Somebody’s Got to Clean the Bathrooms

DO WORK THAT MATTERS.

It’s all around us, this directive to “Do work that matters.” I’ve been seeing it from the likes of people I admire, like Seth Godin and Jon Acuff. I’ve read it in books and heard it on podcasts and watched impassioned speakers beseech audiences to redirect their goals. I’ve listened to this buzz-phrase #doworkthatmatters and it never made sense. Granted, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but this directive was puzzling. So I did a little research. And by “doing a little research,” I mean I asked The Google.

Turns out, quite often, the “work that matters” concept is related to engaging in something out of the ordinary; a leap into unknown territory gasping a grand idea firmly with both hands. It means harnessing creativity and vision and channeling those into something never before seen or done; it speaks to closet creatives and entrepreneurs working to make a difference and/or a ton of money.

Doing Work that Matters requires leaving the cubicle and creating work that resembles Art; work that goes viral and is the business or brand everyone is talking about. Stepping away from the every day and engaging in work that makes a difference in the world. Work that is brand new. Work that enters through the eyes and ears and seeps down into one’s very soul, drenching the spirit with a honey-like coating of something so remarkable, so incredible, that the lives of everyone who encounters it is impacted forever.

We’re talking life changing work, people.

“Let us all turn inward,” they cry, “and be who we were meant to be! Let us be painters and poets and singers and entrepreneurs and inventors and photographers and dancers and create beauty and color and song and fill the world with imagination and fancy! Let us be the Willy Wonka’s, but the Gene Wilder version, ‘cause the Johnny Depp version was awful.” (Okay, I don’t know if they really say that last part, but I sure do, because hello?)

And while all that’s fine and good, I hate to burst the Utopia Work Bubble, but…somebody’s got to clean the bathrooms.

It has to get done. I mean, if not, they become dirty and smelly and gross and people cease to use them, which means people cease to use the building they are in. Imagine if no public bathroom anywhere was cleaned, because, instead, the fine people who used to clean them are out harnessing their soul and painting a cornfield somewhere. Because…creativity.

Oh, and while we were on the topic:

Somebody has to fix the leaky roof.
Somebody has to install the alarm system.
Someone has to grow the food.
Someone has to cook the food.
Someone has to serve the food.
Somebody has to pick up the garbage
Someone has to deliver the packages.
Someone has to paint the walls.
Someone has to sort the papers and file things and answer the phones.

And therein lies the reason I give the “Do Work that Matters” advice the stink eye.

See, we run into some pretty dangerous thinking when we start to view THIS work as important and THAT work over there as not so much. “Do Work that Matters” implies that if you aren’t engaging in ground-breaking, life-changing work, then your work doesn’t matter.

And yet, if every person set down their plunger, took off their headset and walked out of their cubicle, or left their UPS truck by the side of the road, life as we know it would cease to exist.

See, what we fail to realize as we search for work that matters, is that
it’s not a matter of finding meaningful work; it’s a matter of finding meaning in whatever work you do.

(Note: If you remember NOTHING else after reading this horribly long post, remember that last line.)

You can “Do Work that Matters” and design a building unlike anything anyone has ever seen. It can be a marvel of engineering; a building so cutting-edge that, once completed, the very angels in heaven descend to perch atop its gilded towers and sing the “Hallelujah” chorus. You can design it, but for that “Work that Matters” to become a reality, some folks are going to have to show up with tool belts and hard hats. They are going to spend long hours in the blazing sun. They will sweat and labor as they climb ladders and hammer nails and turn that “work that matters” idea into an actual building.

Listen friends: there is no good work or bad work. And if anyone tells you differently, they’ve got something to sell you. If you work, in any way, doing anything, it matters. YOU matter. Just because you don’t do THAT job doesn’t mean YOUR job isn’t important; it doesn’t mean you don’t add value to this world with your labors.

Just because you don’t own the largest coffee chain in the world doesn’t mean that your tiny corner coffee stand doesn’t impact your neighborhood.

Just because you don’t own Uber doesn’t mean that you don’t impact each and every person that rides in your taxi.

Just because you haven’t a Grammy doesn’t mean that the church choir you direct doesn’t impact every set of ears that hear it.

Meaningful work? People, there is meaning in ALL of it.

So go ahead and attend that TED Talk about creating work that matters. Sit in your chair in that huge auditorium and allow your heart and mind to be filled with possibilities. Dream your dreams. Make new goals. Decide to take the plunge into whatever creative entrepreneurial pool you choose. Applaud the speaker and leave, floating up the aisle on a cloud of possibilities and determination.

But as you leave, notice the people entering the auditorium with brooms, vacuums and wastebaskets in hand and remember these are the people that allowed you the opportunity to sit in a clean auditorium. Glance at the chairs and the carpet and the lights and curtains and the audio equipment and remember that each of those things were made, shipped and installed by people; and while they didn’t get applause, each one of those people made that TED Talk possible.

Should you do work that matters?
You already do.
Because ALL work matters.

Now, go be great. And if you are the one responsible, thank you for the clean bathrooms. xoxo

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