Hard Won Knowledge

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By Kristen Cappadona

Right after college I had a wonderful opportunity to work as a staff member at the Cape Eleuthera Island School in Eleuthera, Bahamas.  Part of my responsibility was to serve as a faculty advisor to high school sophomores and juniors during their study abroad experience. Faculty worked alongside students in the classroom, but also during research, chores and mealtime. It was a close, tight-knit community.

One evening, as my team of students and faculty was finishing up cleaning the school kitchen after dinner, I volunteered to empty the mop bucket. I had to carry one of those familiar yellow, wheeled buckets that we all saw at school. I carried it down six cement stairs (with the mop press scraping my leg) and wheeled it along the gravel walkway to dump the dirty, gray water in the bushes. Flip-flops are not recommended footwear for such a task, as I found out, tripped, nearly fell, smashed my knee on the mop press, and dumped disgusting gray water all over my legs and feet. There was only one inch of water and sand left in the bottom of the bucket by the time I made it to the bushes to dump it out.

I stood on the gravel walkway and started crying. I was a world away from home, I missed my friends and family, I was living in a house with no air conditioning and every time it rained, geckos would crawl under my kitchen door…  I was feeling sorry for myself. But I pulled myself together, found my missing wet, slippery, flip-flop, dumped the water and walked back into the kitchen with a tear-stained face to help my team finish up our chores and start study hall.

Later that evening, the head of school sent me a very simple email. It said, “Even when you think no one is watching, someone is always watching. You’re doing great.”  Little did I know that while I was having a small breakdown over spilled mop water, the head of school was watching me out his office window.

That very simple sentence has stuck with me through my professional career.  It serves as a reminder that whether we realize it or not, our bosses, co-workers and staff members are seeing the way we handle our successes and failures. It is a reminder to always bring my best when I walk in the doors to my office: my mindset, attitude and work ethic are contagious and it’s up to me whether I put out a positive or negative vibe. Remember: when you think no one is watching, someone is watching. This adage continues to serve as a reminder to always try to lead by example.  It’s okay to be disappointed or frustrated, but a good leader will remember that colleagues, children, and friends are watching. Use that frustration or disappointment (and always a success!) as an opportunity to implement good problem-solving skills or turn it into a learning experience for all to share.


Kristen Cappadona is a Project Scientist at H2M and has over 12 years of experience in the environmental consulting field.  She is also the Chairperson of the Young Professionals Committee at the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, where this article was originally posted on September 16, 2019.