On the job, realization of what matters can come at the least expected moments. Being reminded of our humanity—our personal contribution to the role we’re playing at work—can suddenly return a sense of authenticity, even gratitude, to our life on the job. At the end of a long shift, a car service driver had an epiphany like this when he was called to pick up a customer at her home. He honked the horn and she didn’t come out. It was his last shift of the day, and he thought about just driving away but walked up to the door and knocked instead. After a long pause, the door opened and a small woman in her nineties stood before him “looking like somebody out of a 1940s movie,” he said. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. “Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she asked. He took the suitcase to the cab and then returned to assist the woman. “She kept thanking me for my kindness. ‘It’s nothing,’ I told her. ‘I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.’”
When they got in the cab, she gave him the address and then asked if he could drive through downtown. He told her it wasn’t the shortest way. “Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.” He looked in the rearview mirror. “I don’t have any family left,” she continued in a soft voice. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.” He quietly reached over and shut off the meter. For the next two hours, they drove through the city. She showed him the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. They drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds.
Finally, the woman told him she was tired. They drove in silence to the address she had given him. Two orderlies came out. The driver opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. “How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse. He told her she owed him nothing, then he bent and gave her a hug. She held on to him tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.” Afterward, the driver couldn’t stop wondering what if that woman had gotten an angry driver or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if he had refused to take the run or had honked once then driven away? By being authentic on the job, he said he was left with the sense of “never having done anything more important in my life.”
Excerpt from Real Happiness At Work