Elevator Wisdom

Life’s like an elevator.  Sometimes you go up; sometimes you go down; sometimes you get stuck between floors. Wisdom can be found in many places. I learned many things in school, but now I have a new seat of learning.  The elevator.

I tried this opportunity for learning a few years ago and have continued it to this day. When I get in an elevator and there is only one other person on board, I say this: “May I ask you a question?” They almost always say yes or even certainly. So I ask, “What’s the most important thing you have to do today?” At first, they seem a little surprised that a perfect stranger is talking to them and maybe even startled that this stranger would ask such a question. But they always answer and the answers often will surprise you. Let me share a few of these responses.

I was in an elevator in Sydney, Australia and a young man stepped in. He was dressed in a blue suit with a red tie. He was nice looking and well groomed.  I asked him the question and he responded, “I have a job interview in an hour and I’m going for a walk to prepare my responses to their most likely questions.” I asked, “Are you ready?” “Yes,” he said. “I’ve really been preparing for this job interview. When I’m prepared, I am confident.”

What did I learn? Confidence comes with preparation

A few days later at an office building in Sydney a young lady stepped into the elevator. I was with a fellow manager at my company and he knew what I was about to ask. I must admit he looked a little embarrassed, but I asked the question anyway,”What’s the most important thing you have to do today?” She looked at me and said, “My job.”  But then she thought for a second or two and said, “Love my job.”  That comment was so powerful that I think of it almost every day.

What did I learn? Love your job. To be happy in your job you must find a way to love what you do.

I love what Kahlil Gibran said “If you cannot work with joy in your heart, sit at the gates of the temple and take alms from those that can.”  Love your job.

I was in a city back in the U.S. and found myself alone in an elevator with a very pretty woman about 30.  She was dressed in very smart and fashionable attire. She glared at the elevator doors as they closed.

I hesitated to ask my question, but just couldn’t stop myself. “What’s the most important thing you have to do today?” She looked straight at me and said, “Attend my divorce hearing.” “Sorry.” I said. “Thank you,” she said “but it’s time to move on. Some things end and others begin.”

What did I learn? Life is full of endings but also full of beginnings. It’s the natural cycle of life.  For every ending there’s a beginning, and hope springs eternal.

Many things in life come in threes and so I will share a third one with you. I stepped into the elevator dressed in my blue jeans and a sweatshirt, looking a little unkempt. The doors opened on the 10th floor and a woman stepped inside. Her hair was a little out of place and her face a little red. But I asked my question anyway. “What’s the most important thing you have to do today?” She looked at me, surprised by my question but answered anyway. “My husband and I just had a disagreement and I need to cool down and think before I say something I’ll regret.” “I hope you and your husband can work this out.”  “We will,” she said. “I just need to put my emotions aside and try to see the problem through his eyes. He says I can be stubborn. He’s probably right.”

What did I learn? Think before you speak. Take a time out if necessary. Try to see the problem through other eyes.

Now, I won’t tell you that every response I received was a jewel of wisdom. Some were just pebbles. Some people didn’t answer at all and some pretended not to hear the question.  But most answered with honesty and openness.

Elevator Wisdom is like life. Whether you’re going up or down, you’re always going somewhere and learning something new. Enjoy the ride.

Steve Haberly