If you want to advance your career, I highly recommend you surround yourself with garbage.

Here’s why. In 2001, I was working out of my house. I had just started a company that made on-board computers and analytic software for garbage trucks. We were ready to ship our first hundred units, which I was hand building on tables I had set up in my living room. The phone was ringing off the hook and I was working a million hours a week. If that weren’t enough, all of this was going on while I was adding a 400 square foot addition onto the house and doing most of the work by myself.

Needless to say, my days were busy.

Over the next eleven years, that little company became a key player in the waste industry. I did everything, from raising millions in capital to fixing the toilet. It’s just what you did when you’re growing a business. No one was more surprised by all this activity than me. As a refugee from the high-tech industry, if you had asked me what I’d be doing out of college, working in the trash business would not have been on the top of my list.

Eventually, the day came to end my tenure at the company and try something new. In what turned out to be the best accident of my career, I had a casual conversation with Norm LeMay, owner of a large waste hauler in Washington and our company’s second customer. With an affable warmth and an infectious laugh that sounds like a cross between a seal and a foghorn, Norm and I started talking about the experiences we’ve had in our lives. At one point, we were discussing those really tough relationships; the ones where you feel like you’re on high alert all the time.

“Sometimes, I wish I could stick that relationship in my landfill,” I said, “and label it as toxic waste.”

“I know that feeling,” Norm replied, nodding. “I feel like I need a hazmat team every time I’m exposed to that person.”

For a moment, we just stared at one another as a light bulb went off in both of our brains. We pooled our years of studying how the mind works and overlaid that knowledge on other industry terms: the truck, the can, the route. The more we played with the idea, the more we realized that the flow of life and the flow of trash were remarkably similar to one another and that garbage was a terrific metaphor for a new way of thinking.

Two years and eighteen drafts later, a book was born: The Garbageman’s Guide To Life: How To Get Out of the Dumps. Out of that work, a philosophy began to emerge; a way of looking at life through the eyes of the garbageman. That led to two key concepts that make trash so interesting.

Let’s say you’re holding something in your hand and you’re wondering whether to keep it or throw it away. What’s the one piece of criteria you use to make that decision? We think it’s value, and that’s our definition of garbage: anything that has no more value to you anymore.

That concept translates so easily to the thoughts, beliefs, and opinions (or “TBOs” for short) that we have in our head. I’m talking about that little voice that always whispers, “No you can’t” or “You’re not good enough” when what I really need is a shot of confidence. For the most part, I formed these TBOs when I was a little kid facing the big bad world unarmed and scared. No one ever taught me to throw out these old, outdated TBOs, so here I am: a fully grown man still being run by feelings and emotions I formed when I was a little kid. If that’s not garbage, I don’t know what is!

Once I woke up to the fact that I was hanging on to trash, the next logical question was to ask how I could get rid of it. The easiest way to tackle that one is to ACT, an acronym that stands for Aware, Choose, and Toss. In order to dump my mental trash, I first have to become aware of what I’m thinking and feeling. That means turning up the volume control in my brain a notch or two and listening to what’s going on in there. It means noticing when I go into my “not good enough” autopilot or my “not smart enough” monkey chatter.

Once you become aware of a certain thought you’re having, you can never be unaware of it again, just like you can’t become unaware of the fact that there’s no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy. At that point, you get to choose what to do with that thought: give into it and let it keep stopping you or say to yourself, “No. I’m tired of this garbage running me.” That’s when you can toss it out of your head and try on something new. ACT is the most important step of getting rid of mental trash. Once you see it, you’ll know exactly what you need to do next: get rid of it.

I used to ignore garbage. But not anymore. With what I’ve learned, I’ll never look at my trashcan the same way again.

Blog Articles 

An Introduction to Forgiveness

Is the Value Really There?

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

The #1 Tool for Tossing Trash

Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Perfect Garbage Metaphor

What to Do When Life Throws Garbage at You

Why Recycling is a Waste of Time

Routes, Goals, and Garbage

Cerebral Spring Cleaning

How Breaking My Arms Got Me Into College

How to Trash Your Career

The Unconscious Connection

How a Broken Heart Can Increase Your Property Value

A Tribute to Sam Berns

Why Thoughts Smell

Why the Holidays Have No Value

Why Dumping Trash Matters