No matter where you live there’s always trash to be gotten rid of each week. Especially after a holiday weekend. Regular trash and recyclables, in bags or cans, on the curb or to the dump – it’s our gross national product.
I get around and see many variations on the removal of trash. In California they make you put it in special rolling containers – these are placed at the curb and then a truck with one driver and a clever set of tongs grabs and dumps the container of trash into the truck – pretty neat. The guy in the truck never gets out, never gets dirty and, incidentally, never waves hello. In the Adirondacks we mostly have to take our trash to the dump – that’s right, one of those old fashioned places where you’re charged by the bag and throw it onto a pile or into a large container. The guy there knows everyone and keeps track of everything (put that over there, we don’t take that, etc.) - and of course the bears are always around to help reduce the piles. And then there’s New York City – you only imagine how many people live here until you see the mountains of trash put out on the curb several days each week. Did I say mountain – because when the guys responsible for putting out all the trash from all those tall buildings start bringing the bags and things that were somehow stored someplace inside those buildings, you marvel at the sheer volume. And then the trucks start to pull up – the kind with one guy driving and at least one and usually two more hanging on the back - they work hard to make those mountains disappear. I guess nobody in the Sanitation Department in NYC ever saw the way it’s done in California. I guess there are way too many cars parked on the streets to do it the California way. I guess that’s why there are soooooooo many garbage men in the Big Apple.
For all us nostalgia nuts, these guys have the same look and swagger (is it really a swagger) as the ones who’ve been doing this forever (or at least as far back as I can remember). You know the routine: truck stops in the middle of the street every few houses, they all run and pick up the bags and containers, throw the stuff into the back of the truck, pull the handle every now and then and that thing comes down and sweeps the trash into the innards of the truck. And then they all get in or hang on and down the road they go. I know this because they’re out when I’m walking the dogs. I see this and have even talked with some of the guys: how should my trash be bundled, when is recycling day, what are the rules – and they’re nice and articulate enough to stop and answer me. Huh – these guys actually talk and answer questions? Yep - these are people who take their jobs seriously, dress and act professionally, and probably go out to restaurants and bars and movies and ballgames when they’re done. I guess I never thought about them before, but these are real people and they’re part of the countless group (how many I can’t imagine) that keep things moving in a complex society. But surprisingly they don’t fit the stereotypes that often come to mind when thinking of jobs like these. Bus drivers, people holding the signs at highway construction projects, cops walking the beat here and in every other big metropolitan city, letter carriers and just about every other public employee you see and interact with every day…stereotypes could apply to any or all of them, but once you interact with them and get to know them, they become less typed and more real.
And guess what – they turn out to be just like you and me. They’ve got things to do, families to love and support, bills to pay, places to go, jobs to complete – and while some just do an average job, others go out of their way to do them to the best of their abilities and beyond anyone’s expectations. These go on all around us each day, and they’re done by lots of different people (and different kinds of people). Most just want to do good, they want to be noticed, they want others to recognize them as regular people, and they want to feel good about themselves and what they do. Just because they do something that you didn’t think was worth much doesn’t mean that it isn’t. Stop and look again – people like the ones who pick up the trash here, or handle any one of the thousands of other jobs that keep our worlds moving should be noticed, thanked and appreciated. By you. Regularly. Remember: they’re people too!
My quote this week is about “excellence” and “grandeur” – the kinds of things we should strive for ourselves and expect, recognize and appreciate from others:
“Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way.” -Booker T. Washington
Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856 – 1915) was an American educator, author, orator and political leader. He was the dominant figure in the African American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915.
You’re probably going to do lots of things today and most of them will be just what’s expected - nothing wrong with that. Each will take a certain amount of knowledge, time, energy and focus – and that’s what it takes to get any one of them done. Now what do you think it would take to do any one of them of them just a little bit better or a lot better?? Probably wouldn’t take that much extra – probably would only take just a little more energy, attention to detail, focus and passion. Fact is, it doesn’t take that much more – just the desire to do better. And if you have that desire then you’ll be able to do common things in an uncommon way, to make the ordinary into something extraordinary, to meet and exceed all expectations. But it all starts with wanting to reach those higher levels, with pushing yourself just a little more to achieve those higher levels, to turn an “oh” into a “wow”. Commit to that today and see how excellence feels.
I spent the last 30 years as a human resources practitioner and thought leader; for most of that time I was the HR guy for all of Steve Wynn's casinos worldwide. Currently I write (this blog and other motivational materials), lecture, and consult. I live in Las Vegas and the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York. I am an avid musician, hiker, canoeist and book enthusiast.