Ben Walker in black shirt and white background

This marks my third year writing this column for Facility Cleaning Decisions. It has been a humbling experience, but it is also a labor of love. I do this for two reasons: First, I don’t know everything. Second, if I don’t know something, I want to understand so I can help elevate the craft of our profession.

Writing this column has been a rewarding and blissful experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share these observations.

That said, I’d like to start 2019 by addressing the big pink elephant in the room. My father, John Walker, passed away right before the holidays last year. For those of you who knew him, you knew he was a titan in this industry.

His four-and-a-half-decade career was the stuff of legends. Many of the books he wrote, courses he taught and concepts he helped pioneer are still in practice today. He was the first director of education at ISSA and he created numerous industry-specific materials, including the best-selling Cleaning Times books, EZ Trainer, 14 Basic Custodial Procedures and Area Cleaning Guides.

Much of his work is considered to be on the leading-edge of industry practice. He leaves behind a legacy of students that have been able to carve out successful careers of their own — which was one of his driving forces.

Whether you loved him or despised him, he left an unmistakable impression.

During one of my last conversations with my father, he asked if I’d ever read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. It had been at least 20 years since I had cracked open my copy. While I tried to remember the crux of Campbell’s work, my father continued: “I try to think of every experience in my life in terms of the hero’s journey.”

The hero’s journey is one where an ordinary person in an ordinary setting is given an extraordinary call to adventure. The hero accepts this call to adventure, usually reluctantly and against all odds, and emerges victorious against a monumental dark force. Once they have vanquished their foe, the hero returns to their home — usually with a tale to tell of how they rose to the occasion.

“Heroes gain their strength from following their bliss,” he concluded.

In my dad’s final moments, I had one last opportunity to tell him how much I loved him and told him that he was one of my heroes. I asked him what he wanted me to do with his library and his immense body of work, reminding him that there is still a lot to be done. My father sat back and smiled for a moment — as he often did while he gathered his thoughts — and said, “Son, you are my hero. You always have been. Follow your bliss and do great things.”

I’ve spent the past month thinking about that. Those simple words were a beautiful gift. I’m realizing, too, that it is too selfish of me to keep them for myself. It was one final lesson from my lifetime mentor. It was a lesson for those he leaves behind.

Joseph Campbell once said, “Following your bliss isn’t merely a matter of doing whatever you like, and certainly not doing simply as you are told. It is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent.”

Anyone who understands the complexity of running a cleaning operation can be a pundit. The complaints, the headaches, the firefighting; the nuances that come with managing a labor-driven and often marginalized workforce; knowing exactly what it takes to keep buildings clean and healthy, regardless of the new doodads and wonder goop; leaving the industry in a better place than it was when we found it — that’s our call to adventure.

I don’t know about you, but I intend to answer that call. 
BEN WALKER is the Director of Business Development for ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. Walker is also the author of ISSA’s best-selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks.