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Work is Like Toilet Paper

When I was a little boy I gave toilet paper a lot of thought.

I'd sit with my legs dangling and wonder how the roll was fitted in between the two powder blue ceramic holders, and when the roll was reduced to a flimsy cardboard tube, how it was removed and replaced with a full one. I'd push the roll up and down and back and forth, looking for the angle that would release the roll, to no avail, and I would think of all kinds of questions:

How did they make the paper so thin? Who actually uses only one square and if, as I suspected, the answer was nobody, why not make one square the length of two or three squares? Who determined the universal toilet paper roll width? Why did Mr. Whipple take such offense to people squeezing the Charmin?

The toilet paper roll is no longer a mystery to me. I more than understand and appreciate its value - so much so, that I am able to compare and contrast it to things more significant. Such as:

Why I think work is like toilet paper.

1. Let's start with the obvious: There is a lot of crap to deal with at work. Employees spend a lot of time cleaning up messes...messes usually caused by other people (gross). Sometimes cleaning the mess created by other people requires significant effort (more gross), and when we do clean it up we are painfully aware that there is only more of their crap to follow.

Number 2 (lay-up): Like a dwindling roll, we can often see when the end of a job is getting near. There are usually warning signs a job is unraveling, and one has the choice to keep going and hope for the best, or swap it out for a new one before it ends badly. Smart employers who value good employees will make doing your business their business, and could take meaningful steps to keep you. However, sometimes employees reach a saturation point and can no longer absorb any more and must move on.... wipe the slate clean, if you will.

3. Changing a roll requires an understanding of a simple but learned technique, like depressing the toilet paper roll holder's spring mechanism that makes for a quick change of the roll. Without it, one is reduced to inefficient and awkward hand unrolling methods, wasting time and paper. Similarly, making a job change is easier when you apply a proven technique: Get a resume together, connect on LinkedIn, and use your contacts and networks. To not do so would make for inefficient and awkward job search methods, and be a waste of your time and paper.

4. There are no guarantees another roll is under the vanity. When a job does come to an abrupt end we are often caught with our pants down, without a replacement role nearby. Sometimes we get lucky and do not have to reach very far; sometimes we have to hunt around a little; and sometimes we have to settle for something less than desirable to get the job done.

5. People choose their toilet paper for reasons that make their bathroom experience the most comfortable, notably strength, softness, or price. The same is true with our jobs. To help make our work sessions more comfortable we consider factors that are important to us, such as commute, benefits, and salary. In the end, these factors can make a dirty job a little more tolerable.

I am by no means an expert on dispensing toilet paper or job advice. However, I do appreciate a good analogy, and it is not too challenging to flush a handful from these two seemingly unrelated topics.

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