Posted by: Edward Klink
Sanitation workers are the unsung heroes of your local neighborhood. Most of us tend to take our garbage men for granted as they do their work, and when we do notice them it’s usually when we slowly open a weary bloodshot eye, stirred from our oblivious slumber by the mechanical groaning of the steel beast prowling the neighborhood.
That was me as I woke this morning and dashed out of the house in my underpants. I had suddenly remembered a trash bag with shattered glass and I didn’t want anyone getting cut by a shard.
“Hey, be careful, there’s a broken mirror in that one,” I said to Rudy the garbage guy.
“Your face did that?” He let out a laugh. Then as my groggy brain processed the zinger Rudy morphed into a Santa-on-steroids-on-Christmas Eve and in a blur of rapid-fire motion he grabbed each big white sack and sent the whole half-dozen sailing into the waiting maw of the truck as if it were a sleigh.
“Wow, don’t you get tired doing that at each house, block after block?”
“Ain’t no use in complainin’ when ya got a job to do, man.” He flashed a smile.
“Isn’t that a song?”
Rudy shrugged, “Wha? I dunno, that’s just my motto.”
A motto we can all take to heart. Rudy has a positive upbeat vibe as he carries out his daily duties emptying trash cans and he could teach Oscar the Grouch a thing or two about attitude. In fact, we can all learn a few things from industrious folks like Rudy so let’s see what you can salvage out of these lessons:
1. Know the essence of the job. These days many people and organizations seem to over-think what they do. “We provide photographic image solutions,” a camera company logo might say. And they have huge departments and myriad levels of people busy determining what those solutions are. But your local trash collector knows exactly what his job is, how he’s going to do it, and why its important to get it done at the appointed time. Break your job down to its essence and figure out what problem you solve or what you create. (Need help defining your mission? Try this free tool.)
2. Work with purpose. The more effectively you work the quicker the finish. Rudy and his crew know this. You don’t see them calling a meeting or strategizing a new approach after every block. Also I’ve never seen them playing with iPhones on the job, they hit house after house with energy and focus.
3. Get out of your office. By way of their jobs, sanitation crews know every part of the communities they service. But a desk or office can be a convenient excuse to sit inside. Opportunities, though, tend to be out there and no matter what your job is it can help if you take a cue and canvass your neighborhood for new ideas and new contacts. Find new ways to break out of your routine. Drive a different way to work. Get lunch at a new shop.
4. Look for treasure in trash. There are folks who make it their business to cruise the streets the night before junk day to look for anything of value that can be transformed in cash. There’s that show “American Pickers,” and I heard there are people who sift through the trash of celebrities looking for stuff to hawk on eBay. You can try that. You can also look for the cast off unfinished ideas of others and try them anew your way. Ask a more successful colleague for prospecting lists or the names of clients he no longer really wants. The trash of others truly can be your treasure.
5. Take out your own garbage. Forget the messy desk or office for a moment. What about the trash littering your head? Take an inventory of the unwanted baggage cluttering up your own headspace and make a decision to throw it out.
6. Don’t procrastinate. The one thing about sanitation work is that if the job doesn’t get done people notice, and quick. Remember, the longer you put off any unpleasant job on your to-do list, the more it’s going to stink.
7. What was your dirtiest job? While I’ve never been a sanitation worker, I once had a job in a restaurant where the duties included hauling the nightly trash across the parking lot to the compactor. I can still remember those awful, nauseating, leaky bags. The diners inside probably never gave any thought to what happened to their stuff when they threw it out. Somehow it was magically taken care of.
If you’re toiling in an under-appreciated dirty job, congratulations, you are learning the fundamentals of business. If you once had a job like that, be proud and think of the lessons it taught you. And and if you’ve never done a dirty job, well, then maybe— if you’re lucky— it’s still waiting for you.