The Difference in Collars

There is a difference between the two collars. Isn’t there?
There is the white collar and the blue collar. There is a difference in culture and a difference in moods. Their jobs are different and their lives are different. There is a difference in education and yet, there are people out there who have dedicated their life to a craft as a means to feed their family. There are people who work with their hands and those who work with their minds. Of course, there are those too who work with their hearts and they have become truly successful. And, too, there are those who’ve made it from humble beginnings and those who’ve fallen from the top.

Throughout my tenure, I have seen both sides of the working world. I have had the chance to wear a suit and tie as well as a uniform. I can say that yes, there are certain differences. I can say that the cultures vary. However, work is still work and people are still people.
I have seen executives trim the fat. I’ve seen the lay-offs of supporting roles and yet, people fail to recognize what the supporting roles do.
I have seen the upper echelons of management forget those who support them. And more, I have listened to people who talk about their celebrations of inclusion while sitting in their exclusive clubs.

Years back, there was a man who worked in sanitation. I was told about him by his grandson. I was told this man woke up early each morning. He put on his suit and tie and then he went to work with a briefcase in hand. He arrived at his facility, changed from his suit into his uniform and then he proceeded to whatever it is a “garbage man” does throughout his day. Afterwards, the man went back to his locker, cleaned up, put on his suit and tie and then went home to his family.

I am not sure why I love this story so much. But I do. Perhaps, I love the show of personal dignity. Maybe I love the fact that the color of his collar or the means behind which he earned his living had nothing to do with the person himself. Instead, the dignity was focused on a man who went to work each day to care for his family. And to me, I think this is brilliant.

In my life, I can say that I have worked on the dirtiest of machinery. I have had to both pull and repair sewage ejector pumps, which as you might think is in fact the waste pump that removes raw sewage from a residential building. I have worked in places where roaches were the size of small rodents and rodents were the size of small children. I have been in basements that were unthinkable. I was in homes that had no heat and there were holes in the floor. I have worked in commercial settings with people who would only be assumed as immigrants or blue collar workers and yet, nobody would ever expect them to be as wealthy as millionaires. But they were.

It amazes me too because I have had the chance to meet with high salaried people in boardrooms, and yet, they live week to week and paycheck to paycheck. I have seen people whose income is truly desirable and yet, they were miserable. They were unhappy at home and miserable at work.
More to the point, I have seen people on both sides of the collar and yet; workplace depression is still painfully real. Sadly, I have seen people work at a pace that literally digs them to an early grave. But why? To what avail?

I am still dumbfounded by the statistic that 85% of people are unhappy with their job, yet, they still go to work every day. I think about the 15% who are happy with who they are. This means happiness exists on both sides of the collar. This means whether we sit in a conference room or stand behind a cash register, the statistic is true. This can be the salesperson in a store or the person who installs wood flooring. This can be someone who studies the trends and provides content for consulting firms. This could be the person who changes the ink cartridges in copier machines or the person who runs office management. Either way, happiness is not dependent upon the work itself but instead; happiness is dependent upon the worker.

Years ago, I worked at a place where there were thefts in the office. Everyone was questioned, especially the low-level workers and both the cleaning and the maintenance staff. People were interviewed and asked questions about our keys to the office. The thefts were serious and yet, nobody knew who the thief was. All we knew is that somebody stole from the boss’s desk. This was a risky move to say the least. This means someone risked a yearly salary for a quick grab in the boss’s top drawer. There was a lull in time and nothing happened for a while. The interviews continued until the tone became quiet.

It was expected that one of the low-level employees took from the boss’s drawer. Of course it had to be this way because they make considerably less money, right? Of course it had to be this way because the lower-level employees were seen as less educated and thus, they would be twice as likely to steal right?
It was expected that it had to be someone on the maintenance team. Of course it was this way because workplace snobbery suggested this—and by the way, this is not my opinion by any means. This is feedback that I received from a reliable source. Yet, no one expected it to be the suit and tie executive with the expensive drug habit. But it was.
Did anyone apologize for the series of investigations or finger pointing?
The answer to this is no.

I think about the grandfather who wore a suit and tie and the dignity behind his work. I think about my friend who was a builder in construction and yet, he holds a chief officer role. I think about myself and the person I believed I was limited to be.
I think about the stigmas that limit our thinking and lead us to believe that we are either better or worse than one another. I think about a woman whom I have the utmost respect for and her high-level circle of influence. But yet, she will be the first to tell you that she does not care if it’s the janitor or the CEO—everyone deserves respect.

And lastly, I was at a dinner that took place after the attacks on 9/11. I was sitting with people who were discussing the damage and the money that was supposed to go to the families of victims. I heard one person say the money should go to the CEOs because these are the people who make a difference in this country. “Who cares about the janitors anyway?”
This is where I interrupted.
With a straight face, I looked at this man who was apparently amused by himself.
I explained, “You do know that I am a janitor, right?”
His facial expression turned slightly awkward and then quickly dismissive.
He shot back, “I was just kidding,” to which I replied, “Oh, that was a joke. I see.”
“Then tell me how it’s funny because I want to laugh too.”

See, the one thing I learned is regardless of what position someone held in the towers, they were all people. In the end, it didn’t matter about the color of their collar or their importance at a firm—they all had families. These were all lives. So am I. So are you and whether we are part of the 85% who are unhappy or fortunate to be part of the 15% who are—either way, I understand now more than ever that happiness is all a presence of mind. This is a mindset and an attitude. Either way, people are just people and to be clear; wealth is absolutely relative.
I have met miserable millionaires before. Come to think of it, I’ve met people who could hardly get by and yet, they were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.

As for me, I just want to be happy.
I want to be part of the 15%.

Don’t you?

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