Yesterday ended the first official week of my retirement from the cleaning industry. It also marked my first official week of entry into the estate service industry. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about both of those facts. I had entered the cleaning industry full time over twelve years ago with the intention of being there forever, contributing and consulting, making money and spreading happiness and joy in people’s homes and businesses simply by giving them a clean place to “do life”. I envisioned my company large, even maybe franchising it, and I set about tooling systems and procedures and policies to support that big vision. And you know…I was successful at it, or so I thought, for a good deal of that twelve years. What began as a way to make a living became a life, and I had convinced myself that this life was what I wanted. But while I was enabling another person or family to live a good clean, simple happy life through my services and efforts, I was slowly but surely exchanging my own life and true happiness for big time worry in the process.
About three years ago, my cleaning company was at the peak of productivity and I had finally brought it to the brink of scaling to the next level. Discussions with a few people about franchising or at the very least opening another location in one of the nearby cities had taken place. There were 12 cleaning techs on staff, an operations manager, route manager, supply manager, and I had even added a personal assistant to aid in some HR issues and also schedule my company events and handle many of my personal needs to free up my own time. I was living it all in high cotton, or so I thought.
Then the page turned.
Over the next three years, my company experienced extreme crashing and burning in regards to the staffing which coincided with the same type crashing and burning in my customer base. This was very unexpected and hit me broadside. We were servicing almost 200 regular residential accounts a month (many of those getting cleaned multiple times in a month), 10 commercial accounts, scads of move in/move out and other add-on cleanings, and I was nearing an amount of revenue I had only dreamed about when I opened the doors. We were listed among the top two cleaning companies in the Tri-State area and it had become almost a formality to go out and bid the jobs because we had a closing rate of near 100% of anything we bid due to our reputation in the area. People were on a waiting list to get serviced. But….my staff was feeling like workhorses rather than thoroughbreds. At the same time the big economy crash came along and stressed our customers to the point of cutting back services. And still I plowed on not seeing that the reduction of customers was affecting my staff and they were growing restless in their daily work because they were feeling personal strain and insecurity in a company that seemed to be losing its market share. I proceeded with the idea that we just needed to add back in more customers, market and advertise more, take on the work that we would have refused in the past because it hadn’t fit our criterion of cleaning, and just move forward with my big vision. My mantra became “Trust me, I know what’s best for you.” Funny thing is, when the staff began quitting, and the customers starting cancelling services altogether, they were saying the same thing to me by their actions. I realize that now….and I also realize they were right, they did know best.
In my motivation to make it all work, to BE what I had created, I began to lose the essence of why I was there in the first place…to make life simple and better for a person and a family. And ultimately I was the one suffering the most in those areas. I had forgotten two very essential ingredients of success….caring for others begins with self-love, and self-love cannot be rushed.
How many of us work the plan only to find out we didn’t include our passions and dreams at all in that plan? How many times, in our attempt to do for another, do we throw our own needs and wants to the curb and think we will find self-fulfillment in something or someone else? We work to eat, buy things, gain fame or recognition, but we are building a life that is not sustainable really because it isn’t nourishing those real loves of our own life. We gauge our success on a bank account or how many people are working for us, titles we affix to those people or whether we have to check the bank account daily to make sure we have money for the house note. Or we base our contentment and our value on what we see reflected in another person when we are in a relationship, be it friendship or more. Then those things start falling away and not working, but we don’t see it right away. Our internal voice begins to shout to get our attention but we cannot hear it over our own voice screaming at others “Trust me, I know what’s best for you.” Rather than walk at a steady pace, we begin to trot a little and over time we pick up our gait because we finally feel something is not working and it must be because I am not running fast enough or not doing “something”. When we walk through life, we can see everything….the leaves on the trees, the flowers by the road, ants and spiders…but when we run, all we can see is a blur of these things. We know they are there, but we cannot experience them. And if there is danger or anything that needs to be changed or maybe even dismissed from our life, we miss it because we are running so hard. It’s difficult and nigh on to impossible to change your path or adjust course quickly if you are running rather than walking. And even worse, we cannot see the ruts and holes and we end up flinging ourselves headlong into a place we were never meant to be. We lie there, the dust settles and we think “What just happened?”
Life just did you a favor, my friend.
At this point, we either lie face down in the dirt or we get up and start walking again. In my case, I still had worry inside and unfortunately I wasn’t ready to get up right away. I laid there, cried and ranted, beat the ground with my fists, shouted out for help…but there seemed to be no one there to hear me. Epiphanies happen when you are lying there, if you let them happen. And I thank God mine did.
I realized I was running and fighting for something I really didn’t even want anymore. I wasn’t being nourished, my creativity had been relegated to the side of the road and I passed it every so often, but had not given in to stopping and pursuing that creativity in years. Happiness had been replaced by the worries of the day, and I dreaded getting up in the morning rather than looking at each day as a clean palette. I laid there in the dirt and remembered…I love to paint, to shop in thrift stores, make wreathes and beautiful things from nature, decorate my home, spend time with my family…where had all that gone?
Today I am at the beginning of the path once again, but this path is leading toward the things I love and starting at the right place…me. It sure is a lot better being “poor” in the bank account, not knowing whether the bills are going to get paid by a business you love, rather than for sure paid by a business you have grown cold in. And I am like a cold pig in warm slop…I love finding vintage items for my home and it is starting to look lived in again. I have started decorating and painting and even singing again and playing music while I work. I am gaining customers that have a love and common interest in the old and discarded, rusty and crusty junk that I do…and they see the same value in it. This is making all the difference to me. I have found my peeps! But more importantly, I have found me again.
Bob Marley was known for much, but his songs always spoke of the freedom and ease of life for someone who lives the moments and doesn’t worry too much about the days. I really don’t know if the type business I am enjoying now is going to “make it” or not…but I plan to gather the joy in this moment while I can, and just worry about those “do I stay or do I go” decisions when the time comes. But the day for my pursuit of happiness is now….and that is one thing I am not just not worried about anymore.