Meaningful Life Lessons from Meaningless Jobs: People with Disabilities are More Able Than You Think

Photo by Bethany Legg

Published: August 13, 2020  

When the universe sends you annoying jobs, you might think of them a little differently after you realize they could contain meaningful life lessons. Regardless of whether you’re spiritual, religious, or turn a cold shoulder to a life outside of your physical self, the universe is sending you tiny lessons. And they may be in the form of jobs.

We spend so much time at work; it stands to reason that the universe would send us lessons through work, much like how a partner or spouse is a huge life lesson. Haven’t you heard people say they learned a lot in their relationships? They can do the same in their work .

The final part of my five-piece series is here, so without further delay let’s put on our lesson glasses and start learning what life taught me through my meaningless jobs.

The Job: Bistro Server and Front Desk Agent at a Hotel Training People With Disabilities

While in my senior year of college, my professor-turned-mentor guided me to apply to a new hotel, one unlike any other. Honestly. I’m proud to say I worked at the Courtyard Marriott at Erskine Green Training Institute alongside the inaugural class of Erskine Green. I’m sure a lot of the students, managers, teachers, and patrons of the hotel can stand up with me to say the experience was life-changing.

Erskine Green is a training facility that helps people with disabilities find productive and meaningful jobs. Its students worked at the hotel in the housekeeping, food and beverage, and front desk departments and at the neighboring restaurant, Three Wise Men.

Graduates of Erskine Green have gone off to do amazing things such as work in labs in hospitals to ensure cleanliness standards. Even better, the Courtyard Marriott (as per the agreement) maintained a 30% level of staff who had mental or physical disabilities.

I worked in the hotel at the café that stayed open from 6:00 a.m. for breakfast to 10:00 p.m. for dinner. I saw a lot of these students every day and looked forward to hanging out with one friend in particular during slow times. Jack always came and sat at the barstools and we’d chat about his time, my college life, and other stuff that 21-year-olds talk about that I’m sure neither one of our mothers would like to read about.

Photo by Annie Spratt

A more diverse staff allows for more meaningful lessons!

The Lesson

My meaningful lesson didn’t hit me until I was out of school and managing restaurants. By working with people who have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), I became an advocate and a friendly face to families or travelers having a hard time in busy restaurants.

I learned many work lessons from people with ASD . I learned that hiring employees with learning curves or different brain functions can be beneficial; the employees with ASD tended to like rules more than did my other peers who weren’t on the spectrum. I learned that the quality of their work was amazing; I watched my coworker Kyle flip eggs until he mastered them. He straight up perfected an over-easy egg.

I also became aware of my own shortcomings, or strengths, depending on how you look at it. I talk a lot, which can diminish my productivity. But when I worked with Kyle, who didn’t make small talk, I was able to focus on my work! Funny how that worked out. I see you, scheduling manager. I see you.

Of course, everyone is different! Whether or not they have ASD, humans vary in their abilities. Although I mostly spent time with coworkers who have ASD, you can imagine how my lessons could be useful in all types of diverse work staff. A more diverse staff allows for more meaningful lessons!

Photo by Crew

Rules Rule

Having Kyle around was, undeniably, disruptive at first. Any time I added too many strawberries to a dish or put too much sanitizer in the dishwater, Kyle was right there telling me I fucked up. After a while I realized he was keeping me in check! He loved rules and seemed to love to tell me when I wasn’t following them.

Managers, if you hire an employee who has ASD, you might end up with a rule enforcer, even when you’re at home watching “The Voice” with your kids. Everyone is different, of course, but guess who never forgot to do the closing checklists. Hint: Kyle loved lists. 

in the right person, but education and training on both sides can foster a learning environment for both parties. 

You Gon’ Learn Today! (and Never Forget It, Either)

During training, my managers knew that Kyle would be working primarily breakfast shifts to start, and breakfast cooks had to be taught to cook eggs. Kyle had his own personal team of coaches, fellow players, and cheerleaders on his first day. We watched eggs break, fall, and ooze everywhere on stainless steel flat tops.

But one time, Kyle got it. And then again and again. Guess what? He never forgot how to cook eggs after that. He was the egg master during busy breakfast shifts (and ALWAYS kept his cool- singing and humming while tickets came in one after the other). My attitude was far worse. He told me that, too.

Less Small Talk = More Work

My ability to chat comes in handy when tending the bar or serving tables, even walking guests to their seats! But it doesn’t come in handy when there’s a buttload of prep to do. You know what minimized my talking? Being scheduled with Kyle. He handled the back of the house some nights, and I tended the bar.

I was bored, I admit. But I always quickly finished my prep! My fruit was perfectly cleaned and sliced, the floors were beautifully mopped, and the breakfast cart ready to go for the next shift. Compare this to when I worked with Sarah, when we would chat with guests for hours and then scramble to close on time.

Creative scheduling can be super beneficial to any manager. Having an employee with ASD can make work challenging for managers at times, but can also make work easier for them while also providing that employee with financial stability and independence, two values we all seek to enjoy while we’re alive.

One Last Thing …

Sure, it was uncomfortable. What major life lesson made you scream, “Damn, that was good!”? It’s often in these tough situations that the universe is shining through and teaching you meaningful lessons.

Honestly, it was I who made things so uncomfortable. I didn’t realize then, but getting to know someone with ASD is like getting to know anyone. Everyone has quirks, and unique thoughts, beliefs, vocabularies, etc. In fact, at times it was easier to be friends with Kyle than with those who didn’t have ASD! He was a straight-shooter, and I knew exactly what he liked when I asked.

One time I even asked him about a girlfriend he was talking about. The next day he came with a list highlighting his favorite features in women. If it could only be that easy with everyone, right?

Next time you’re around someone with ASD or any other disability, slow down: they’re as human as you. Look them in the eye and ask clarifying questions. Having friends, coworkers, or family members who function differently than you do is so enlightening and creates a lot of fun moments.

Remember that people with disabilities are actually more able than you think and may teach you meaningful life lessons. Just ask Kyle, I’m sure he’d be down to tell you what you’re doing wrong!

This concludes the blog series Meaningful Life Lessons From Meaningful Jobs. I hope you enjoyed it and if you did, like, share, and comment!

Keep your eyes open when you go back to work; you never know when the universe might be sending you Meaningful Life Lessons from Meaningless Jobs!


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2 thoughts on “Meaningful Life Lessons from Meaningless Jobs: People with Disabilities are More Able Than You Think

  1. Lorrie says:

    🐿💝👍Bravo!!! You are amazing!! Loved all of this series!!

    1. says:

      Thank you, Lorrie! I have a new series coming in early 2021.

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