7 Important, Life-Changing Lessons I Learned While I Worked As A Janitor

janitor

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

– Alexander Graham Bell

I got fired on Dec. 31, 2013, but the decision was really my own. Due to some unexpected circumstances, I could not continue doing my well-paid and quite secure job any longer.

Those circumstances had messed up my career; but, it also threatened the possibility of living a life I was dreaming of. Things didn’t get better over time. I lost any hope and fell into despair. Three months later, I was out of money. With no other options, I took a low-paying janitor job to survive.

There’s no doubt about it: my old, comfortable life had ended. All my hopes and expectations fell apart. I had hit the ground.

However, like for others, the lowest point in my life became the starting point for something new.

Now, hitting rock bottom was tough enough. It’s painful; but, when you get up and dust yourself off, you may find that you’re standing on a solid surface. You’ll discover that there’s no deeper hole to fall into. Rather, you can build something different and fresh upon the ground you’ve just hit.

The previous skyscraper of my life had been shaky and fell apart. Perhaps the reason was that I had chosen the wrong foundation to construct it on. Perhaps, I was listening to other people’s opinion and advice when choosing the place where to build and the way to build it. I was building my life the way everyone wanted. I was scared that if I chose another foundation and gave my skyscraper a different shape and color, I would be criticized and everybody would laugh.

So, it’s no big surprise that every wind-flaw, whether a critical opinion or casual disapproving glance, would shake it. And, it’s no wonder that it eventually fell down.

Doing unpretentious low-paying janitor work gave me time to reevaluate the very conception and blueprint of the skyscraper I wanted to build. It gave me permission to let go of the phantom ephemeral values and achievements I had held onto so tightly – to focus on that which has real meaning to me. What is more important is that this job gave my mind the freedom from the conventions of society.

If you have the time, I’d like to share with you the precious lessons this janitorial job taught me.

1 – Waking Up Early

As a janitor, I have to get up early. Sometimes on snow days, I have to get up extremely early. I can’t help but wonder how I am able to accomplish so much on these days. I am not talking about the job (I spend up to six hours there). I mean on my personal projects; the projects I spend my free time on.

When you wake up early, you get all this extra energy and motivation that lasts all day.

I’m also working on a personal project before I go to work. Waking up early gives you a small bit of satisfaction at the beginning of the day. This is extremely important if you’re going through a difficult period in your life.

2 – Effective Multi-Tasking

Multi-tasking used to be among the top advice personal development gurus would give you if you asked how you could boost your productivity. However, it’s been recently I noticed an opposite tendency: articles revealing that’s it not as effective as it was once have been showing up on the Internet.

Unless you’re driving an Apache attack helicopter, it’s more productive to stay focused on one task.

Nevertheless, a repetitive, monotonous work like a janitorial position provides you with a way to benefit from multi-tasking and doing two useful things at the same time. For example: while I am sweeping a street or some other cleaning work, I’m also listening to an audiobook. During the break, I can write down my thoughts about the book.

(I reference the Apache attack helicopter, because these pilots are known to be the best multitaskers in the world. They have to control a significant number of gauges while also keeping the helicopter in the sky. They are trained to receive information from different sources simultaneously.

As Ed Macy writes in his book “Apache”, the pilot can read a book and listen to the radio, and understand what’s written and being said. Moreover, they can read two books at the same time, each by one eye.

Of course, candidates tend to get or suffer with severe headaches, insomnia, nausea or extreme mental overload while they do train. Only one in eight becomes an actual pilot.

3 – Clean Up On The Inside

Most people worry about how it looks than how it really is. They focus their attention on the outer appearance than their inner one. They put their efforts into looking clean and neat. While appearance is important, is it more important than the inner being? I don’t think so!

I can clean up the street; but, I can’t clean up people’s minds – the ones who walk this street every day and litter. My point is this: less trash inside means less trash outside.

4 – Never-Ending Growth

I certainly do not want to work as a janitor for the rest of my life. I was to put my skills and knowledge to better use.

Still, I can’t deny how much this job motivates me to improve and grow. I read more. I blog more. I take courses at Coursera and develop my computer game. I do all the things that I didn’t have time before with my previous jobs.

I take advantage of all my free time – no matter how short it is – to learn something new, to come up with a creative idea or to do something useful.

The benefit of this job is that it provides you with a perfect balance between physical and mental work. When I’m done cleaning the area I’m responsible for, I can dive deep into some intellectual activity. When my brain becomes overwhelmed and tired, I take care of that by doing my janitorial, physical work.

