use what you’ve got (or: how a vacuum cleaner supercharged my workout)

(Postscript: I let this story rest for a couple of days before posting. When I went back and read through it again, I decided that I come across as kind of a jerk. But because I want this blog to reflect the unfiltered-me, here’s the post as written, with just a couple of style edits. Hope you still like me.)

A major traffic jam on the New York State Thruway made me half an hour late getting to the gym this morning. That lost time comes straight out of my workout, which makes me very irritable. But I managed a quick 25 minutes on the elliptical before grabbing a set of weights for some strength work.

Just as I started doing my chest flys, the weight room attendant walked into the room with a vacuum cleaner. As I watched in disbelief, she plugged it in, flipped on the switch and started pushing it around the floor. Nope. I put down my weights, hopped off the bench and made a beeline for her.

“You cannot vacuum this room while people are working out,” I shouted at her over the roar of the machine.

“They let the night cleaning crew go,” she yelled back. “We’re supposed to do the cleaning during the day while we’re on duty.”

Without recounting the entire conversation, let me just say that I don’t think I left her with the best possible impression of my personality. It wasn’t my most shining moment as a compassionate person. To put it politely, I clearly communicated to her that she was not going to run the vacuum cleaner as long as I was in the workout room. To her credit, she handled the situation gracefully, turning off the machine and retreating to the other fitness room to wipe down the mirrors and machines with toxic chemicals in close proximity to other gym members.

But here’s the interesting part. When I got back to the bench and picked up my weights again, I discovered that I was suddenly bursting with energy and strength. What had been difficult before was now much easier. Adrenaline, fueled by aggravation, was giving me superpowers!

“Use it,” I said to myself (I’m pretty receptive to coaching). And so I did. I ran through three sets of upper body reps and three sets of lunges without a break, not letting a drop of that valuable energizing adrenaline go to waste. It was a fabulous workout, one of the best I’d had in ages.

On my way out of the building, I gave my name and number to the desk attendant with a direct request to speak with the facility director that day. When he called, he promised to restrict cleaning to off-hours and asked that I text him if I had any issue at all with the gym in the future. Another win!

There’s a pretty obvious lesson in there. Sometimes a burst of energy, a customer acquisition opportunity, an event that motivates employees or some other gift just drops from the sky. Why not take advantage of the happy happenstance – even if it feels like aggravation in the moment – and use it to make whatever you’re doing even better?

Listen, it can be hard enough to get through some days at work even with the world’s best motivation. But if you don’t take advantage of the opportunities you’re given, you’re just leaving money on the table.

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