Albert Einstein was clearly an inspiration for a certain patent attorney I have recently become acquainted with here in Grand Rapids. At the attorney's home, in one of his bathrooms hangs a print of the famous physicist who had worked as a patent clerk before fleeing Nazi occupation for Princeton. The inspirational quote reads:
“Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?”
Such peculiarity surrounds all of the good things in our lives, often they spring up from the mundane as we ponder the fourth dimension, that is, the depth below the surface. Sometimes, however, delicious things, like blueberries rise from the ashes of ruins.
That was the case for Happy Window Cleaning. At the time of its inception, one would think I would have achieved contentment, outwardly there were all of the trappings of wealth. I had everything most men desire, a front row seat in life, a successful cash cow of a business, a lovely home surrounded by still others, and most importantly a beautiful family to fill it.
I pushed myself too hard, and set my eyes on the wrong goals, for example, training with MMA fighters. Over the span of several years, I spent four to five hours in the gym after being in the pawn shop atmosphere all day. Time, in hindsight, that would have been better spent with my family.
“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” -Socrates
Happy Window Cleaning actually arose from this spiritual soot. I had to leave an old life behind to find happiness. That has not been an easy process. In fact, it took six years to get from where I was to where I am today.
The plain truth is that happiness was not the only thing that was lacking in my life. What I was really needing was reconciliation with God. This comes only from planting one's roots in well-prepared soil.
This process begins at the pivotal point when a person comes to the end of himself. I am talking about the realization that the life I had built, doing what I had to do, the difficulty of the way I chose to travel, all of the toil, despite the many ends which seemed to blossom for a season, despite the superhuman strength and a storehouse of cash, my life ultimately lacked a worthy purpose. I was doing it all for myself.
Window Cleaning was a step back. It was the humble way I had earned my living as a young man, Proverbs reads that humility precedes honor. and so I decided to return to those beginnings in 2010.
By the time I sold Scott's Janitorial it had enjoyed sustainable growth year after year. My Port City Trade shops were a smashing success. But I never felt the kind of pride as a pawnbroker that I felt with my service company. I am talking about a wholesome sort of pride, the kind that being in the service of others brings.
I had walked away from the cleaning industry with the sale of Scott's Janitorial because I was living in a smaller town and multiplication was not happening fast enough to suit me. Several years in overseeing two shifts with four divisions and I was still ten years away from a million-dollar revenue stream. But I would come to miss the people with whom I had formed relationships over the years. I would come to learn that money couldn't buy the best things in life.
It was all there, the opportunity, but I simply hadn't prepared to take that next step with Scott's Janitorial. I didn't see the path. We don't know what we don't know. I would come to learn that the most important endeavors are those we do collaboratively with God and others. The truth is that the grass is greener when we water it.
The pawn industry had been intoxicating, even other pawnbrokers tend to be guarded and tight-lipped about what they are doing. My pawn shops yielded tremendous financial returns, even in that very first year, profitability was fifty times over what my income had been in the cleaning industry. Multiplication is much higher and scaling is much easier in some spaces. Still, the very best things in life quite often are very difficult.
But that is also a misguided quirk in secular culture being that we delude ourselves into thinking that we are "self-made". That material success signifies something really special about who we really are. But assuming one is ordinarily competent, the magnitude of sales revenue, given a strong marketing model and the ability to convert prospects to sales, is directly proportional to the times and economy, period. Bigger market, bigger revenues. Financial success is less about one's intrinsic brilliance than it is about responding to what is happening around us.
We make good because people already want what a business is offering, the big question is how many prospects are there? Competition can never keep up with demand in a good market. Labor-intensive service companies are harder to scale simply because a person's time is finite.
In the pawn shops, I routinely bought and sold all sorts of things of value. Margins earned are per item. Incidentally, this is why even a small manufacturing operation typically has greater ROA than a similarly staffed retail operation. It is the sheer capacity for output. Productivity is the engine behind the industrial revolution. Similarly, banking offers the greatest returns of any service organization. For me, deciding to be Happy Window Cleaning came down to two very simple ideas. 1) I can't love both money and God 2) How do I need to spend my days?
Like in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, money ceases to be a motivator beyond a certain point. People need more than cash to sustain a sense of well-being. For some, this can become a painful lesson. A vocation should hold a significant purpose as well as be the means for gathering what we need. People require constant growth, mentally and spiritually. Universities teach us to self-actualize. But that worldview is wrong. God upholds the universe, and we cannot do a thing without his breath of life. In Matthew chapter 25, the Lord teaches that we own nothing, we are given life to steward what God owns. This includes ourselves.
To illustrate from my own path, I regress. It was my lowest point in life. The day I realized my own family didn't like who I had become. The most painful emotions overwhelmed me. What I was feeling was worse even than the ordinary grief of losing loved ones. And I have lost many of those. What became crystal clear was excruciating. My obsession with MMA had become a midlife crisis.
I left home to join a professional gym, and to test market Happy Window Cleaning, It was late summer of 2010 when after just arriving in town I found myself knocking at the gate of a Las Vegas Rescue Mission, wanting to speak to a Pastor. There was a tacky neon sign and the Cross, beckoning me to park and to seek spiritual counsel at that precise time. It wasn't the sort of place one would normally visit or even think of getting out of the car. I remember waiting for what seemed like a long time to be let into the place where new life began. Finally, a clerk answered the intercom and after a few questions, ushered me inside where my confession occurred. I told the Pastor that my life had been a contradiction, that I had been mocking God and not living up to my faith for a very long time. That day I became resolved to live a life informed by God.
I was not a good man, and when the floodgate opened all of the sludge that had built up in my life's specific sins poured out into the open. I tearfully asked God to heal a heavy shame-filled heart and to renew me from my life of sin. The Pastor prayed with me and together we earnestly asked the Lord to relieve my grief and fill the vacancy in my heart. The Lord did answer my call and anguish. I felt a sense of peace in my heart that hadn't been there for a long time. For the first time in a very long time, I felt that there was hope for me.
That is the point when I first went back to my former occupation as a window cleaner, it was the only thing that made sense for me at the time. I was cleaning windows in Vegas and I still owned two pawn shops back here in Michigan. And so, there it is. That is the atmosphere that Happy Window Cleaning was actually conceived. I decided that if I call myself “Happy", and by way of repeating the word "happy" day in and day out, it might become so. And it worked. Words hold meaning. Someone once said that:
"what one thinks about expands".
Call it the law of attraction. Psychologists call the process "reinterpretation".
It is simply reaping what we sow.
I enjoy cleaning windows. I fully acknowledge that I am in the minority on that score. But I have tried to do several other things even since starting up that first Happy Window Cleaning Operation, and window cleaning is simply what fits me the best.
I have found contentment quite distinguishable from complacency. Depending on your own worldview it is my hope that this vague and tangential personal testimony might somehow affirm your own convictions. Or else it will probably seem pathetic to you. In either case, we independently each come to accept our own Kool-Aid.
The only way it makes sense to return to anything in life is if we are determined to do it even better than the first time around. Maybe this time, by the grace of God we will build a franchise if so, I won't be doing it on my own. I am truly happy. I pray the same is true for you.