A half done project is just as good as an incomplete project.
This simple quote reminded me of a job I held many years ago as a housekeeper for a well-known hotel chain. I relocated to the Continental United States in 1993. I am born and raised in Puerto Rico, known as the enchanted island in the Caribbean. I learned English as my second language in school, fluently spoke it when I was a child, graduated with honors from High School, graduated with a BA in Secondary Art Education from the University of Puerto Rico, and taught for 5 years at a Jr. High School in Carolina, PR. However, when I arrived to Ames, IA I discovered I could not work as a teacher because I needed the state’s certification. I had to submit all types of paper work and possibly return to school to take classes they considered I was missing in my education. I got discouraged by the whole process and decided to try my luck doing something else.
Looking for jobs doing something else was as hard as trying to be a teacher in Iowa. I was new in town—though I was not sure they could tell I was new— and applied to all the stores at the local shopping mall, the university bookstore, its competitor, and others with no luck. I also went to the University’s job board and my experience with them was no better— though I was able to work as a Spanish tutor for several years.
Lastly I ended up looking for a job as a housekeeper at a well-known hotel chain. To my surprise I was hired! I would start right away cleaning hotel rooms, taking out the trash, dusting, cleaning toilets, sinks, making beds, cleaning windows, mattresses, and others. I would have a week worth of training and free lunch in the hotel’s kitchen. No uniforms were required and the schedule was very flexible— though if you wanted to get paid a decent amount you would work as much as you could. In a nutshell, believe or not I had a blast!
…how can a teacher be a housekeeper?
Many people back home were kind of embarrassed I was working as a housekeeper. My former co-workers did not understand why I would “steep so low” or why did not I pursue the teaching certification and work teaching since that was my degree. In other words, “how can a teacher be a housekeeper?” seemed to be the sentiment among some of my former coworker friends. I was not embarrassed. In fact, not only did I find it amusing but I also learned a few things and tricks while being a housekeeper. I learned to make a bed properly, dust off the light bulbs (it had never occurred to me that they collected dust), fold towels appropriately, which side the toilet paper should face, and others. I also learned the difference between stay-over and checked out. A room marked as a stay-over would probably not get the tub properly cleaned but just wiped and dried out. The sheets would not be changed but only straightened (this is an acceptable practice nowadays, but in 1993 some hotels would make you believe that your sheets had been washed every day), and a few others I personally check since then when I am a hotel guest.
…the simple job of being a housekeeper taught me the value of being consistent, prompt, responsible, reliable, and attentive to details, appreciative of my abilities and skills, and the importance of repetition.
As a housekeeper the sense of gratification was immediate. I would enter a room that was a mess and you would leave it clean and shiny. I would look at a clean room with a grin on my face and close the door behind me with an immense sense of pride for a job completed well. As a teacher the sense of gratification is delayed. I teach something, they practice it, and then I will see the results and sometimes these results would still be in the making throughout years of experience.
Being a housekeeper taught me the value of a job well done, the value of doing something every day as simple as these tasks were and feel pride in it. It taught me that completing and doing a job well should not be dependent on the boss, company image, or anything outside of you. It should be done well because you are the one doing it. You are the one who will build a reputation based on that one job you do. I cleaned those rooms well because I saw myself in them and I could not walk away leaving a job incomplete.
You are the one who will build a reputation based on that one job you do.
A semester later I went back to school to be a designer and I took these lessons with me. When I went to college the first time I have to confess I did not do a stellar job. My work was average after graduating with honors from High School. However, the simple job of being a housekeeper taught me the value of being consistent, prompt, responsible, reliable, and attentive to details, appreciative of my abilities and skills, and the importance of repetition.
Like working as a housekeeper at a hotel, design is a discipline anchored in repetition.
Repetition is not only a design principle used to help the viewer retain information; it is also a practice to help a learner assimilate something or get better at something. Like working as a housekeeper at a hotel, design is a discipline anchored in repetition. When I began my studies, I had to repeat the tasks of sketching over and over to get the concept and be able to visually communicate it to others. Repetition of the design process, brainstorm, concept development, ideation, sketching for hours, critiques, prototyping, dealing with clients, and others, help the designer get better at this practice. Thus, the words of Sayed, “A half done project is just as good as an incomplete project” were as true for me as a housekeeper as they are today as both a designer and a design educator.