5 – Humility

When I say humility, I mean the highest possible sober self and situation in which you find yourself in – an assessment of you and that situation. This is the acceptance of truth about what’s currently going on in your life. Being humble means to gather the strength available to you, at this very moment, to meet your goals. To understand and admit the fact that they could now be unattainable to you.

When those circumstances interfered with my life, I could no longer keep my previous lifestyle – my goals were no longer reachable. I had to re-evaluate myself and my life, given the current state of affairs. However, it had only made me peaceful and more confident.

Humility, as I understand it, is not giving up on your dreams. Rather, humility is to make you see the steps you can take at this moment, based upon the current circumstance and the resources you have at your disposal.

6 – Modesty

What does a man actually need for living a meaningful, fulfilling life?

  • Does he need a prestigious car to be more benevolent?
  • Does he really need that brand new phone to be more productive?
  • Does he need to live in a luxury mansion to be creative?
  • Does he need to buy new clothes every season to be happy?

He doesn’t need any of it!

I possess two pairs of jeans, which also applies to many clothing items. That is more than enough to follow my dream.

I am perfectly happy with my three-year-old laptop, which lets me to develop my computer game and do some blogging.

I may not be able to invest a large sum of money in a business venture. And, my bank may not credit me because I have just a monthly salary of $120. However, I have created and accomplished much more of what has value to me in this year than in the prior five.

7 – Change Is Inevitable

Except for the unexpected – death and terminal illness – everything that’s happening to you has a reason. It happens because you actually want it.

Yes, sometimes life, God or the universe (whatever you call it) moves in mysterious ways and plays hard ball. However, it only does this because you don’t demand a chance in yourself. If left with no other choice, it’ll be force to act tough.

It may get tired of your “maybe tomorrow” or “I need more time to think”. It may get tired of your endless promises to change, when you fail to act on those vows.

At every fork in my life, I used to take the safe trodden path. Every time life handed me an opportunity to change it, I justified my choice of keeping status quo with an excuse – someday I’ll venture into the unexplored world (I’m just not ready now and need more time to prepare). However, that day was always lost somewhere in the distance uncertain future.

Tired of the uncertainty, life took control of everything and put me in a situation that I had no other option but to take the path I had longed for an avoided at the same time. It was this path that was the only one available to me.

Today, I stand firmly on the ground I hit more than a year ago. I’m building my new skyscraper… and I’m not rushing it. I’m giving it time. I don’t know how high it’s going to be; but, I know for sure that it’s going to have a strong foundation, which will be hard to destroy. I enjoy long walks and being with my girlfriend. I like to see how people accept the work I’ve created, even if they criticize it. And, I continue to do the janitorial work.

Have you ever had a life-changing experience, making it appear that your hopes and dreams were crushed but turned to be a blessing in disguise that led you to a more fulfilling and happy life? I am sure I am not alone. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. I would love to read them.

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15 thoughts on “7 Important, Life-Changing Lessons I Learned While I Worked As A Janitor”

  1. Demanding a chance in yourself is one of the toughest and bravest things you can do. Our culture doesn’t tend to give much room for this but it’s very key to living an authentic life.

    I’m glad you found a foundation and what sounds to be a lot of valuable perspective.

    1. So true Brandon, change is often difficult, and many people would better stick to their current lifestyle, beliefs and perspective. One of the reasons may be that they are scared to lose what they have now, even if it doesn’t serve them well anymore. We get bribed with the comfort, and ignore what is going on within us too often. So when you let go of your comfortable life, people around you will be confused – to say the least. I see it as a test, which checks how firm your decision to change is. Thank you for your comment.

  2. The story above has gave me hope of what am going through at the moment.

    I was force to resign from my well paying Job due to my mistakes, but I took it as challenge to change for more better thing, even though I didn’t have a Job yet, hope to see the other door which was opened for me and not concentrate in the one which was closed.

    1. Silas, I am sure it will turn out all right. I was really desperate when everything started falling apart, but eventually it got better. Let me know if there is something I can do to help.

