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Gaining While Losing

At the beginning of the summer of my 16th year, I was looking for a job. Being a teenager was (and is) an expensive endeavor! Taking girls out on Saturday night cost money, and I had to earn that money myself.

That summer, Mr. Gunter, (all of us kids around Waldo called him “Uncle”- he was actually the uncle of my good friend, Buddy Wasdin) needed help cleaning out his chicken houses. Uncle’s rather sizeable chicken farm was close to my home and Uncle paid well - 75 cents per hour! I knew that this would be hard work but I wanted to earn some money and I figured it would be steady work for a number of weeks. I also felt the exercise would be good for me... but little did I know how good.

The Monday after school was out, I reported to Uncle’s chicken farm ready to work. Helping to clean the 200’ long chicken houses with me were a couple of other young men whose parents had a corn farm nearby. We would take the manure shoveled out of the chicken houses to their farm and then spread it on the fields. My job was to scoop, from wall to wall, all the base wood shaving that were mixed with the fragrant chicken manure onto the farm trailer and then help unload when we got to the farm. And oh my, what a fragrance! The strong ammonia smell was - and I struggle to find the right word here - but ghastly is putting it mildly! I also endured ammonia burns that came when the manure dust blew back on me as I shoveled.

We all worked very hard alongside Uncle. And even though he was our employer, Uncle was working just as hard as we were. This job was not beneath him. We all worked together in unison as we shoveled. The only down time we had was when we were transporting the manure from the chicken farm to the corn fields. Sitting on top of the trailer full of manure with a few minutes of fresh air was a very welcome reprieve.

At lunchtime, Uncle gave us an hour off but frankly, I just couldn’t eat. After I washed my face and hands, I would guzzle down a half gallon of sweet tea and lie down out of pure exhaustion.

In the evenings, after ten hours of having shoveled chicken manure, a shower just didn’t seem to get rid of the smell that had embedded itself in my nostrils. It would take a couple of hours of breathing clean air before I was even felt like eating dinner. In addition, my stomach muscles were so sore from shoveling and I hardly felt like eating much at all and oftentimes did not.

All in all, it took us more than eight weeks to clean all the houses and install new wood shavings. All the stifling heat, hard work and lack of appetite ended up being the ultimate diet plan. Over that summer I lost 40 lbs, developed some muscles and got into great physical shape. At the same time, I grew over 2 inches in height!

At the end of the summer, I reported to my high school football coach to start “two-a-days.” When I walked in on the first day, the coach looked up at me and said, “Who are you? Your voice is familiar, but I don’t recognize you.” I quizzically looked at this man I’d known for three years and said, “It’s me - Ben Campen!” He looked me over and said, “Wow! I thought I knew what position to play you at but now I’m going to have to change that because you’ve lost so much weight!”

At the beginning of the summer I was hoping to maybe lose a little weight and put some needed money in my pocket, but I had no idea this challenging job would change life as I had known it. I had started the summer a little pudgy at 5’9” and 210 lbs. I was now 5’11” and weighed 170 lbs. All the “doughiness” had been transformed into muscle. Looking back now, I remember the looks on the girl’s faces when they saw the new me. This transformation made me more popular at school and most importantly, made me more popular with the ladies. And because I had saved money that summer, I had the pocket change I needed for dates on Saturday night!

My summer of manure shoveling really taught me some valuable lessons. Most noticeably, it gave me muscles, money, and popularity. But intrinsically, it showed me the importance of teamwork and reinforced a good work ethic into the heart of my being.

But my summer also gave me this great piece of Waldo Wisdom: Sometimes, in order to get what you want, you may need to shovel a little chicken sh*t. You may not want to do it forever, but it can get you where you want to go.

In my business, I want employees who will metaphorically shovel a little chicken sh*t when necessary. From corporate personnel to janitors, I look for employees who believe that no job is beneath them. If they walk into a restroom at my business and find it dirty, knowing the cleaning person won’t be there for hours that they would clean it up. It’s those people who I know I can count on to get the job done through thick and thin.

Since my early years, I’ve never thought of any job as being beneath me. Even in the worst jobs, I gained important life experiences, earned some needed money and, many times, found stepping stones to something better. As I went through these times, it was quite interesting how doors to brighter opportunities opened up along the way!

If you don’t like your job but find you can’t yet leave it, for whatever reason, I highly recommend you put on your high-top boots and tackle the job with a smile instead of standing there unhappy and barefoot in a pile of chicken sh*t.

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