“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” ~Rodin
When I was in college, I knew what to do and everything clicked along.
But as graduation approached, I got nervous.
I’d always assumed that some “good job” would turn up when I got out of school. But now it was in my face that I had no idea where I was going.
I took a career workshop where we figured out our favorite interests and best skills. What the class didn’t provide was any follow-up to help me actually find the dream job.
I didn’t know how to ask for help in putting these ideas into practice. Or even who to ask.
For the next three years I drifted through a series of little jobs. The bills got paid with some money I inherited from my father, but this cushion was getting thin.
And I still didn’t know how to get a decent job.
At some point I heard that people were always looking for reliable house cleaners. “I may not be able to do much,” I thought, “but at least I can clean a house.”
So I started a housecleaning business.
There were a number of great things about this job. The money was good. The part-time hours were good. I was my own boss. But I hated the work.
So I decided quite randomly that a career in professional sales was the thing to pursue. Never mind that it held no interest for me. It seemed that I’d be good at it.
The search for a job that would crown me the Sales Queen was encouraging. It looked like a decent job would come along before too long.
But boy, was I impatient. Not only did I hate cleaning houses; I felt it was beneath me. Here I was, an honors graduate from a highly respected university, cleaning houses.
One night I was complaining about this to an older and wiser friend.
“Jacki,” she said, “you’re in an ideal situation. You can do this as long as you have to and you’re supporting yourself. Why don’t you use this as an opportunity to meditate?”
I didn’t know what meditation was all about but found the idea interesting.
She explained that when dusting, I could focus on the feeling of the cloth against the wood. When scrubbing the bathtub, I could pay attention to pushing hard against the soap scum.
This was intriguing. I was sold.
The next day, while washing acoustic ceiling tiles, I focused on the smell of Lysol, the scratchy surface of the tiles, how my gloved hands felt in the hot water.
While scouring the kitchen sink, I felt the grittiness of Ajax against a smooth surface.
That day changed my life.
Cleaning with mindfulness began to help me grow. I stopped being so angry. I began to understand what it means to let go and see the wonder of my circumstances.
On a beautiful spring day several weeks later I interviewed for a professional sales job. The discussion went well and it looked like they would probably offer me the job.
As I walked to my car I knew that I couldn’t take it.
I didn’t want to do sales.
What I really wanted was to help people grow and find greater meaning in their difficulties and challenges and uncertainties.
For a long time I’d thought about this but felt I had too many issues of my own to be of use in this way. But now I was a different person. Or, I should say, more of the real me.
The era of Zen Housecleaning came to a natural end when I started classes to become a bilingual vocational teacher that fall.
It led to meaningful work in the federal prison system, which led to becoming a social worker and now to helping people get good jobs.
Each of us has incredible internal wisdom. Our lives might seem to be going nowhere, but a trustworthy process is at work within.
How can you touch this process and let it guide you?
Right now, stop and feel your breath coming into and out of your body. This will ground you in the present, which is far more real than thoughts about the past or the future.
In this very moment, when you free yourself from distractions, you can hear your heart. Is it telling you to let go of anger or fear or sadness?
When you release feelings and attitudes you don’t need, you begin to find out what you really want. It just happens. You don’t have to try so hard.
Whatever you do can become your meditation. Just give kind attention to the task at hand. It will lead you where your heart wants to go.