. It had kind of a western theme, thus the name, and all the meals were oversized Texas style meals. I especially enjoyed creating the huge banana splits that consisted of a slit banana or two at the bottom of a silver ice cream platter, a massive scoop of vanilla, a massive scoop of strawberry, a massive scoop of chocolate, a layer of whip cream up one side and down the other and a big red cherry on the top. It went for about $3.75 back then, but could literately feed two or three people.

I was a waitress and received fairly OK tips from all the customers. I think the best tips came to me the week before I quit. I think it was because I was so happy I would soon be out of there and off to college. There was an important point that experienced waitresses often told those of us just learning the ropes. They said that there were many kinds of tips. There were good tips and there were kind of bad tips and there were no tips. But, there were also the penny or two tips. It meant that they did remember and thought really poorly of the service, restaurant or whatever else about there experience eating that day. Luckily, I don’t ever remember seeing that kind of tip. However, I have had quite a few moments in life where I felt like someone “left a penny for the waitress.”

Today I had one of those types of experiences.

This year has been stressful at work. I came into a job expecting one thing and ended up doing that and a whole lot more. I was to manage an online learning center. I was called “Director” by my boss when I was first introduced to people in meetings. It was thrilling and I was excited for the opportunity to begin. The learning center, up to that point, had produced about 10-15 products per year. They had just gotten up to 18 products when I came into the picture. Over the course of the year, we increased that number to about 30 contracted development products, 37 purchased products to host, 15 inhouse developed products and about 5 outside agency created products that we hosted. And, that wasn’t all. We switched over to a content management system (CMS) that required many people to get training and support in a tool that has many issues and many limitations. I worked, and continue to work, at making the system work for us and am involved in 30-40 inhouse conversion efforts with taking products already live and converting them into this system for future use as people start to share more content. I also lead all of the designers through a process training and checklist updating process even though I wasn’t their boss and many of the products wouldn’t help me in my job. I also spent time working on a new portal that required a lot of time thinking through requirements, uploading tasks to the system, training users in how to use it, and many moments of updating information. I have really tried to be a mentor to a few people that told me frequently that they wanted to leave the organization.

So, why do I feel like someone “left a penny for the waitress”? I attended the awards ceremony today and was shocked, and rather appalled, that some of the people that were honored with awards had received the award for doing something that was quite minor and for a very limited time. One award was even for a small online tutorial that a group created in the past couple of weeks. You have got to be kidding. I couldn’t believe it! Such a small effort compared to all the products we had created this year. Do I want to undermine the efforts of people that really did earn an award? No, absolutely not. In fact, there were some people that I was sincerely happy for because they are a great asset to the organization.

I don’t think it would hurt if I was somehow appreciated in some way for my efforts. However, it never seems enough. I don’t think I would be hurt if this had never happened before, but it has many times in the past. I’ve never been someone to get the awards. I don’t think I would be hurt if, as I had mentioned previously, I was still referred to as “Director,” but I am now talked about as a “coordinator” or “project manager” or as “someone helping out my boss.” I don’t think it would hurt if I felt like I had taken on others burdens and responsibilities as my own only to have the positive results then presented as others accomplishments. I am having a hard time even writing this because it really, really does hurt. I’m not sure why, but this has been a rather typical occurrence in my life.

Although I’m kind of humbled and sorrowed at the same time, what lessons can be learned from this set of experiences? I don’t know if I can change much about whether or not people think I am valuable enough for an award. I’ve been told I am making valuable contributions, but most of these are in soft under the table tones. People flock to my office. People share their secrets with me. People confide on when they have found a new job, and often it is about 2-3 weeks before the rest of the organization is aware. People give me extra responsibilities and often ask my opinion. So, although part of me hurts, I know that there is some element of appreciation for my work.

Mental Note: That brings me to what I can learn. I can learn to not make others feel the way that I do. I can be aware of the extra time and efforts people make to produce a good product, make others feel better about themselves, give credit where credit is due and always make sure to acknowledge what those that work in capacities for me are doing to make my job easier. I have tried to do this as often as I can. I wrote personal notes to every contractor and sub-contractor that I work with on all the projects this year. And, today I will spend the rest of the day creating a nice document that can be sent out with the announcement of new products thanking people in their efforts over this past year. I will include every last name and make it very formal. They all contributed so much to making this a successful year.

What can I continue to do? Make sure that I do the right thing regardless of what others do. Kindness, and appreciation, really must begin with me because it most likely won’t start anywhere else.

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