As I was pumping gas a man in dirty disheveled clothes walked up to me and asked: “Do you know what time it is?”  I looked at my watch, answered him and then looked at him more closely.  He had a half filled plastic bag and had been putting aluminum beverage cans in it.  He thanked me, started to turn away when I asked “You collecting cans?”  He said yes and I asked him to wait as I reached into my Jeep and gave him 4 empties I had inside.  He thanked me again and I asked, “You collect these often?”

We talked a bit more as he shared that he goes to the different gas stations around town and collects aluminum cans from the trash and then sells them at the recycling center.  I asked him if it was a good business.  He smiled and said, “It sure as hell is.  I make between $700-$800 every week doing this.”  “That’s good” I replied.  He pointed over his shoulder and said, “The truck gets a little full.”  I looked where he was pointing and saw a pickup truck with a large pile of filled trash bags in the bed.”  Yes, his truck gets a little full.  He smiled at me and said, “I gotta go, more work to do.”  I wished him well and he left, heading toward the other garbage containers by the fuel pumps of the gas station.  I finished filling up my jeep and left.  As I drove by his truck he was piling the bag on top, securing it with a long rope.  I honked my horn, waved at him; he waved back.

I thought about what I had just experienced.  Here was a man that some would never have noticed, others would have been critical of.  Few would have given him the time of day.  He was working and his work was paying him well.  Well enough that he was probably grossing as much as $3500 a month, some $46,000 a year.  All of that in an area where The per capita income is $27,578.

Yet it was not all about the money.  This man had found a need, found a simple way to fill that need and turned it into a revenue producing operation.  Let me add that he worked too, he worked at being friendly but didn’t let being friendly get in the way of his productivity.  In other words, he saw the value of relationships but didn’t waste time by being overly relationship focused.  In other words, he balanced his time to ensure that he was producing at an appropriate level.  When you figure he is getting at best around $0.35 per pound for those cans, that’s a lot of work.  Now I’m guessing he had other metals he recycled.  That doesn’t matter here.  What matters is the lesson we can learn from him.

  1. His work is honorable. It isn’t illegal, immoral, or unethical.
  2. He knows what his process is and he works his process.
  3. His process meets a need
  4. He makes money from his process
  5. He still finds time to be “friendly.”
  6. He understands the value of time.
  7. He makes an above average income from his process.

How many of us can say the same about what we do?  Yes, most of us can say that some of the 7 items I mention are a part of our work ethic.  How many of us understand our processes so well that we can not only claim most of the 6 apply to us but that we still leave time for 4,5, and 6?  Often, we are missing some of the attributes of those 3 things in our daily work.

The lesson we can all take from this hardworking man is this, If you know your process, understand the value of your process, find time in your process to still be a part of the human race, then number 7 can be the reward you receive from it.

As you go about your daily work think about the unseen workers around you.  The ones you unconsciously ignore, the ones doing a necessary task that you may find uncomfortable to see.  What can you learn from those workers?  Perhaps it is time you collect some cans.