I take the bus. I live on the Northwest Side of Minneapolis and work in a North East Suburb. In order to get there by bus, I have to ride south into downtown and then catch another bus back north. Today, when I was coming back from work, I walked to a bus stop to catch my transfer and found a mess. The stop was filthy.
Caribou coffee cup, Target Café Soda cup, M&M wrapper, empty cigarette packs, spilled popcorn, dropped paper transfer passes, and miscellaneous scraps of plastic. As soon as I saw it, I thought, "Wow, I've got some work to do!"
Now if you haven't read my blog before, maybe that's surprising. Why would a guy who works a corporate job go around picking up trash in his suit? Well, welcome to TradeSchool Culture. Because I value clean streets.
Because I value not having to stand around in trash, I do something about it.
Now, I haven't always picked up trash. This is a discipline that I've developed over the past 9 years. And it wasn't even my idea! I had a mentor named Bruce who inspired me. He never said a word. He just picked up trash on his way to the bus stop. His action inspired both me and another man named Randy to do the same.
But, Today I was looking at a big mess. And I had worked all day. And, well I just wasn't feeling it. As I hesitated, a phrase I'd been taught long ago popped back into my head, "Someone gets paid to do that."
It's a true statement. …At least, regarding downtown Minneapolis. Minneapolis has people they hire called ambassadors who are friendly people dressed in navy blue and Chartreuse (aka electric limeade green) who greet people, give directions, and yes, pick up the trash along the streets.
So there was already a team in place. It wasn't my job to clean up the garbage. I could just leave it for them and hop on my bus without doing a thing.
I'm so thankful that I thought of that phrase "Someone gets paid to do that". Because it reminded me of how much I hate that phrase. That is a phrase that I had learned as a child when an adult admonished me for cleaning up a mess I didn't make. I lived by it for a long time--until I realized that I didn't agree with the statement. I had to then retrain myself to fight against what I had been taught.
I believe that attitude of "Someone gets paid to do that" is closely followed by the idea "Not my problem. That's somebody else's problem" or "I don't have to, so I'm not going to." And that's the kind of passivity and lack of responsibility that I believe has pervaded and ruined American culture.
So instead of standing around in the trash to wait for a bus. I moved around all the other people standing in it and began to pick up and dispose of the garbage. Nobody commented on the work I was choosing to do. No one helped. And I don't mind that so much--because I'm used to it. But there's one thing that gives me hope.
There was a boy around 7 years old, I'd guess, standing with his mom. He watched me the whole time.
Now when I pick up the trash, I don't grumble about it. I don't frown or wrinkle my forehead. In fact, I keep a small, closed-mouthed smile on my face.
It's not a fake smile. It's there to reflect how I feel inside when I do good work. Because I value being in a clean environment, I get rewarded emotionally when I remove the garbage from my view.
Picking up the trash, honestly, isn't very difficult. In fact, most people can do it. I generally carry a pocket full of napkins to assist with the effort so I don't have to get my hands dirty. But even if my hands do get dirty, I just wash them when I get home--or at the restroom of the next place where my appointment is (work, doctor, restaurant, etc.).
Now, if it's something extreme like some sort of body secretion--then I leave it alone. But if it's something easy like a "Wendy's" bag or candy wrapper, it takes approximately 1 second to pick it up. Then I just carry it to the nearest trash receptacle--which at the bus stop was literally 15 feet away.
This is a lot of trash talk. Why put so much effort into this?
Because it makes a difference. I'm not saying I influenced anybody to follow in my footsteps and pick up trash. That's not what this is about.
The people who were standing there, now no longer had to stand in and around the trash. That actually gives them a better environment. Changing your environment helps to change your state of emotion. Don't believe me?
Have you ever walked into a movie theater with a sticky floor? It's not fun, is it?
Does it change the movie you're watching? No.
But even if the movie is the same, your experience watching it might not be as enjoyable. Why? Because every time you adjust your feet, you feel the tackiness and hear the "shhhhllip" of your show peeling off the floor. It's distracting.
Even if the bus stop folks weren't focused on their environment. It still doesn't feel good. It feels better to be clean. And it's nice to think that the next people coming along also won't have to stand in the trash.
See, It's actually about serving people. Not for money. Not for recognition. Just because it's nice and it feels good to be nice. It's about removing the junk; the unpleasant distractions.
Have you noticed the junk in your life? It builds up. Slowly. There's a lot of "stuff" (physical, emotional, spiritual, and relationships) that collects in the corners of our lives. Some things would have been easy to just dispose of a long time ago. Some things need daily attention.
For instance, how's your motivation? Do you have some for today? Most people have a very subtle appetite for motivation. They don't long to feel motivated. They simply stop feeling inspired. ...and then they stay that way. Too long.
If you don't have motivation today, start with making your bed. That's what the military does. The military takes care of this simple task first thing to get their day in order. It's a victory over chaos and distress.
When you done this one thing well, you set the tone for your day. If you've done one thing well, you will be primed to do your next thing well--whether that's meditation, or a workout, or making a good breakfast.
Is specifically, "making your bed", the key to success? No. But, it's a simple way to start your day with success. So, whatever your task, start with success.
If you make a mistake, correct it right away instead of letting it stay until… later. An indefinite later. When is a better time than when you first realize you've made the error?
I want to talk about the trash at that bus stop one more time for a very important reason:
It's not that dirty every day.
Some days there is trash around. Many days it's clean.
So what made it so dirty that day?
While I wasn't there throughout the day, I can tell you with an amount of certainty what happened.
First, someone set down a drink and left it there while they got on a bus.
Second, no one else picked it up.
Third, someone else saw that one person had already left a drink, so they decided--at some level--that it was okay for them to do the same.
Fourth, no one else picked it up.
Fifth, someone accidentally knocked over one of the drinks.
Sixth, people saw the spilled drink and started to look at the bus stop as "Messy"
That perception encouraged people to think that they could take advantage of this messy bus stop and use it as a dumping ground for their trash. Now remember that there is a trash can AND a recycling can 15 feet away from the bus stop. But still the mess builds.
When you see messes and failures in your own life, you'll tend to see more and more of them. If you don't catch yourself wallowing in feelings of failure, you're in danger of starting to believe that we are unworthy of success. The trash builds up.
Thankfully, the opposite is also true. That's why I brought up the simple victory of making your bed. It's an easy to make a mark on your day. Make the bed and know that you have a safe and comfortable place to come back to at the end of your day. Build on your successes!
That is why your focus is so important. If you consistently think, "That's somebody else's problem" then you're practicing putting responsibility on someone else's shoulders. If you believe you're a failure, you will find ways to cite your sources. If you believe you're successful, you'll internally have to justify it. You'll think about those successes.
You have a responsibility to live your life by your values. Your future--and your present--is not determined by other people's perspectives. It's not determined by previous failures--or even successes. Your future depends on your focus and your responsibility.
When someone tells you not to do something--for any reason. Use your response ability. Make the decision to determine your focus.
Trade away the idea that you are what you get paid for. Trade it for the truth that you are who you choose to be. Act on your values and you will live the life that YOU want to live.