My Old Man used to tell me, “If you sleep with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas.” Then he would talk about my friends and say, “Get ready to start scratching kid, because those friends of yours have a lot of fleas.”
The Old Man would tell me, “Show me who your friends are and I will show you who you are.”
When he thought I was slovenly dressed, or my room was too messy, The Old Man would say, “Show me the environment you keep yourself in and I will show you how you feel about yourself.”
He would say, “It’s easier to be brought down than it is to bring someone else up….so always be aware of your company.”
And The Old Man hated quitters because, “Quitting is contagious.”
He hated liars too because, “There’s nothing worse than a liar.”
“If a man doesn’t have his word, then he doesn’t have anything in my book.”
I used to work as an operating engineer in a commercial office building near Park Avenue and 34th street. There were two different machine room floors. One, which was designated for the heating and cooling for the lower half of the building, was on the 12th floor. The other, designated for the upper half, was at the top of the building on the 42nd floor.
Neither room was properly maintained. The lighting was dim and the painted walls were cracked and peeling. The gray floors were stained from old floods and the insulation that covered the piping was ripped open and torn apart in several places.
Much of the heating and refrigeration equipment was neglected and some of the equipment remained that way for decades. Nothing was automated, and the controls were either faulty or out of calibration.
No one in the maintenance departments gave the extra effort. No one cared about the performance of steam valves or the refrigeration systems, which resulted in wastes of energy.
Each summer, the seasonal valves were swung open to switch from winter mode, and each year, the chilled water coils in the central building fans leaked, due to negligence and mid-winter freeze-ups.
The automatic valves were not-so-automatic; they seldom held, and the passing water would cause damage.
The fire systems and command station was faulted with system troubles and many of its protected points were disabled, and unprotected.
The tenant windows leaked. The roof leaked and so did the brickwork of the building’s façade. During heavy rains, tenants would call down to the building’s office and complain about the rainwater leaking in through their ceiling, or windows. And during each heavy rain, the building’s management would send one of the building‘s porters to lay down towels, or place buckets under the drip.
“If it leaks,” they figured, “Put a bucket under it.”
“And if it’s broken paint it. It may not work, but at least it looks good.”
Morale was low in this place. There were no maintenance programs to care for the property consisting of more than 750,00sqft, and there was very little overtime.
The building management cared little for their tenants and they cared even less for us, their employees. They never paid their bills on time, and often, I would have to string the approved building contractors along so they would come in and continue to make repairs.
My work day was very slow. None of my co-workers cared about the building’s operations. They did not care if the equipment worked, if it was fixed, or if the tenants complained. My days were boring. They were the kind of boring that leaves you exhausted from doing nothing at all.
Years into my time there, I began to feel like the dark, dingy walls of that place. I felt lazy and I lost my motivation. No one cared and no one wanted to care, or better themselves. There were fights between the employees. There were arguments between the engineering staff and the porter staff. There were fights between myself and management. There were disciplinary actions handed down; there was write-ups, suspensions, and there was also the occasional termination.
The building owner and management company were notorious for their reputation in New York City’s commercial real-estate market. They owner was known for his poorly kept buildings. He was known for not paying his bills and mistreating his tenants. He did not care if they came or went. He did not care if his management teams left or stayed.
He collected rent—and that was all.
My Old Man told me, “If you sleep with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas.”
I looked around at my surroundings. I looked at the people I worked with; I looked at their habits and the way the carried themselves.
The Old Man told me, “Show me the environment you surround yourself with and I will show you how you feel about yourself.”
My c0-workers were angry about their position and their choices, They were lazy. They quit trying to get ahead and most, if not all, fell into the slump of sad mediocrity.
I began to feel like the beaten machine rooms I worked in and its neglected equipment. I became lazy, and worse, I began to lose the drive to better myself.
“It’s easier for someone to bring you down than it is for you to bring someone else up.”
This is true.
Quitting and the attitude behind it is contagious. So is contempt, laziness, and complacency.
The Old Man was right.
When I left, I left to better myself. I left to learn and grow.
I left to get away from the beaten downward spiral of unhappy people working in a dead end job.
But mostly….I left to keep from the fleas.
After five years at this property, I began to interview with different property owners. However, after five years, I moved up the broken corporate ladder, and I found myself faced with the opportunity to become the building’s chief engineer.
I had the choice between a regular position at a reputable company, or a supervisor’s position in a bad one.
Instead of staying, I chose to better myself.
I chose a better surrounding with better people and better opportunities.
But more to the point, I chose to feel better.
The Old Man used to tell me, “It’s easy to become a product of your environment.”
That’s why I’m careful of the environment I keep around me.
Maybe you should too.