Less Than

If we learn anything at all from this pandemic, as a nation, I’d like it to be humility.

Let me explain.

I grew up in, what I feel, was a fairly typical middle-class household. My parents always encouraged (well…required) me to do my best in school. They got me into activities that would benefit me socially. They told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, as long as I worked hard.

And my parents, as I’m sure many of our parents did, encouraged me to pursue higher education so that I could get a “good” job.

That’s important. That wording. What the hell does that even mean? What is a “good” job? One that pays enough money to live on?

Sure. That. But I think, more importantly, the message was that we should strive for careers that people respect.

There were many, many times growing up that I heard the message that I needed to do well in school and work hard so that I “don’t end up like that guy.” Or someone would make a mistake while serving us and after they were out of earshot I’d hear, “and that’s why they work at a grocery store/McDonalds/trash collection/etc.”

Because people don’t see those who work in service industries as equals.

There is a mentality that working for a grocery store or fast food chain or other retail outlet or as a garbage collector or postal worker means you have somehow failed. You’re uneducated. You didn’t try hard enough. You settled.

That’s why those jobs aren’t (typically) paid well, and that mentality continues even now, even as these same people who see us as less are “thanking” us for continuing to work so they can come hang out at the store with their entire families when they’re bored and potentially spread a deadly infectious disease to the workers. To us.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder whether people even see us as human beings.

I still struggle with this “less than” mentality, even as I continue to plan and manage and organize and work at a grocery store 40+ hours a week. This is my job. This is what I do. I enjoy it. It’s not what I went to school for, so in many ways I feel that specific failure, but it’s not a bad job. I work with great people. They are my friends. Hell, in a lot of ways they’re family. I’m lucky to have been able to move up into a management role that pays me well, and I can see myself staying here indefinitely, moving up as opportunities arise.

(In fact, the job I’m doing now is better, financially and security-wise, than any job I’ve done that required my Master’s degree, but that’s another rant.)

And that’s ok. There is nothing wrong with my job or where I work. In a lot of ways this is one of the most difficult jobs I’ve done, and I’ve had some pretty “good” jobs in the past. I used to rub elbows with astronauts at big fancy parties and manage entire ad campaigns. Now I make sure customers don’t have to stand in line too long and that their shopping experience is good from start to finish – which involves an entirely different, but no less important, skillset.

I’m not saying that my job is rocket science, by any means, but it’s still a good job. Just because I didn’t need to get a degree to do my job doesn’t mean it’s not important.

In fact, as the country is beginning to realize, a lot of those “good” jobs that elevate people to some arbitrary higher level than others aren’t really that necessary when it comes right down to it. Do we really “need” advertisers? No. We really don’t.

We need food, clean water, homes, safe roads, protection from criminals, healthcare, etc. Everything else is icing on the cake. Sure, it’s pretty and it serves a purpose, but if the cake is flavorless or the ingredients are garbage, the icing isn’t going to save it.

I find myself continually humbled and ashamed of this unearned (but learned) superiority that creeps into some of the thoughts I have (and sometimes share) on a daily basis, and I’m in this. I know how hard this job is, even as I say things like, “I have a Master’s degree and look where I ended up.” Yeah? Where did you end up? In the most challenging job of your life, with great career potential, working with incredible human beings who genuinely care about every person who walks through our doors? Poor you.

So I know that breaking out of that mentality is difficult. But I think the country would be a much better place to live in if we tried to understand that none of us are better or more deserving of things, regardless of what we choose do to for a living. Making more money than someone else doesn’t make your life more valuable than theirs.

Do you ever stop to think about how difficult it is to smile while you’re being treated like garbage? It’s hard. But we do it. Every. Day.

The people society looks down on are human beings with their own lives, worries, mental health issues, bills, debts, challenges, etc.

But they – we – are not “less than” you. And the sooner we can all realize that, the sooner we can start trying to truly make this country a better place for all of us.

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