My first job was working for my dad's cleaning business. Now emptying trash cans and scrubbing bathrooms isn't exactly a dream job, but just like any job, it's as good or as bad as you make it. We can choose to learn from experiences, or just exist during them. I recommend the former! One of my favorite quotes is one I saw almost 15 years ago. It said "A person can have 20 years of experience, or one year's experience 20 times". That's so true!
A person can have 20 years of experience, or one year's experience 20 times"Click to Tweet
Cleaning up after disgustingly filthy people sucks, but there are so many lessons that I took away from it. Here's just a few that I'm still reminded of years later.
1. The Importance of Corners
My dad once pointed out that no matter how well we clean a floor, it would still look dirty if the corners weren't clean. Details matter! In business there are so many things that don't seem all that important in comparison to our primary goals. We can deliver a great product or service, and still leave a bad impression because the receptionist was rude on the phone, or because there were misspellings in the instruction manual. While I'm not suggesting that we have to be perfect, we do have to always be striving to do things a little better each and every time!
That's my goal on every website I produce, every article I write, and every video I produce. I want each one to be a little better than anything else I've done before it. The website could load a little faster, or the underlying code that no one sees could be a little cleaner, or the lighting for the video could be arranged slightly better. Every thing we do can be improved! There will never be a point where I will feel like I've arrived! There's always some way to improve what we do, no matter how long we've been doing it, or how well we do it.
We all want to think we're doing great work, but sometimes we make excuses because of perceived limitations. We can tell ourselves, "I'd do better if I had more time or money". Or sometimes we do great work on the things people see, but ignore the corners we think no one sees. Even if we get away with it, our overall work starts to suffer because wrong attitudes eventually creep into every other area of our life!
Don't fall into the trap of only worrying about the details that you think your customers will notice. On my websites I pay attention to a hundred different details that my clients will never notice! But they do notice the better results, and the compliments from their customers! I could have made my life a whole lot easier by only worrying about the design of a site, since that's primarily what a client cares about most. But because I've focused on every detail of how it functions in addition to every detail of the design, I've become a better web developer as a result. It didn't come easy, but the benefits of being able to take on the more "complex" and interesting projects is just one of the ways that that attention to detail has paid off for me.
2. The Pride of a Clean Toilet
Cleaning a toilet is shitty work, let's face it. Even if you do it well, it's work that will never be awarded or even recognized, and within the hour will probably be just as dirty as it ever was. If there was ever a definition of pointless effort, cleaning toilets would have to be it!
Here's the lesson we can take away. Success begins and ends with the menial, pointless tasks that we hate to do. The dream of every entrepreneur is to succeed enough to be able to hire someone to do the tasks that they hate! But there's incredible value in embracing those tasks, and doing them well.
Success begins and ends with the menial, pointless tasks that we hate to do."Click to Tweet
See we all have tendencies and preferences. We have things that come a little easier to us, or that we enjoy doing more than other tasks. But if we only do those things, we miss out on true personal development. Tons of self-help books have been written, but it's a simple fact that personal development comes from working on the things that we dislike, and the things that come difficult to us. Sure you may not dream of cleaning toilets for the rest of your life, but if you can take pride in scrubbing toilets, you can take pride in any menial task, and that's where great work starts and ends.
The question is what are your "toilet cleaning" tasks? Is it providing customer support, data entry, manual labor, answering the phone? If you're trying everything possible to get away from a particular task that you hate, then do so, but first embrace it until you've mastered it!
3. The Janitorial Services Engineer
Everyone deserves respect! I was always amazed at the attitudes of some of the factory and office workers that we came across while cleaning. While most were great, there were always a few people who made it quite obvious that they felt themselves to be far superior to the lowly janitors! Guess what? I'd much, much rather be a janitor than be a faceless employee stuck in a cubicle doing data entry work for a large corporation! At least a janitor gets to be active, and move around, and doesn't have to live for 8 hours with office politics. Heaven forbid a crisis like an un-filed TPS report wreak havoc on an unsuspecting office!
For me it highlighted how naturally we tend to find someone else to look down on. The reality is that factory floor jobs or cubicle jobs are traditionally towards the bottom of the totem pole in our society. But even in dead-end jobs like those, it's still possible to find someone else to look down on. We see it everywhere! Those with jobs look down on those lazy unemployed folks. Those with an education look down on the ignorant masses. The rich look down on the poor "who just don't want success badly enough". Those born in this country look down on "those dirty Mexicans" who "shouldn't be here". (Don't get me started on the ignorance of that one!)
Who do you look down on? Do you write off a group of people simply because you don't understand them?
We have to avoid the trap of finding a group that we're better than. It hurts us to do so, nearly as bad as it hurts the group we judge! It's an attitude of arrogance which eats at our own dignity and respect, and stifles our growth. If we choose to look down on others, then our desire for personal growth is only selfish greed, not true growth!
4. The Efficiency of Quality
Working faster on an hourly job seems like one of the dumbest thing you could do. You're either working harder for the same amount of money, or finishing the task faster for less money! It just doesn't make sense! Unless you want to ever do anything else besides your current job! Or maybe you want to develop yourself to become a more skilled person. That doesn't happen unless you're willing to put in the effort in areas that don't seem to have any immediate personal benefit.
The reality is that working as hard and fast as I could taught me a lot about the balance between quality and efficiency. I noticed that there were so many little areas that I could speed up that had no effect on quality at all. Obviously you can only sweep so fast before you create a dust cloud or make more of a mess than you started with. But I could walk faster between office spaces, and I could pay attention to details like the making sure I never had to back track because of running low on supplies, etc.
Noticing little details like that has helped me on so many other jobs, regardless of the industry. Paying attention to details, planning ahead, and optimizing the stupid simple things can have a drastic cumulative effect on efficiency. It's amazing!
The bottom line is that no matter what job you have, or how much you dislike it, you can use it to learn something. Learning opportunities surround us, it's up to us to seize them, and practice what we learn. As most people find out, if they don't learn from their current job, they'll quit in frustration eventually, and transition to another job where they're faced with the same things they hated at the last one. Moving to a job with better circumstances doesn't happen with time, it comes with improving your life and your skills until you are truly qualified to move into a better position.
So what are you learning from your current job?