Serving as manager of public works for the City of Denver was one of the most challenging jobs I ever held. Among the myriad of responsibilities, I was in charge of the Waste Management Branch. These are the folks who daily pick up the trash and recycling citywide.
There are few who aspire to do these jobs. Society labels them trash men and women and often judges them to be at the bottom rungs on the community ladder.
From my vantage point, these employees felt the most isolated and disconnected from the mission of the Department of Public Works (DPW). Adding to their isolation were their working hours. Required to perform their duties in the early morning hours, they were seldom part of employee gatherings and celebrations.
To be more inclusive and better informed, I made it a point to visit them regularly at the beginning and end of their shifts. This was enlightening, for I learned that these men and women were some of the most dedicated and hardworking people I had ever met.
Finding purpose in your everyday life
My exposure to these employees opened my eyes to the actual truth of their purpose. Picking up the garbage was what they did, but their higher calling was something else altogether. They were the protectors of the city’s health and well-being.
If you don’t believe this, then try to imagine a city where trash does not get picked up. Think of the unsightly pile of garbage that would gather daily on the streets. Imagine the stench, the rats and the nasty germs that would be ever present on these piles. The people who pick up our garbage are unsung heroes of a community, but such is not our view.
For these dedicated employees, their sense of isolation was made more severe by their lack of awareness of their value. They looked at their responsibilities as just a job. This was when I realized that the way I could help these talented people was to remind them of their great worth.
A higher calling does not have to be something “grandiose”
We are not any different, for we are often blind to our greater meaning. This results from viewing our lives from the world’s external standards. When we equate our value with how we stand in the eyes of others, we allow for dreariness and dissatisfaction to set in and become a plague in our consciousness.
Not a single one of us is a mistake. A Higher Consciousness deliberately created us with purpose and meaning. But our culture designates and glorifies one purpose over another. It asks us to compare ourselves to others so we may find our place in some kind of social pecking order.
This is all an illusion. A president is no more important than an athlete, an actor, or a garbage collector. The rich add no more value than the poor. Americans are not more important than Guatemalans. The world needs us all.
The good news is that you don’t have to sell everything and become a monk in Tibet to recognize your higher calling. It is there in your everyday life. You may find that the transformation you need is not in changing your job, but it is in transforming your perspective and attitude about it.
As I saw my real purpose, I became able to see purpose easily in others. Doctors heal, teachers enlighten minds, realtors help people find their dreams, painters inspire creativity, brick layers build shelters that allow people to work or live in them, bus drivers provide mobility and community connections for those who can’t afford a car, a restaurant cook gives customers a welcome break and enjoyment in their lives. Everything we do has the possibility to create a greater good. All we have to do is open our minds and hearts to see it.
Sometimes we outgrow what we do and become motivated to do something else. That is a sign of growth. However, your opportunity to create a better world is not out there into the future, it is right in front of you doing exactly what you are doing in the moment. Find your meaning in the present. Look for how others provide value to you and the world and emulate them. This will bring more joy and satisfaction to your life.