Every now and then I need a bit of a reality check.
There have been times (like this past 3-4 month stretch) where my job can get stressful and I work long hours.
While I always keep on a positive exterior and go about my normal business, internally I can’t help but think that my situation is less than ideal.
Nobody wants to work longer hours than they’re obligated to and I haven’t heard of anyone who likes to bring work stress home with them.
But then I also feel a little guilty for those thoughts.
I mean, I get paid a good salary to do this job, and (supposedly) am viewed highly in my company which could lead to further career growth in the near future.
Is my situation really that bad?
There’s one experience from my past that really helps to put this situation into perspective.
I’ve briefly mentioned it a few times in some older posts, but during one of the summers between semesters of college I worked the entire summer in a cardboard box factory.
Yep that’s right, about as blue collar as it gets.
If you want to learn to appreciate your white collar job, try working a summer at this place, or really any blue collar job, and give the two a comparison.
Here’s what my experience was like:
I want you to picture the environment of your white collar job.
You walk into an office, cube farm, classroom, wherever it may be. You have your own desk, table or work space and a chair to sit in. The a/c is flowing (sometimes making it a little too cold) and you can hear the chatter of coworkers (or silence if everyone is working).
You’re wearing decent clothes, maybe your work allows casual, though business casual or business attire for others. Comfortable nonetheless.
Does that sound so bad? Imagine this scenario:
It’s a hot summer day and you walk into work. Your “office” is a massive steel factory with dozens of whirring, buzzing machines spewing out heat as they operate. During the middle of the day temperatures inside easily surpass 100+ degrees as you work.
It’s extremely loud, so loud that you still consider it to be loud even though you are required to wear ear plugs (no headphones or music allowed) while on the floor (where the machines are). It’s tough to communicate without yelling at the top of your lungs.
Work attire is essentially the oldest most worn out clothes you have. As the cardboard boxes are made and printed on, the ink has a tendency to fly around and trust me, those aren’t coming out in the wash.
Goggles and steel toed boots are also required, just in case of any flying particles in the air and/or heavy items falling on your toes.
Anyone volunteering to trade places?
With your white collar job, the work really varies depending on your field. Maybe (like me) you sit in front of a computer all day, or spend a lot of your time in meetings.
You also could be speaking or be hands on for much of the day if you have clients, or doing this in front of students if you are a teacher.
Most can agree though, this kind of work can be mentally exhausting. No matter how many hours you put in, odds are you come home tired from a full day at work.
After all, this work usually requires a lot of focus and brain power which can leave you drained by the end of the day.
Many blue collar jobs will leave you feeling both mentally AND physically drained by the end of the day.
At the factory you always had to be alert and aware of your surroundings. With all the machines operating, there were lots of moving parts and one mistake could lead to a serious injury. Not to mention, there was constant activity with forklifts transporting the product all over the place and unloading from trucks.
Physically it was extremely demanding. My job consisted of standing all day at a machine and “feeding” the machine with raw cardboard. The machine would then cut up the cardboard into the box shape, print the logo/design on it, and fold it up.
The dimensions of the raw cardboard we usually worked with were about 6 x 2 ft and while an individual piece did not weigh much, you never only picked up one piece. Not if you wanted to keep up with the machine that is.
When the machine runs at over 200 boxes per minute, you gotta move fast and pick up many of them at a time. During a typical day our machine would churn through probably 60,000 boxes on average. On busier days it’d be over 100,000.
Imagine how tired you’d be after a day of standing for 8+ hours in 100 degree heat, picking up 100,000 boxes while simultaneously trying not to be maimed by the machines around you.
Anyone volunteering to trade places?
With most white collar jobs there’s a degree of freedom you have. Maybe you can set your own working hours. Some workplaces are flexible where you can run to an appointment during the middle of the day and work a few hours later to make up for it.
Working from home is increasingly becoming more popular and common. You have the ability to take/naturally have breaks or go can to the bathroom whenever you want.
Most people grab lunch whenever they want too or work it around their schedule.
There’s a lot more freedom than you realize, especially if you ask your employer for more of it. Many times they’re willing to oblige if order to keep you happy.
Let’s flip back to the factory life. The schedule is rigid. These places have figured out how to churn out boxes at maximum efficiency.
The first shift hours were a set 7am-4pm (unless there was a big order they needed done in which case it was 5am-4pm, with OT of course).
There was no negotiating, these were the times that the machines were operating and thus the only time you could work them.
Appointment middle of the day? Forget about it.
Showing up late too was a big no no as well as this severely impacted the productivity. I saw a few people fired on the spot after showing up late a couple too many times.
We had two state required 10 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon, and an hour for lunch, all scheduled at the exact same time every day. It was these times where you snacked, ate, rested and went to the bathroom.
Every other minute was dedicated to creating boxes as there was no time to pause the machine to let someone run to the bathroom.
Anyone volunteering to trade places?
How to Learn to Appreciate Your White Collar Job
When I look back on this experience working in a cardboard box factory, it really helps to put things in perspective. Would I trade what I’m doing now to go back and do this?
The job was definitely not fun. The only two things pushing me through were knowing I was getting paid more than I could elsewhere (so I could could put that towards taking out less student loans) and that this was only a temporary thing. I only had to work there 3 months before heading back to college.
A vast majority of the other factory workers could not say the same. These were people all across the spectrum: young, old, male, female, college/high school educated, you name it. Many saw no future for themselves except working at the factory or some other factory.
Most of the older workers (think 40s/50s) who had been there for many years were relegated to only certain positions. Their bodies were in rough shape after working so many years of doing manual labor.
The upside of factory working is that it doesn’t come with the price of college and subsequent student loans, but the downside can be the accelerated deterioration of your body from years of working manual labor.
While I get that not every white/blue collar job is exactly as I have described above, I hope the point I am trying to get across is clear:
Your job could be a lot worse than it actually is.
Has anyone else ever worked or currently work in a blue collar industry? How does this compare to your current job? Do you appreciate your current job more because you have that experience to compare to?