In my early teens, I had an after-school job on a golf course, and one of my responsibilities was to keep the clubhouse toilets clean

If you’ve ever been a teenage boy, or have known one, you can guess how clean that first toilet was when I’d finished with it.

My boss was a dapper dresser. Not uncommonly among golf professionals of the time, he wore brightly colored shirts and pants, luminous hues that could be spotted from the far end of the fairway. Which may have been the point. His clothes were impeccable; no errant creases, no wrinkles, immaculately clean.

When he inspected my first toilet he could have become angry. He could have ridiculed me and ordered me to do the job over. Instead that primped, fastidious man got down on his knees in his fancy orange pants and patiently re-cleaned the toilet as I squirmed and wrung my hands in shame. He cleaned inside and out, and all around, sponging and polishing vast areas of toilet geography I had missed.

“Pay attention to detail,” was his first lesson. “Make sure you scrub under the rim and clean the base near the floor. Look at the job from every angle; don’t skip parts just because you don’t think others will notice.”

He stood up, flushed the toilet, and put the brush away. “Now look at it. It’s not the most fun I’ve ever had, nevertheless, I feel good right now because I’ve done something.” Thus his second lesson: “Employ a good work ethic. Accomplish something early each morning, even something small, and do it well. You’ll build momentum during the day and feel as though your day was worthwhile.”

He noticed my anguish and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“You’re my boss. Getting down on your knees like that … it’s undignified. I feel awful.”

That brought his third lesson. “Dignity,” he said, “is in the person, not the job.”

To this day, as a result of those few poignant moments in the men’s bathroom of a nine-hole golf course, I feel a quiet sense of accomplishment whenever I clean a toilet or perform other mundane chores. My clothes are still wrinkled, but as soon as I find an iron that doesn’t add more wrinkles than it removes, I’ll be dapper too.

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