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Author's profile photo Bob McGlynn

Picking up Garbage

When we think of changing the world, we don’t think of picking up garbage.  

In my area of California, it is possible to “adopt” a highway. Groups agree to clean up the trash along a certain portion of one of the state highways. I belong to a group that cleans up about two and half miles of an interstate highway. Once a month, we go out on a Sunday morning and pick up the variety of things that fall off or are thrown out of passing vehicles. On one occasion, I found a $50 bill, although mostly it is just garbage I’m stuffing in sacks. 

There is also a lot of “garbage” at work, though rarely do we do much about it. We certainly all see it and sometimes spend time talking about it. Most people believe that if they aren’t creating any of it themselves, that’s enough. We think we can’t do anything to change the situation, mostly because that might mean taking responsibility and doing something about it ourselves.  

Sometimes, you just have to look beyond your own job, your own responsibilities. Like picking up someone else’s trash on the highway, it takes a shift in attitude to try to make things better.  

How can you do this so it doesn’t affect your own priorities and responsibilities?  Here are some suggestions. 

*What piece can you own?

  • The incremental approach is best. My group isn’t trying to clean the whole highway, just one section. There is always some small patch, some issue or problem where you can help. Focus on one or two things.

* How much does it really take?

  • I find myself picking up stray cups and wrappers as I walk from the parking lot to my building. With a slight change in attitude there is always additional ‘garbage’ can you deal with quickly that doesn’t slow you down from accomplishing your primary obligations.

* “If not you, who? If not now, when?”

  • Don’t wait! Start small and get others involved if you can.
  • If cleaning up someone else’s mess benefits a customer or helps someone else get something done, you’ve just made your first step toward changing the world for the better.  

I thought I was doing enough by not adding to a problem. A couple of hours on the highway each month proved to me that not throwing trash out of my car is not enough. To make this a better place for us all, I had to stop pointing it out and start picking it up. Changing the world occurs when you do a little extra to make our workplace and our work better, cleaner, nicer. We have all heard the rebuke “It is not my job”. Not everything is your responsibility, but just by doing a little more, beyond your job, you can potentially make a big impact.

One last point, this fall, SAP has a Week of Service where you have the opportunity to use your skills to benefit the local community. I encourage you to participate making your community better as well as improving your community at SAP. Details are forthcoming from your local office. For those in the Palo Alto Office, it will be on the Communities page in the Balancing Act section under Employee Services.

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