I was walking my dog the other day and as we passed a construction site I saw a man cleaning up a Port-A-Potty. My first thought was, “I could never do this.”
As soon as my gag reflex kicked in, I replaced it with a feeling of respect for the man doing the work. I saw him do his job and gave him props because there’s honor in the job. And just because I don’t think I can do his job doesn’t mean he shouldn’t feel good about his job.
Like any employee, he was doing a job whether he liked it or not. And, like any worker, his work provides him with the funds to build a life. I don’t know his situation, but there’s no reason to view him with anything but admiration – if only because so many people think they’re better, smarter and more deserving than someone who accepts a “dirty job”.
When I was growing up in the Chicago area, the steel mills were still open and employed thousands of people – mostly men. Then jobs moved overseas, industry collapsed and factories stood vacant, like ghost towns.
So many workers were laid off, including my uncle. He had to start over, but he didn’t give up. He used his management knowledge, recovered and found another job. Yet many workers have been destroyed when they lost their jobs because they felt unqualified. And, at the time, the country was in crisis and there were not many other jobs available.
We children saw the windmills and said to ourselves: “Why would you want to do that?” It was hot, dirty and dangerous. But, for years, these jobs have provided stable income and benefits, enabling couples to have homes, start families and lead decent lives. These workers may have turned their backs on a lot of people, but they were proud of what they were doing, because there was honor in it.
Over time, the next generation (i.e. X) moved away from manufacturing and crafts. More of us have bought into the idea of getting a college degree in hopes of finding security and well-paying jobs.
I would say that our view of honor in the workplace has been twisted over time. The idea that doing certain kinds of work elevates a person and makes them superior. Or, as my mom would say, they think “their shit doesn’t stink,” but it does.
Although I believed that everyone wanted to be rich and drive a Lambo, it was not true and it is not true. Some people are happy with the status quo. And, that’s okay. Although it is quite disappointing to pursue an education and potentially find yourself in a market where your skills are undervalued, it does not mean that a person’s work is less honorable. The experience of being between a rock and a hard place and surviving is much more honorable, in my mind. This requires self-confidence and tenacity. It also provides a great learning experience.
It is true that in the past you could be hired in a company, work there for 40 years and retire. But not anymore. Sometimes people are required to work two gigs part-time and drive for Lyft or Uber, do Instacart to get by. Some people like to drive for transportation services, others do it because there is no other option.
And, it’s AOK.
The images perpetuated through films, advertisements, social media, etc. have been quite destructive because, in my humble opinion, we as a society have this distorted view of what a good life is and what seems like an honorable way to earn a living.
For young people today, playing video games or creating a YouTube page with makeup tutorials seems like the path to fame and fortune. For others, the stock market and the pace of 80-hour weeks still seem rational. While others say, forget it, I’m starting my own business because there’s no security.
Let me say: there has never been security because things change. Appearances just gave the impression that security actually existed.
All that aside, whatever you do to make ends meet, whatever job you do today and hope to do tomorrow, whether your future holds a Porsche or a Civic – or even a bicycle, whether you want to live in a penthouse or are just happy to have a roof over your head, whatever you do today to get you where you want to be, there is honor in that . Believe it. And don’t let someone else’s IG feed make you feel anything but proud of who you are.