“How many trucks are you guys going to unload before lunch today?!”
My co-worker and I shrugged our shoulders, as we grabbed dirty floor mats from the trailer. Ted, our boss, flashed an impish smile before walking away. He was thrilled with how much we were busting our asses.
This was circa 2014, when I unloaded trucks for a living. Every afternoon, 12 of the monsters lurched into the commercial laundry facility, pregnant with thousands of pounds of dirty pants, shirts, floor mats, and other assorted grimy stuff. The two of us unloaded them all, one by one. Then, we finished our shift with a huge trailer from Fort Collins. That required a forklift.
We threw almost everything into giant baskets that ended up weighing over 250 pounds, and sent them through a complicated conveyor system.
Some of the laundry was so nasty, we threw up as we handled it.
One truck contained clothes from a spice factory. That stuff smelled nice.
Most two-man teams could unload six or seven trucks before the first, and usually only, break.
My co-worker and I set records. One day, we managed to unload ten trucks before the “lunch break” at 6PM.
Before working that job, if you had told me the mass of stuff two people were required to move, and the time-period they had to get it done by… I would have sworn the task wasn’t humanly possible.
That job expanded my beliefs, for the human body’s capabilities.
Just yesterday I was reminded of this. While enjoying the Sky Lounge at my new apartment, I watched gym goers next door, march up and down the parking lot while carrying kettlebells. Then, I looked one block over, where a new building was under construction. There, workers hauled all kinds of metal and wood back and forth. Huh. On one side, people were paying good money to drag heavy stuff around, for their health. On the other side, people were getting paid money to drag even heavier stuff around, because that’s their job. What if the gym goers could volunteer to help the construction for an hour? I guess the local GDP would slip a bit.
Anyway. While unloading trucks, I learned what can make your daily task a joy… or torture. Here goes:
- Sleep. If you get a good night’s sleep, you’re a full battery that may or may not require food. If you lose out on quality sleep, you drag ass. This spirals downward into a miserable day. Your head hurts. Your body’s weak. You stress about how much everything sucks.
- Coffee. There’s a reason I put this 2nd, instead of 1st. If your sleep sucked, then coffee will trick you into getting near normal, but not quite. Millions of people think it’s normal to trudge through their life like this. On the other hand, if you get good sleep and add coffee to the mix… you’re closer to, as Sgt. Blain Cooper put it, “a goddamned sexual tyrannosaurus.” Or just a regular tyrannosaurus.
- Peeps. When you’re surrounded with good peeps, it’s a fun upward spiral. You help each other. You’re in the flow. You enjoy the synergy. But when you’re stuck with bad peeps, it’s like gears grinding and wearing out. Energy drains from your body.
- The future. Friday’s were a joy, because our three-day weekend was on the horizon. That energized us to overlook the pain and finish faster. But your vision of the future can also be quite the hot potato, if you mishandle it. If we began unloading the first truck and thought about truck number two… three… four… five… that drained our energy. Keep a firm grasp on your distant vision. But save your dwelling mind for the next immediate step.
- Meaning. When I worked the mat-folding shifts, I emptied a basket the size of a Subaru… only to see two more full ones wheeled in. That’s when I realized why poor Sisyphus experienced the worst hell, when he pushed that boulder up the hill, only for it to come crashing back down, ad infinitum. When I fixated on how there would always be more freshly-washed mats to fold, a little speck of despair crept into my work. I would have been better off focusing on how I was helping businesses around Denver, display nice, clean mats for customers entering their domains.
- Competency. When I switched to another position in the company – a big mistake – I realized it’s crucial to feel like you’re good at what you do, or you can at least grasp it and improve. If you feel hopeless at your job, you get scared and feel like a loser.
- Food. I had to figure out how to consume maximum calories with nutritional value, for the least amount of money. Bad digestion meant dragging ass.
When I pondered this list a few years ago, I realized none of these items required a fancy position, or degree, or even much luck. I also realized that, if I ever had a job that prevented me from the positive side of this list (like a company with bad peeps), I’d quit. Because even a pay cut, or harder work, was worth the joy of good sleep, coffee, peeps, a future, meaning, competency, and enough food to keep me going. They’re worth more than anything, so it’d be insane not to prioritize them.