The Secret to Success Was Under The Couch

I found the secret to success in life, business and careers under a couch – under lots of couches actually.

My friends and I have these reoccurring hyperbolic conversations – the best this, the worst that. One such conversation a couple months ago sparked the “worst job you’ve ever had” conversation. Without hesitation, I blurted out “the two days I spent as a couch mover.”

I worked for a liquidation company that took control of a bankrupt furniture store one summer when I was in college. That’s all I did – move couches. I must have moved couches (sometimes the same ones) 100 times in two days. From this side to that side and then again. The Sam Cooke song “Chain Gang” comes to mind.

Saying that this is the worst job is saying something, because I’ve held some highly unglamorous jobs, starting from my first job as a part-time elementary school janitor when I was fifteen. I’ve mounted, mudded and sanded drywall. I’ve painted (and not the Picasso kind). I cleaned apartments after tenants moved out. I unloaded eighteen-wheelers into sweltering warehouses. I worked a deep-fryer at a Tex-Mex restaurant. I voluntarily breathed chlorine gas to get pictures of a chemical fire so they could run in a small-town newspaper. I worked for a sub-prime wholesale mortgage lender (…sigh…). Interestingly, all those jobs were better than moving couches.    

Over the past few months I’ve wondered what the one thing was that made it the worst job and then I realized it.

I didn’t care.

Why was I moving couches (something designed for resting, ironically) for a company that didn’t care, with fellow employees that didn’t care, and for customers that didn’t care? There was no meaning or real purpose for my efforts. I couldn’t find a reason to care. It was meaningless and trivial labor.

That’s the silver (faux suede) lining. That experience taught me something invaluable. If you care, you will be happy and you will succeed because you will demand it of yourself. Caring is easy when it’s something inherently interesting and fun. When a task, project or job is seemingly mundane or unfulfilling, the trick is to see what you are doing as part of a bigger, complex, meaningful endeavor. While sanding drywall was not interesting or fun, I knew that what I was doing would make all the difference for the painters, who would then be able to turn this former attic space into a playroom for kids, who would then learn how to harness their own creativity through play and share their prized Tonka trucks with a friend, thus learning how to share and cooperate, becoming better people in the process.

See what you are doing as a reflection of yourself. Your actions will affect dozens of people today – positively or negatively. Care about the moments of every day. Care about your impact on the moments of every day. People around you will notice, and they’ll be better for it, too. How you affect the people around you is how you will be defined as an employee, colleague, supervisor, friend, citizen, person and human being.

As a bonus, keeping that in mind might also help keep you from sleeping on the couch. I know – I’ve been there, too.