I once worked in a building that had inspirational quotes written all over the walls. I couldn't tell you what most of them said, but there was one in particular that struck a chord and has stayed with me ever since.
I can never remember exactly how it was worded, but the basic message was that you should appreciate every single person you meet- because no matter who or where they are, you could learn something from them.
At the time that I read it I was working for a man who hugely inspired me, and the idea that he might have learnt something from me blew my mind. I loved the idea. I loved the thought that at any given moment somebody could walk into my life and change me forever. Maybe not in a huge, film-ending obvious way: not the man that I'm going to marry or the woman that's going to sweep into my life and turn me into a pop star, but a change nonetheless.
I had a boyfriend once who told me that even if we argued, broke up and never spoke again, a little piece of each of us would have been created by the other. That thought, like the quote, has stayed in my head ever since- what a lovely idea, that every person we meet leaves a little piece of themselves behind with us.
So this quote got me thinking- about a lot of things actually- but firstly about the many, many people who have had a huge effect on me, probably without realising at all....
Eudora is one of the kindest, most beautiful women I have ever been lucky enough to meet. When I was of a young and particularly impressionable age, her daughter- the same age as me- was discussing a school friend who was working as a model. Eudora responded by saying 'well it's quite easy for most of us to make ourselves up to look decent on a Saturday night but modelling's a whole other thing. No thank you very much.'
To hear such a beautiful woman say that to her equally beautiful daughter inspired me so much that eleven years later those words still echo around my head every time I even attempt to berate myself for not looking like Cheryl Cole.
A few years later I heard another gorgeous lady refuse dessert, explaining that she was thinking about her bikini, to which Eudora laughed, took a bite of delicious looking chocolate cake and said 'mm I'll just think about your bikini too'.
I'm sure she has no idea that I was even listening, let alone taking it on as my own attitude towards eating. Funny, isn't it?
2. My Fairy Godmother.
My Fairy Godmother inspired me in so many ways that I could not possibly list them all here, but the main thing for me was how caring she was. All the time. I was working for her, she didn't have to spend all day in an office then her evenings listening to her children's nanny's personal problems. She didn't have to invite the nanny's boyfriend over for dinner and drinks, and let him stay the night. She didn't have to buy the English nanny a whole keep-warm kit when she couldn't adjust to the weather. But she did. Whilst looking after her husband and her children and her mum and her brothers, and dealing with her own problems, she looked after the nanny as though she were one of her own.
Working for Disney I see a lot of exhausted mothers who have lost their spark by the time their children are past the age of eighteen months. I hope I'm like my Fairy Godmother- and, in fact, my own wonderful mother-when I have children, and just keep getting more sparkly with age :)
3. Mrs Potts.
It was one of our first days at university that Mrs Potts first inspired me. I had just come from college- a world where enthusiasm for anything was hugely discouraged by my peers, and therefore a world in which I spent two years attempting to keep my enthusiasm under wraps. In our first meeting, on our first day, my cynical lecturer, tired from years of trying to pull students out of their habits of feigning disinterest, asked us to think about whether we might like to be on the course council.
I, like everybody else (I imagine, anyway), kept my eyes firmly on the table in front of me and attempted to look disinterested while I secretly wondered what it would involve. Mrs Potts, on the other hand, didn't attempt to hide her face, nor did she throw her hand in the air and shout that she would love to do it, like I imagine the real teachers pets do (you know like Patty Simcox in Grease?). Instead she clearly and confidently stated 'I'd definitely be interested in that.'
I watched the lecturer smile in surprise and relief at the same time as I felt a tiny bud of regret at not having reacted in that way, and a small burst of determination that from now on, I would be myself and do it with such confidence that nobody could dare argue- a trait that I have now been complimented on myself many times.
Thanks Mrs Potts :)
4. Wise Old Owl.
Just over a year ago I met Pooh's wise old friend Owl, who wandered in and out of my life in under thirty minutes and so totally changed my view of Britain and the people in it that I spent a whole summer (and now in fact a whole year) celebrating my culture. Living in America has taught me that she was in fact right in more ways than I had realised, and I think about what she said almost every day.
5. Buzz Lightyear.
Buzz is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Only today, in fact, I found myself using one of her favourite one-liners in an attempt to make friends at work laugh. It's almost two years since I last saw Buzz, and her jokes are still in my head, and still being used.
This lady played such a small character in my life that I cannot pinpoint exactly who she was and therefore could not possibly give her an alias. What I do know is that she was a guest in a resort that I was working in and that she actually changed the course of my life.
She asked me what I would be doing when I returned to the UK after the summer and I explained that I had no idea. I did not plan on staying in the UK very long but I had no idea what to turn to next.
She suggested that I try working as a nanny. She told me that my experience would make up for my lack of official nanny qualifications and that she didn't think I would find it too difficult.
