This I Believe

Tiffany - Hackettstown, New Jersey
Entered on November 19, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: work

I believe that we all need that one humbling moment to keep us satisfied in whichever social class we fall into.

What had brought me, a promising young college student with a high GPA, into the domain of “unskilled” labor this past summer? My miserable experiences working on the lower rung in retail had made me vow never to work in it again, and the office jobs I’d found were at least an hour’s drive away. The factory was the best-paying job within a 5-mile radius.

During my “tour” of the factory, the supervisor had been studying my face, looking for some sort of averse reaction. Instead, I shrugged and said, “Ok. Sure.” After I had been working there for two months, they began to look for a replacement for me. I saw five different girls come and go: none of them took the job.

The Human Resources Department was in another section of the building, completely separated from the bustling, boisterous plant. The halls were immaculate, and the walls were a sterile white in contrast to the griminess of the plant, where workers labored in over 110-degree heat and developed respiratory complications from the various fumes. The scenario in Human Resources, in which the office workers mechanically tapped their keyboards and stared vacantly into computer screens, made me rethink the kind of career field I would soon be entering with a college degree. I would no longer have a boss who played air guitar behind me while I worked, would no longer have co-workers who treated me as family. At the factory I was filled with a constant sense of appreciation rather than competition. “You know, eh, if school doesn’t work out, you can always have a permanent job here!” My supervisor meant it as a joke.

But I was going to graduate, embark upon my job hunt, and probably find a job that was air-conditioned, sterile-white, behind a computer. The woman who trained me would reassure me when I made a mistake that “It’s ok, we’re not perfect. If we were we’d all have a better job.” Unless something seriously backfired, I WOULD have a better job. Why? Because I had more book knowledge than my co-workers? Because I hadn’t dropped out of high school? I was no better than anyone there. The plant was a place where bosses dressed the same as workers and mingled with them on a daily basis. No one was superior to anyone else.

After three months and over 560 hours, the workers became my second family. I still get phone calls and letters from the friends – not “co-workers” – that I made there.

We are eternally dissatisfied; we always want what is beyond our reach. What an upper-class job provided in wealth and prestige, a lower-class job lacked. Likewise, what a lower-class job provided in hospitality, friendship, and well-being, an upper-class job lacked. I learned a lesson in mobility – and that what is considered best for you may not always be best for me.