  3. I’m a well-paid tax accountant, and have been with the same employer since leaving high school. I decided to take a janitorial job in the evenings for a couple of reasons: 1) I wanted to get over my fear of not being able to do anything else besides a desk job (considered starting a janitorial company) and 2) I wanted to lose weight. I accomplished both goals of losing weight and knowing I can leave Corp America when I choose. The only thing I would say was hard about being a janitor wasn’t exactly that it was hard physical labor, rather, it was being labeled by office people as “just a janitor.” It didn’t help that i’m Hispanic when it came to being judged, either! The cool thing was, I eventually got over the fear of being judged and shared my story with the office people to help them realize we are all the same regardless of what kind of work we do.

    1. Oops! It seems I’ve clicked the wrong reply button… Valerie, please, read my answer below, in the top-level comment branch.

  4. Valerie, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s great that you overcame the fear of judgement.

    I think starting a janitorial company is a very good opportunity, especially today, when everybody holds to his/her usually illusive social status and do not want to do dirty work in order not to lose “dignity”.

    I noticed recently: a lot of people who do such work make more money than average office workers, and feel happier overall.

    I 100% agree that it is very important to master some “real life” skill. The world is very chaotic these days, you don’ know what may happen in a year, or even in a month. And such a skill will may become your airbag if something goes wrong.

  5. Hi Alex:

    First, I have to tell you that your message is absolutely beautiful and as I read it, I could sense and feel the heart of what you were speaking about.

    I need to share something with you, not because of any other reason, than to let you know the parallel of what you have written here. I am 63 years of age and became a Christian in 1997………I have travelled the highway of life and have been blessed in so many ways, both on top of the mountains and in the valleys.

    When I read your blog, it reminded of the parable that Jesus speaks to in the Bible..the scripture reference is Luke 6:48. When I read your blog, it contained such similarities and wisdom that one can only write such words from experiencing it personally.

    Thank you for your honesty and sharing so that others can realize that without the proper foundation and cornerstone in life, our “skyscrapers” will fall when hit by the storms of life. And in that valley, that is where there is the opportunity to learn and grow if we humble ourselves to that experience.

    1. Hello, Diane,

      Thank you for the insightful words. I’ve found and read the parable you reference to. It describes my point perfectly. You may find an endless source of power in humility and modesty. And no flood can ruin your house if it is built on the strong foundation.

  6. Russell Whaley

    While I am still career oriented and have not made that trade-off yet, I consider your words and experiences with a lot of personal reflection. I appreciate your blogging and sharing your perspective as it gives me perspective on my next actions for me.

    Russ

  7. Hi Alex. This is the first time I’ve responded to blog simply because your life story is so humbling and so true. Until last year March I was also in a high paying job and hated every minute of it. The job robbed me of family time and I lost all perspective of who I was and what I truly want.
    I worked long hours and after working through the night last year, I was involved in a car accident because I fell asleep behind the steering wheel. I broke my neck but have recovered well. After four months I returned to my dreaded work only to be called in and retrenched along with other managers of the company.
    My work defined who I was and what lifestyle I was living. It should be the other way around.
    I still carry a lot of anger within me but you are so right! Life actually gave me a kick up the backside to change my attitude and hopefully become the person I should be.

    1. Bianca, thank you for sharing your story. I am really glad that you have recovered well after that accident.

      I have noticed that if something annoys me about my life very much, I am deeply unsatisfied with some aspect of it, and I am afraid to admit it honestly, subconsciously my mind somehow tries to sabotage it. For example, if I don’t like my job, I may start being late for meetings with clients, miss deadlines and so on. I know, it’s silly, but it takes a lot of courage to say “I want to quit this job”, and quit the job actually. Some people choose self-destruction way, they may begin abusing alcohol, for example. I think when the moment you have a thought you’d better get sick than go to work, it’s time to quit.

      I’m happy that you got out of that wheel, and regained the understanding of who you are and what you want.

      Thanks for your comment!

  8. I worked as a janitor in the mornings before going to class while attending college. I received my college degree, but, it wasn’t the golden ticket out of a blue-collar life. The truth is, I’ve never had a high-paying job and have done hard labor jobs my entire life. The exception was a magazine shoot for which I received $500 for the day; but, that was a fluke, and just one day. I guess I would like to see the view from an ivory tower, just for comparisons sake. Your story is interesting, and well-written, though.

    1. When I was younger, in my late teens – early 20s, I was locked in the “ivory tower” mindset. I could spend my days complaining that I had no job and no money, but would never take a blue-collar job. Thankfully, as I was growing up, I began paying more attention to the concerns of real life.

      Thank you for your comment, Chas. And thanks for using the “ivory tower” term – I heard this expression before but never bothered to look it up – I know what it means now. ;-)

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