Have you ever had a boss that you really admired? Or perhaps it was a beloved teacher or coach? Andy and I had one when we first met. Our boss in college was a man named Joe who’s worked at Loyola University (Loyola College when we attended) for the longest time. I remember the first time I met him was actually at a college day that I was attending in my senior year of high school to determine where I would go to school. Joe was in the student atrium after the event was over and he saw that my mom and I looked lost. He gave us directions to where we were headed and then asked if I would be coming to Loyola the following fall. I remember telling him that I was vacillating between Loyola and another school and he proceeded to tell me that I didn’t need to look elsewhere. Loyola would be a most welcoming home for me.
Joe wasn’t selling me a bill of goods. He was and continues to be proud of the school he works for and it showed. Two years later I would end up working for him and I noticed from the start that Joe didn’t ask any of his students to do anything that he wasn’t prepared to do himself. The man was always moving and was rarely without something in his hands – including a broom to sweep the floors of the warehouse where we met on summer mornings before a day’s work started.
As I got to know him and the students who were loyal to him, I realized that Joe was the type of guy you grew to instinctively want to please. He would notice and honor our extra efforts at an event and was quick to get in the thick of an event with us. Those who stuck with him eventually wanted to honor him back by making him look good too. Joe had a pet peeve: He never let us leave an event until the last chair was stacked and the last floor mopped. If we only had two mops then the whole staff stayed on the clock and took turns mopping floors until the gym floor was shining.
Here’s the thing I’ve realized about Joe and other magnetic leaders like him: For as much as his loyal staff members want to anticipate his needs and make him look good, Joe wanted to tap into the larger vision of the school he works for and make that a reality. Joe was not a leader looking to host events or activities to make himself look good. He was doing it to make Loyola look good. And Loyola has a specific vision to form adult men and women that will be of service in the world. Joe has always been committed to that.
There were times when I actually didn’t enjoy working for Joe. When we were on the clock for 20 hours at a stretch and waiting for the final tarp to be wrapped up in the gym after a commencement or alumni weekend, I recall thinking to myself that he should let some of us go home. I would plan elaborate human resource schemes while we all sat practically sleeping on top of each other in which we would all work on shifts at future events so that we wouldn’t have to work such long hours. What good was it for the rest of us to split up in groups and do odd tasks that were not urgent when most of us could go home at this very instant and get some sleep? But Joe had a bigger plan in mind and that was that our team operated like a small family within the much larger family that was Loyola College. He kept us at work doing odds and ends so we’d know what a family that works hard and does quality work looks like. He kept us at work so that the Loyola community and visitors who came to campus like I did years before would know what it looks like to have a vision for the future. Usually it looks like doing the tedious tasks that no one wants to do so that vision can become a reality.
We had a good summer at our house here in Atlanta but it didn’t come without its share of frustration on a couple of fronts. With Ellie in full on toddler mode there are days when we wrestle her to bed on a given night and collapse on the couch wondering when we’ll get to clock out on the exhaustion front. I know I’m not alone. I have friends and family members who are also in various stages of life wondering when the frustrating circumstance is going to turn over. When will they get to clock out on the illness, frustrating job, morning sickness or temper tantrums.
At church on Sundays we’ve been hearing our pastor preach about the story of Jacob. Jacob’s name means “deceiver” and he spent two decades of his life attempting to swindle and claw his way into what he thinks will be a blessed life. Finally he’s backed into a corner by his own doing and turns to God who then essentially says: OK, now you’re going to wrestle with ME.”
The Spoiler alert? Jacob doesn’t win the fight. He wrestles for the entire night until God through an angel essentially says “give up already.” Jacob, ever the stubborn one, tells him that he won’t until he gets what he wants. To which the angel responds by giving him a new name and a limp in his leg that he would endure for the rest of his life.
The angel changes Jacob’s name from “deceiver” to Israel which means “I struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” God is telling Jacob that from this point forward he gets a new identity. The new identity comes from the only one who knows the big picture. Jacob need not identify with his former self that dishonestly took his brother’s birthright but can identify with the fact that God chose him to wrestle with and was willing to let him keep fighting. While Jacob doesn’t win the fight, he doesn’t exactly lose it either. He would limp for the rest of his life as a physical reminder that he didn’t need to cheat, lie and steal to get what he wanted. God was calling him to wrestle with Him and through the successes and failures of those wrestlings over a lifetime he’d win what he really desired: a legacy that pointed to the fruit of struggle for the generations to consider after him.
After a couple of year’s on staff with Joe and the full time event services team, you inevitably acquire a nickname. When we come back to campus, Joe and David and John and Pat give us big hugs and call us Topper and Courtney Love – names we probably got on a scissor lift in the campus gym on a late Friday night after a concert let out. Those names remind us that we are deeply loved by the people who make Loyola University go. And the people who make Loyola go are the people that taught us you keep wrestling (with sound equipment and boxes of black drape) until the work is done and the whole family can go home. You may be exhausted and even frustrated when you’re in the thick of it and wondering why your boss won’t just let you leave for the night. But years later you’ll look back and realize that a part of you is different because you mopped the floors with your family at 2 AM. If nothing else you’ll know what you have to do when life asks you to do odd jobs at an odd hour. You grab a bucket, put in some hot water and soap, and you mop back and forth, back and forth until the work for the night is done and the floor shines nice and bright.