by Chris Bodenner
A reader writes:
I can relate to what this reader has to say. I worked in a big chain grocery store in high school and throughout college because I wanted my own financial independence. I never begrudged my peers whose parents always picked up their tab, but I never wanted to be one of those who had to continually ask their folks for money. I now have a well-paying job in the corporate world along with sizable benefits, and I'm thankful for the life it affords me. But there are times when I actually miss stocking shelves and cleaning the aisles. Being able to see the results of your labors, no matter how low-brow society may deem them, will always trump the do-nothing work and inner office politics.
My father was a blue collar worker, by grandparents were janitors and maids, and I've worked two or three jobs during college to make ends meet. In fact, for most of my family's history in the U.S. (my family is originally from Mexico), the only jobs my family could find work was menial labor. Any work that you can get - whether it be "shitty" or not - is of course valuable. But those jobs are "shitty'" because they are often soul-deadening, heart-numbing and often don't pay a living wage.
I had the opposite experience most do with manual labor. I found it liberating and deeply fulfilling. I was strong, fit, healthy, and happy. And my mind was free to wander in those long, wordless hours on the warehouse floor.
There’s nothing like being berated for doing something stupid by a high school dropout who happens to be your supervisor at your shitty job. It humbles you. The classic comment made to me was “ya got all that book learnin’; but ya ain’t got no common sense. Why, you’re nothin’ but an educated dummy.” It makes you realize that you don’t have all the answers, and the world doesn’t revolve around you. I have a sneaking suspicion our Commander in Chief never worked a truly shitty job.
I worked weekend custodial crew in college. You would not believe what students would leave behind in the stairwells when the everything including anchovies pizza that seemed like a good idea after two pitchers of beer made an untimely upward exit before the kid could make it to the restroom. I became well-acquainted with the peppermint-scented product that is used to absorb the moisture in vomit.
Before attending college, I never had a shitty job. I had a roof over my head and had basically everything I ever needed or wanted. When I was in college, I picked classes I liked and was interested in, not really thinking about what kind of job I could get with a degree in sociology or psychology. After a 2-year-long tenure at my shitty bartending job, the grad school program I applied to was dependent upon what would be best career-wise. I eventually graduated with a PhD in pharmacology and immediately had several job offers. If college kids today worked even one shitty job and were responsible for paying their bills/rent from that shitty job income; we would see far fewer liberal arts graduates and more graduates in the sciences, pharmacy, medicine, math, engineering, and technical fields.
I spent part of my senior year in high school working as a pharmacy tech. It taught me much more about the state of American healthcare than anything I've read. I remember the day that Medicaid's claims system went down, and we had to withhold everything but a 3-day supply of needed medicine for people who often lacked transportation. I remember insurance companies forcing people to get different perceptions from their doctors. One doctor fought the company, and our customer called back jubilant after two weeks of back-and-forth to announce that the company would cover her drug. I ran the claim through the system and the "coverage" was for about 15% of the total price. I imagine it's the same with any job - those in groceries stores learn about agriculture prices, those in retail learn about the retail field, and so on. The problem is that our specialized knowledge never gets out of our head. How many times, in the course of the healthcare debate, have you heard a quote from a pharmacist? What about a doctor who isn't in charge of a lobbying firm?
I firmly believe that unless one knows what it is to be on the other side of things, one cannot appreciate the gifts one has been given. From 12 to 16 when I was mowing grass for money I never felt that there was dignity in what I did. Working retail, and having people look down their nose at me because I had a job with my name on my shirt didn't give me any prestige, but it did teach me how to fight.
The Fall after I received my degree, I started up a job that paid me nearly twice as much as most other people my age. But I hated it. The workplace was horrible, the people despicable, and the work, at best, menial. I had no intellectual stimulation, even though the minimum requirement for the position was a Bachelors. So I left my well-paying position to go further into debt and start working towards a Masters and Doctorate. Whether it's as a cashier at McDonalds or a web ad writer, working at a job you hate shows you what you don't want to do. It gives you the impetus to find something else. That, I think, is the real value.
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