At the time I thought it was a nice idea but did not particularly plan on doing anything about it.
As those of you who know me relatively well will know- I have now worked as a nanny for four families. Four families who each in their own way have changed me, and will each stay with me forever. Now I turned to nannying because of what that lady said to me. Perhaps it would have come about some other way, but perhaps it wouldn't have. Perhaps that lady, whose name and face I don't even remember, unknowingly totally changed my life.
Now these are just a few examples of the hundreds and hundreds of people that have inspired me every single day for twenty four years to make me the person I am.
What has been on my mind a lot lately, however, is how easy it can be to underestimate someone because of the setting you meet them in.
One night I was eating dinner with the children that I was nannying for at the time, their parents, and a friend of their parents. I had been perfectly polite to the friend that was there for dinner, but had made no effort whatsoever to impress and, to be honest, hadn't take much notice of him. When the children asked me to explain the difference between a hamburger and cheeseburger, I (wrongly. Oh so wrongly) told them what I thought was the correct answer.
The friend that was there for dinner was, in fact, the owner of the biggest branch of Burger King in the world. Among something ridiculous like twelve other restaurants, his own chain, a couple of celebrities and an agency.
Not my finest hour.
But at least I had been polite to him all evening.
The reason that this has been on my mind so much lately is because I now work in Food and Beverage.
Until now I have worked either for an individual family on a personal basis, or in entertainment, and despite what Dirty Dancing may suggest, entertainment staff are treated far better than those working in Food and Beverage (from a guest point of view- obviously from a company point of view it depends who you work for.)
Luckily for me and my co-workers, the fact that we are British and have British accents sets us off with a great head start. As far as the majority of our guests are concerned, I left Downton Abbey (my parents' home) to work here; leaving behind my best friends Kate Middleton and Adele, my boyfriend Harry Styles and my part time job as Dr Who's assistant, all for a year abroad as part of Muggle Studies at Hogwarts.
Which makes me the coolest person they have ever met. They want their photos with me, they want me to repeat the words 'Peter Pan' and 'bottle', and they want to know whether I prefer Pink Floyd or The Beatles. Because I obviously have a really strong opinion on that.
However, part and parcel of working in Food and Beverage anywhere in the world (I imagine, anyway) is being spoken to like an idiot. As though you yourself have never been a guest in a restaurant, have never eaten, have never been served by another person and can therefore not possibly imagine what they are going through.
Now when I worked in Food and Beverage before, I accepted that. I didn't even get angry when I was spoken to like a moron (okay there was that one time when I cried but that was an exception). I was sixteen years old, the guests were all in their eighties, I accepted that they probably did know more about my job than I did and let them take whatever else they were angry about on me.
Today, however, is slightly different.
Today I work with people who were selected from thousands and thousands to move to America to work for the third best company in the world.
The people that I work with in Florida are truly amazing. Every single person has an incredible story to tell. Each and every one of them has had awesome life experience. They've worked as restaurant and hotel managers, team leaders, care workers, dancers, singers, entertainers, accountants, air hostesses, writers, engineers, plumbers, customer service advisors, actors and chefs; they've got degrees coming out of their ears, huge job offers in the UK, they've worked on cruise lines, they've lived in France, Spain, California, Africa, Lapland, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Turkey...
I cannot explain how wonderful these people are. They're interesting and funny and clever and have so many stories to tell.
And I watch every day as certain guests see how special they are and learn from them, are inspired by them and change a little bit because they were lucky enough to meet them.
Then at the same time I see the guests that roll their eyes and ask their wives 'Is she speaking English?', referring to the girl with the English degree as though she is the stupid one. I see guests tell Dumbo- the girl who, at only twenty-two has lived in two states in America as well as London and her own home town, who has visited more states than I can list here and knows more about the world's history than I will ever know, who is loved by everyone that takes the time to get to know her because she's possibly the nicest person ever, and who has had a letter written into the company about how they feel that she personally changed their lives with her exceptional customer service- that she's stupid and knows nothing.
I see it happen every single day to every fantastic person that I work with.
In fact, on one occasion a guest explained to me- in a rather amused voice- that her four year old curtsies at everyone. Even, she leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, the cleaners. She mouthed the last word as though she were swearing. Do cleaners not deserve that then?
I have a friend who worked in entertainment one year and as a cleaner the next- both for Disney- and she actually preferred working as a cleaner despite the ridiculous lack of respect from certain guests.
Anyway, the point of this is not to point out how stupid and ignorant some people are, but to point out how amazingly wonderful people are, and how we should take the time to notice that.
I love the idea that I change every day thanks to the people around me, and will continue to remember that everyone has a back story that makes them who they are today, and that I could be a part of that back story tomorrow.
I just need to make sure that the little pieces of myself that I create in other people are the best ones :)