A dirty business
When Mr. Cooper hired my father – a 15-year-old high school graduate – he handed him a broom and asked if he knew how to use it. My father said he did.
My father swept out the entire furniture store – showroom, warehouse, even the company’s lone delivery truck. He assured Mr. Cooper he could drive it, too, as soon as he qualified for a driver’s license.
He performed this chore gladly every day when the store closed or before it opened.
It was an opportunity to show Mr. Cooper he could count on him, that he was a good worker and aimed to learn the business. My father had walked from south Georgia to South Carolina with the promise of a job. As one of 10 children, he considered no task too menial to be done well. Anything Mr. Cooper gave him to do he excelled at because he did it with enthusiasm and did it the best he could. He qualified for a driver’s license when Mr. Cooper told the instructor my father was 16, the legal age for driving.
My father wasn’t sure if Mr. Cooper didn’t know better or was just willing to help him get a license so he could drive the truck and deliver furniture. My father never asked nor told Mr. Cooper he would not be 16 for another six months. Sometimes it may be better to keep your mouth shut and accept what life gives you. When Mr. Cooper opened a second store in another town, he made my father the manager. Before long my father was managing both of Mr. Cooper’s stores.
It all started with a broom.
My father told me that story not to make himself out to be success model. He was that. His life lessons have been invaluable. He told me because he wanted me to expect that I would be asked to do jobs I might consider beneath me. Do it anyway, not grudgingly but with enthusiasm as if it was the most important job in the work and something very special. In basic infantry training on Tank Hill at Fort Jackson, one of the worst jobs you could be given was to clean out the mess hall grease trap. That’s when you found out why they called it a mess hall. The muck was filthy and the fumes would take your breath away. My sergeant must have known I was equal to the task. He assigned me to the grease trap frequently. I loathed the job but I never let him know. He may have thought me a nit wit who liked the job, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing how I felt.
He was going to think I was the happiest grease trap cleaner in all creation.
Martin Luther King, Jr., knew the power of this approach. No job is too menial to be ignored or done half-heartedly, he preached to his flock. Do it the best you can. Put your personal signature on it. “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry, “He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”