Adrienne Bankert NYC Photo6

I was schooled by a McDonald’s drive-thru employee.

by Adrienne Bankert

Unexpected conversations can result from practicing a lifestyle of kindness. I’ve been fortunate to experience plenty of kindness from strangers whose surprising honesty and pearls of wisdom come at a time when they couldn’t possibly know what I am going through.

One of my favorite stories of this was while covering a tragic shooting for ABC News. I had been using up a lot of energy staying positive and focused during a really hard story. This trip was emotionally brutal. We had changed hotels three times. This particular night,  I was hungry after a long day. I wanted a nice meal, but I had little energy, so I hurriedly searched for drive-thru restaurants in the area. Something told me to go to McDonald’s.

After I spoke into the little speaker box to place my order I rolled up to the employee at the window. He looked even more exhausted than I did. I decided to muster up my energy and be kind. I cheerily asked, “How are you today”?

“Fine,” he responded, without a smile.

“Happy to be at work?”I replied.

He turned his head towards the cars behind me in line.

“Nope.” He said flatly.

At this point I decided to give him a mini-dose of life coaching. “What are you grateful for? I asked.

His reply: “Oh I’m grateful, I’m grateful I have a job.”

“Yes.” I said, “That’s right. You don’t want to complain about a job. Can’t complain.”

He looked me in the eye for the first time since I greeted him.
“Oh you don’t want to complain about a career. You CAN complain about a job.“

I laughed and kept dishing out optimism. As I placed my food in the passenger seat I kept going, sharing how each position we have in life is a step toward greatness. HIs listless expression never changed even as I drove off. When I made it back to my hotel room I realized he was the one giving me advice.

You would would think we know what these words mean by now.

I had been complaining. I was working insane hours; but because of feeling like I wasn’t appreciated, I was secretly miserable. I had so many unanswered questions about where this blood, sweat and tears would all lead. In the process my dream career had become a job. I researched these two words in the American Dictionary of the English Language:

CAREER, noun
1. A course; a race, or running; a rapid running; speed in motion.
2. General course of action or movement; procedure; course of proceeding.
3. The ground on which a race is run.
CAREER, verb intransitive To move or run rapidly.
This was inspiring. To know that things can move quickly was empowering, that is IF I had a career. Now, there is a reason why my sage drive through guy was saying we could complain about a job. I saw it clearly when I read this:
JOB, noun [of unknown origin, but perhaps allied to chop, primarily to strike or drive.]

1. A piece of work; anything to be done, whether of more or less importance.
2. A lucrative business; an undertaking with a view to profit.
3. A sudden stab with a pointed instrument. [This seems to be nearly the original sense.]
To do the job for one, to kill him.

JOB, verb transitive To strike or stab with a sharp instrument.
I was stunned! The thought occurred to me, ‘Working a job could literally kill me!” Maybe that is a bit dramatic – but I could definitely relate to the pain of working somewhere simply for money, without really making progress, and of doing things that were of less importance. Ingratitude was turning me into someone who just clocked in and clocked out. Yikes. I committed then and there to embrace my journey. If I ever had to work a job again – and I have had plenty – I would treat it like a career. At one point I had to work for minimum wage. I could have treated it like a job. Instead, I treated it like I was getting my masters degree, I would learn something that would make me better. Perspective is key.

It’s pretty ironic that a person doing the exact same work I did in my first real job, in the drive-thru line at McDonald’s, would end up giving me one of my greatest lessons. An aha-moment came because I was willing to strike up conversation with a perfect stranger … and listen.

Adrienne Bankert is an ABC News correspondent and author of “Your hidden Superpower: The Kindness that makes You Unbeatable at Work and Connects You with Anyone.”