For the first month of my Disney College Program I was in Housekeeping at the Caribbean Beach Resort. When I got accepted, I was so happy I cried. Yet, my experience there quickly turned from dream to nightmare.
After the first week of training, we were expected to clean 17 rooms spotless to perfection in 7 hours.
The managers there created a textbook definition of a toxic work environment.
One hair left on the floor behind the toilet? Yelled at.
Lint inside one of the dresser drawers? Yelled at.
Water droplets on the top corner of a shower curtain? Yelled at.
Two wrinkles in the sheets on the side of the bed? You can guess.
Once, I got yelled at for failing to check all the pages inside a Gideon bible for scribbles.
3 girls in our program had anxiety attacks the first 2 weeks there. One girl got yelled at so much she had a full breakdown. Someone had to physically remove her from a room because she’d collapsed on a bed crying.
In 3 weeks, I went from over-the-moon happy to work for Disney to depressed and crying. I cried in bed every morning before the crazy, cleaning-frenzy SNAFU began. I’d scurry like a rat to make each room as spotless as possible. Then the managers came to yell.
I left each day caked in sweat, dirt, and cleaning chemicals that burned my eyes and made my skin itchy.
At home, I’d shower, cry, eat, then prop my legs up on the wall against my bed to help my swollen feet. I’d stare at the ceiling a couple of hours feeling dead inside, then fall asleep crying.
Then it started all over again.
The third week, I put in for a transfer and got it. I was elated. But I had to wait a week before I could start at my new location.
One manager took it personally when she learned I was transferring. She made it her mission to make my life hell my last week there. She even put a disciplinary mark on my record for something I didn’t do.
She told me that it was my word against hers, and that no one would listen to me if I tried to fight her. I was terrified that she would create an excuse to fire me before my transfer. I’d be terminated from the whole program.
The next day was the worst yet. That afternoon, I was hanging on by a thread. On the way to my cart, a cup filled with shampoos slipped from my grasp and bottles went sprawling everywhere.
Watching the soaps chaotically roll away was the last straw- I felt myself losing it.
My dream Disney internship had turned into a nightmarish Cinderella story with no happy ending. Lise had won. She was going to fire me because I was about to collapse on the ground crying.
I felt the tears welling up in my eyes like the silence before a baby screams. I was seconds away from uncontrollable sobbing when-
a little boy stopped to help me.
He was only 8 or 9. He gave me a warm smile and hurriedly picked-up the Shampoo for me, even the ones that had rolled in the dirt.
“Here you go” he said sweetly, putting the shampoo back in my cup. He grinned with the prettiest eyes I’d ever seen.
Before I had time to say ‘thank you’, his mother yelled at him to catch-up. With a quick wave, he ran off.
He didn’t know it, but I’d gone from hopeless despair to warm and fuzzy in a matter of seconds.
I listened to the two as they walked off.
“We have to hurry to get to the park. You need to stop always being so slow”
“But I was helping that girl back there pick-up soap”
“Whatever, you need to learn to not slow us down. You’re always dragging behind”.
The mother’s voice dripped with disapproval.
I wanted to call out to them. To let her know what he’d done for me, to explain how he’d saved me – but I didn’t.
I stood staring after them and prayed. I prayed that no matter what his mother told him, there never came a day when that little boy stopped picking-up soap for people.
I’ve remembered him with the deepest gratitude for the rest of my life.
tl:dr Small acts of kindness radically transform the world. A minute of thoughtless kindness from a stranger transformed my day. What would happen if we all chose to do something small like that every day?
I’d love to hear stories from others who’ve been affected by something small like this.
Footnote: Near the end of my internship, I talked to a friend who’d stayed in the housekeeping program at Caribbean beach. He told me that out of the 15 interns assigned to that location, only 5 stayed. Everyone else transferred or quit.