Saul Kaplan: Clean As You Go

On New Year’s Eve I received one of those blast-from-the past emails, made possible by Google, from a long forgotten friend from high school days.   I hadn’t thought about the crew from an after school job 35 years ago at McDonalds forever. (Yes, you heard right, I flipped burgers at McDonalds)  The email moved me and provided a wonderful end-of-the-year gift because this friend had taken the time after all of these years to reach out and thank me for the positive influence I had on her life.  I had no idea that I had said these things and that my passion for mentoring extended all the way back to high school.

Here is an excerpt from the email.  Tell me you wouldn’t have been moved if this popped in to your in-basket on New Year’s Eve.

“Over the holidays I was with a bunch of friends and we were all talking about gratitude, and the fact that we are much more aware of all of the people who have touched our lives in positive ways along the way.

I mentioned that I have always wished I had run into you sometime as an adult so that I could tell you that you changed the entire course of my life when I was 18 and pretty directionless.  You told me that I was smart, too smart not to go to college.

So I went. To college, that is.

photo-saulAnd then I went to law school.

I have honestly thought about how different my life might have been if you had not done what no guidance counselor or parent or frankly any adult in my life had thought to do….you encouraged me to be more.  So, thank you!”

Wow.  What a nice way to end the year. I have been thinking about my McDonalds after school job and the crew I hung out with since receiving this uplifting note.  I had forgotten how much I learned from my first job serving up greasy fries and how some of the things I took away from that time have stayed with me over the years.  I must have barked out to my kids, “Clean as you go” hundreds of times while they were growing up.  I know it drove them crazy but you won’t find any of them with cluttered countertops, desktops, TIVOs, or lives. They have no idea that I learned that annoying habit and phrase while working at McDonalds. Clean as you go is important in the kitchen and in life.

I also remembered something this week that I don’t think I have ever shared publicly.  I was fired from that job at McDonalds.  My best friend at the time decided to steal one of those frozen birthday cakes from the walk-in freezer out in the parking lot. The store manager caught my friend in the act. He confronted me because he knew we were friends and assumed it was a conspiracy (It wasn’t, I swear!). I must have had a big shit-eating grin while denying it (the same one that anyone who knows me has seen many times) because he fired me on the spot.  I was devastated at the time because I needed that job to save for college.  Looking back at it I can trace the resolve to control my own career, not letting any company or institution think they can control it for me, to that frozen birthday cake and being fired from my first job at McDonalds.  I have stuck to that resolve throughout my career.

It is I who should thank my friend (not the one who stole the birthday cake) for having the courage to send me that email on New Year’s Eve.  Thank you for bringing back such wonderful memories and for teaching me something important.  Because of you I have amended my “clean as you go” philosophy.  While it might be necessary to get rid of the clutter in your life perhaps it is more important to hold on to the old friendships and memories that impact your life.


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