I recently read an article by John Burke, CEO and President of Trek Bicycles. I realized that I share two things with Mr. Burke. Like him, my dad was my best friend. Over the years we talked a lot about business, and he was a wise, patient and thoughtful teacher.
The second experience that I share with John Burke is his description of his night shift job during a summer while he was in college. He worked in a factory making plastic containers. After his first night, he told his dad that his job was horrible and that he was not going back. His dad said: “You’re going back tonight, you’re going to work there for the summer, and you’ll enjoy it.” Reluctantly, Burke returned to work and made up his mind to do the best job he could. He tried to beat his record on how many containers he could make each night, and spent his breaks reading business magazines. He said that the job may have provided the best lesson of his life.
Between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I worked as a maintenance man in an apartment complex for older folks. There were three buildings, and each had three floors. Part of my job was to start at the top floor of each building and sweep off dust and dirt from the breezeway with a hand broom. Then I would move down to the second floor, then down to the first floor, and finally to the parking area. With a motorized power vacuum, I would then vacuum the fallen dust and dirt from the parking area. The whole process took about 8 hours per building, and my boss wanted it done every week. So, basically, I swept for 24 hours every week. I became very good at sweeping, but more important, I found purposefulness in a mundane task. I took pride in how those apartments looked, and enjoyed the compliments from many of the tenants.
Like Mr. Burke, that may have been the most important job of my life because it taught me to find purpose in everything I do, even the most boring and mundane of tasks. After those two summers, my perspective changed about long, repetitive tasks. I started to enjoy the time such tasks give you to think, and the satisfaction of doing something right. That is purpose enough.
As a teacher, I would like to think that the most important lessons can be taught in a classroom or during a field trip. But I think some lessons can only be learned by sweeping all day.
Here’s the link to John Burke’s article. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/01/jobs/trek-bicycles-chief-on-lessons-of-the-night-shift.html?_r=0