Confessions Of A Student Custodian

At kindergarten graduation, I announced that I wanted to be a writer. When I was eight years, I told my family I was going to be the first female Musketeer.  When I entered middle school, I dreamed about the life of a C.I.A. agent. In ninth grade, I fell in love with theater. When I graduated high school, I told anyone who asked that I was going to college for Media Communications. Last semester, I declared a Creative Writing Major, and it turned out my five-year-old self had it right all along.  No matter what job I daydreamed of pursuing, I knew my future career would involve creativity and the chance to change the world.

I never daydreamed that at 20 years old, I’d be working as a custodian.

My part-time custodial job at my university’s physical plant isn’t my first minimum wage job. Since I was sixteen, I’ve only ever held minimum wage jobs- daycare worker, hostess, desk worker, etc.

Now I have about two years of college under my belt and I’m trying to gain as much experience in my field as I can. But the only way I can save money and still have time to study is to take on part-time, minimum wage jobs. So that means vacuuming the university bistro every morning and afternoon, Monday through Friday.

As I’ve said, I’m a very creative, imaginative person. I can’t find joy in my work if I can’t have fun doing it.

I understand the value of a dollar, and also the insignificance of it. I come from a modest-income household with parents who know how to save. My family never “went without,” but I also did not grow up lavished with the latest brands and gadgets. My parents taught me to save and spend wisely and to enjoy life for what money can’t buy. With all that being said, I am not the kind of person who would take a job just for the money.

But I’m a poor college student with wanderlust and a desire to live independently after graduation. Is it so wrong that I wanted an easy job like vacuuming just because I wanted to build my savings fund, even if the janitorial business is as far from creative as you can get?

Regardless of my moral confliction, I knew what my peers in academia thought of my job: simple, physical labor. My university’s liberal arts education encourages the broadening of minds, but custodial work couldn’t possibly contribute to my education.

In defense of the “simple” reputation custodians seem to have in society, I believe custodial work can broaden our minds. With the right mindset, any job can teach you something. 

First of all, custodial work is far from easy, and the physical labor isn’t the worst part. As a custodian, people won’t look at you. They either avoid you or walk right in the middle of where you’re cleaning as if they actually can’t see you. In my experience, I believe some people choose not to see me because I somehow make them uncomfortable. People have asked me how much I earn and are surprised to learn that I earn minimum wage because they think that I would earn less.  Custodians are treated with less respect in our society because people view custodial work as low-service. Essentially, most people take custodial work for granted.

After my first month as a student custodian, I started to feel discouraged. I wondered what I was actually doing to benefit myself or build my resume. One day I checked my inbox to find an email from my boss. He thanked me for my eagerness to work and cheerful demeanor on the job. He wrote, “The work you are doing is not just vacuuming, it’s Kingdom work.”  I attend a private Christian university, so by “Kingdom work,” my boss was referring to God’s kingdom- namely, serving others. His words made me carefully reconsider how I view jobs and careers.

My desire to become a writer is not a selfless desire. I write because I love it, and also because I find enjoyment in it. I wish I could say that I write only for the world’s benefit and to change society, but that’s just not the truth. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with pursuing the career of your dreams, but when do we as workers stop thinking of others and only work for ourselves? When does wanting to change the world become a selfish desire to place a spotlight on our names? When does just “saving a little money” turn into earning nothing more than money?

One of the most important lessons I ever learned at university actually came from my time as custodian. I learned that in this life, you shouldn’t work for yourself. I’ve learned that serving others isn’t easy, and more often than not I won’t be appreciated by the people I serve, and that’s ok. Because when you want to help someone, it shouldn’t matter what you get out of it- it shouldn’t matter if you can add it to your resume. The only one that should matter is the person you serve.

In short, there’s nothing wrong with an honest day’s work. Custodial work won’t be the only thing I do in this life, but I’m going to cherish the time I have being able to do it. Someday I’ll publish my fiction, someday a script I write will be produced, and someday I’ll write an article that changes how the world thinks (maybe right now, I’ve already done that). But even then, I’m not going to work for myself.

Cathryn Lien

Editorial Contributor, Asbury University Major: Creative Writing Her heart belongs to: books of all genres and tea of all flavors You can find her writing stories or acting out other people’s stories.

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