Trash Talk

Trash has been on my mind a lot lately. No need to send me to the confessional, however: that’s trash as in “rubbish.”

I believe you attract what you focus on, so I certainly don’t let trash monopolize my thoughts. On the street or the highway, I direct my attention to the beautiful panorama of the sky, or the joyful lilt of a warbling bird. I try not to concentrate on the cigarette butts, fast-food wrappers and all the other daily leavings that our civilization brushes from its table as casually as breadcrumbs.

On the other hand, I can’t help dwelling on what the deeper effect is on our spirits and outlook when our eyes light constantly on litter.

I once knew a consultant who specialized in rescuing foundering businesses. His opening move was always to have his clients clean their premises: files and paperwork would be sifted and sorted, desks and shelves dusted, windows sponged.

Taking stock and tidying up like this always gave the consultant insights into an organization’s problems. Most troubled companies, he found, share three things in common: heaps of pending paperwork, dirty offices and discouraged employees. Simply recognizing this “litter” was always the breakthrough first step to putting a business and its people back on their feet.

So what does the litter that you tolerate in your organization, life and relationships say about and to you?

Could it reflect a low self-estimate of you as a person? Could the bold act of cleaning up send you an important subconscious message that you are worth more and deserve better?

In my early twenties, I moved into an apartment with two other girls. I remember telling them, “If you look into my bedroom and it’s tidy, I’m okay. If it looks like a bomb hit it, I’m in trouble.” Where that self-knowledge sprang from, I don’t know, but it holds true for me to this day. And what still calms me amidst chaos is to pick up the litter, literally or figuratively.

Actual trash is bad enough, but it’s the invisible litter that sucks the life out of us. I mean the things we don’t communicate to one another, the work and personal issues we avoid, the questions that go unasked or unanswered. We may try to overlook it, but this unseen trash affects us nonetheless, causing businesses to fail and friendships, families, neighborhoods and cities to deteriorate or fall apart.

If you are tired or discouraged, look around. Do you see litter that needs to be picked up? Look within, too: are there situations and circumstances in your life or work that are sapping your energy?

Imagine the impact on your life if you decided that, as from today, instead of sidestepping litter you would clean it up as you came across it. Soon you would have clear space ready and waiting for you to fill with rewarding changes and satisfying feelings—and I’m not talking trash.

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