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To love your job

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

One day last month I happened to see a TV Japan show where the production crew followed around a garbage collector from Yokohama by the name of Yusuke Take [ta;keh]. At the very beginning he says without any hesitation, “Trash is my dream.” I actually have a childhood friend who is a garbage collector, but I was uncomfortable asking him about what he found interesting or motivating about the job, and I felt a little guilty about that. So I felt like I really ought to watch, and got drawn into what would otherwise have been a rather staid program I normally don’t watch.

Not only is being a garbage collector an extremely physical job, requiring the person to jump off and back onto the truck 400 times a day, but it also repeats the same routine day in and day out. It's normally done in the middle of the night when the city is sleeping, and there is very seldom any opportunity to receive even a word of thanks. Even Mr. Take himself was discouraged when a youngster poked at the truck with an umbrella and shouted “Stinky!” or when a group of university students sneered at him, saying “Why do you have to come through here with that awful smell?” For a time, he became disheartened and felt he began to only work for a paycheck, telling himself “Everyone thinks this is a stinky job; it’s the worst job in the world.”

The monotony went on like that for about a year, but then one summer day as he went to pick up the next trash can, he saw that someone had placed a snack and a cold drink along with a note that read, “Thank you for always doing this work. Please accept this small token of gratitude.” Mr. Take, who was so overcome that he couldn’t move from the spot, suddenly realized that “There are people who know they need me. I am the one who has been looking down on this job and thinking it wasn’t worthwhile. I myself must change my outlook and face it squarely. If I don’t change myself, no one else will change how they think about this job either. I mustn’t be ashamed of this work.” From then on, he started picking up even small bits of rubbish, outside the ordinary job description of a garbage collector, as a matter of pride. Even after his shift was done, he would stay late every day to thoroughly clean the truck that had absorbed the odor of garbage. He would visit people who hadn’t sorted their trash properly and explain that he needed their help to keep the neighborhood clean. He came to see that the real significance of his job was that the neighborhood would be clean when everyone woke up in the morning, helping people to feel good about living their lives there, and he focused on the small, daily efforts needed to make that happen. And when he got depressed despite these efforts, he would concentrate on running to pick up and drop off the trash cans so as to force other thoughts from his mind, focusing on a sense of completion and doing the job just so. As he did all these things, he was transformed from a high school dropout and delinquent into the leader of a 50person team in the city that generates more trash than any other in Japan, even becoming the subject of a television mini-documentary.

There are jobs in the world, like professional baseball players or doctors for example, where you get to impress people and where those people directly express their gratitude. But there are other jobs, like garbage collectors, where you might not get thanked more than once in a thousand times. All jobs have significance, but as a practical matter, some professions are more popular or desirable than others. Some have physical or intellectual requirements that may or may not allow certain people to do them. Professional baseball allows highly skilled players who hone those skills with disciplined practice to deeply impress people with their performances. However, even people who don’t have high levels of innate talent can still impress others with their work when they go about it intently and earnestly. The thing that I thought was so amazing about Mr. Take was how deeply his spirit was affected by the simple “Thank you for always doing this work,” just once in an entire year, allowing him to go forward in devoting himself to the significance of a clean city. I was profoundly moved by his willingness to take his work beyond the confines of his position, going about his job in the knowledge that people might not even notice, just wanting to keep his city clean so that others who might despise him could live more pleasant lives – giving himself over to that purpose.

Many people may start off enjoying their jobs, but there are others, like myself or Mr. Take, who dislike their jobs at the beginning. And I believe that there are three points in common among those (like myself or Mr. Take) who have come to like their jobs. The first is achieving an understanding of the significance of their work. If you understand how your job benefits society, you can come to take pride in it. Next is imagining the happiness of the people around you when you’ve done your job well. At our company we use the phrase “Wow! your client,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean rolling out a big surprise. More often it means imagining what it would take to exceed someone’s expectations even by a small margin so that they are just a bit happier than they would have been otherwise, and then figuring out how to execute on that. If you can actually imagine the expression on their face, it will help inspire the will within you to take those extra steps. Finally, more than anything else, is taking your job seriously; to the point that your level of concentration when you’re working might make other people wonder if you’re okay. Work that is done halfheartedly will never be truly interesting or compelling. It’s important, I believe, to really try to focus on your work when you are working.

When you come to like your work, you can concentrate on it that much more, and the job itself gradually comes to be less of a grind and more enjoyable. Then, when someone shows appreciation, you can be genuinely happy about that and make whatever effort is required to make the next person appreciative as well. When more of your customers or clients are your fans, and when more of your coworkers are your fans, your job will surely become more interesting and compelling.

Being a manager or business owner means communicating the significance and excitement of the work, as well as the happiness of the clients, while constantly exerting oneself to take the work seriously. Because I know that the moment I compromise any of these things, the motivation of everyone in the company will suffer, I realize that it’s an occupation that doesn’t allow me to ever take my eye off the ball. On the other hand, if I come to enjoy my job, the company gradually becomes a better place. Meanwhile, the morale of our staff improves, and they become more capable. There was a time when the responsibilities of managing the company were becoming increasingly unpleasant to the point that I thought they might crush me, but now I see what a truly wonderful occupation I have stepped into. Now, like Mr. Take, I can say without reservation that I take pride in my work and enjoy it. While I happen to be the CEO, each person in the company has their own individual position or role. I want to continue to communicate the significance and excitement of our work to each of them, along with the happiness of our clients, so that each of our staff can take pride in their jobs and honestly say that they enjoy their work.


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