Looking back, I know it was a ridiculous job, but at the time, every Saturday morning for an entire summer, I’d head out thinking I was all that and more. I’m pretty sure I’d strut to my workspace – lower level – center aisle – terminal one – Lambert St. Louis International Air Field. I’d clip on that name tag, make sure everything was good to go and start my ever-so-important work as the girl manning the one and only STL Airport Tourist Information Desk.
Number 2 pencils, maps, up-to-date brochures, and a working sharpie to point people in the right direction were the tools of the trade. All that and a solid working rotary dial phone which was free of charge to those I deemed in dire need of its use. When I’d haul it out, I felt like Alfred Pennyworth contacting Batman on the Bat-phone.
Like I said, I thought I was really all that. And more.
Distressed travelers would ask for the nearest bathroom. I would point with authority. Hungry travelers would ask for airport food choices. I would confidently mention Orange Julius to the left, Cinnabons to the right, and the Airport Hanger upstairs for those with more time and money. Frantic travelers would ask about lost luggage. I had no answers for them but that’s when I would pull out that complimentary Bat-phone.
Since I was the lone employee, it was up to me to open and close up shop. I was on my honor to put in my time and manage whatever challenges popped up. Most of the morning, I was smiling and nodding at people on their way in and out of the airport. In general, I had a great time, doing fun stuff, at an interesting location while being paid.
All that. More.
Fast forward to today, 2023. Not so sure that this job is needed anymore.
Forget paper maps, sharpies and brochures. A cellphone, the airport’s website, a good google search, and texting offers everything plus way more than I could ever have as even the greatest Info-girl on the planet.
Relevancy aside, it was a job that taught me a lot . . . perhaps more than most of my other positions. It was a job I needed. Because it put me in my place. Quickly.
At the time, I actually had little to no workplace skills. I needed all the practice that I could find. And one thing the info desk offered was skill building.
In particular, I had the opportunity to practice the one skill that I still need to practice. It sounds simple, but it’s very hard. I had to sit and listen. It was all about listening. Sitting and listening. My only line was: “How can I help you?” and then all bets were off on where the conversation went.
I learned to nod. Take a few notes. Smile. Empathize. Pause. Listen some more. If I was patient enough, people generally solved their own challenges without too much input from me. It was all about just listening.
When I think about my listening skills today, I think about how sharpening them is so difficult.
At the airport information desk, I knew very little and had even less that I could share with those approaching me. Thus, listening was about all I could do. As my jobs changed and my career moved forward, I knew a bit more about the topics at hand, and speaking became easier. Listening became harder. Still is.
When thinking about some of the most wickedly smart people I know, one trait they all have is the ability to say little to nothing, hear lots, and somehow converse exquisitely. A goal for me.
The good news is I have nothing but time ahead of me to gain traction on the basic need at STL airport. For me, listening is a skill that I have never mastered, only practiced. So I keep practice listening in perpetuity on my to do list.
One day I might be good at it. Until then, if you see me yapping on, just remind me that the listeners only need five words.
“How can I help you.”