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How To Learn To Appreciate Your White Collar Job

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:

The Environment

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?

The Work

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.

Seen enough of these for a lifetime

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?

The Freedom

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.

No visiting this guy during the middle of the day

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.

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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?

18 thoughts to “How To Learn To Appreciate Your White Collar Job”

  1. I worked at three assembly line jobs in the summers of my college days. One involved dumping 135 lb bags of peanuts into hoppers, talk about growing some muscles, I only weighed about 150. Also in front of a paint oven at a air conditioner plant, we’d have thought it was the ice age if the temperature ever got as low as 100 deg F, it was closer to 120! The third was hanging freshly soldered coil assemblies on a moving rack. They were red hot and dripping acid paste. My hands and arms stayed bandaged and infected all summer. Oh yeah those were the days! Great incentive to finish up my chemical engineering degree!

    1. Haha I never looked at the thermometer so 100 degrees was a conservative estimate 😉

      So true though! The incentive of going back to school and escaping that was real and helped get me through!

  2. This is a great post and really makes you think. Things can ALWAYS be worse in any aspect of life and when you realize that, you appreciate what you have so much more.

    I think everyone should experience a non-white collar job in their lifetime whether that’s manual labor, retail, warehousing, etc. You see different perspectives and gain some vital skills. You’ll work with some great, hard working people and some truly miserable people. In the end, it all opens your mind to a wider world where there are a lot of people struggling day to day and that you don’t have it so bad after all.

    1. I 100% agree with that. If I ever have kids that is definitely something I am going to encourage them to do at least for a little while. The hard work really can open up your eyes and make you appreciate when you have it good

  3. My husband works in construction and started as labor. He actually waaaaaay prefers the physically hard days to the mentally hard ones, though I’ve seen a SMALL shift as he’s gotten a bit older. He’ll never be one for sitting at a desk full one though.

    1. Yea I definitely think it’s a choice and it’s definitely a lot more manageable when you’re younger. Not all blue collar jobs are created equal (same as white collar too). I must’ve just chosen a particularly difficult one 😂

  4. Wow that job sounds so intense! It’s certainly not a blue-collar job, but a lot of this is why I appreciate my second job so much. It’s such a change of pace from sitting at a desk all day, and standing up for six hours straight while working is definitely something I’d never done regularly before (granted, I CAN stand at work, but it’s way different when you’re choosing to because you have a sit/stand desk!). I don’t know that the difference makes me appreciate my full-time job more but it’s certainly something to think about haha.

  5. It really is all about perspective and until you see what other people have to go through to earn a living you can never fully appreciate what you have. I sometimes complain when I have to stay late and read emergent studies when I had something else to do, but in the grand scheme of things I am very fortunate with my work conditions and that I command a high pay for a job that really doesn’t require much physical exertion. Your work experience definitely helped you appreciate what you have.

  6. Good stuff, both white and blue collar have pros and cons. Some of the cons of white collar are sitting all day (I have sciatica because of it), and eye strain from the computer. Some pros of (some) blue collar are moving and using your muscles. Overall though you’re right, when you factor the safety hazards of many or most blue collar jobs then it clear to see why most folks want a “cushy” white collar job. At this point in my life I’d actually prefer a more blue collar job that would have me working in the outdoors, like a forest ranger or park worker. The all-day sitting starts to take it’s toll when you get older.

    1. Very true, that’s why I threw in that line about not all white and blue collar jobs being as I described. Some blue collar jobs (like you mentioned) would actually be enticing! The severe issues and health problems from prolonged sitting definitely cannot be ignored though

  7. Not to sound smug or dismissive, but I’ve always always always appreciated my office job 🙂 My husband has always been in blue collar work which is generally so much less flexible, often not that well paid, fewer benefits, and you’re expected to foot so many work related costs yourself (certifications, equipment etc). I’ve never had to come home sweaty, dirty, got injured at work or had to take time off due to injury.

    1. Hey that’s great you enjoy and appreciate it! 🙂 This was more in response to my own thoughts I sometimes have in which I’m disgruntled with work. I’ve seen other posts as well with a similar point being that we all really don’t have it so bad!

  8. I spent a few years in college working my summers at McDonald’s. I also spent one semester in college working at a Staples a few hours a week for extra cash. One summer I worked for a landscaping company. They were all great escapes from college. Do I count the summer I went to bootcamp as blue collar work or white collar training since it was officer training for me? Anyway, by the end of each summer I was ready to get back to school. Most of my family are blue collar workers, and upon reflection, I have to say that their are benefits to both types of work. There is something satisfying in building or making something with your hands that you can not get from computer programming; my profession. There is something mentally challenging and thus satisfying from white collar work, and as you accurately pointed out, the money and perks are better.

    I have to recommend a book my father suggested I read now almost 15 years ago, Two years before the Mast. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Years_Before_the_Mast) It’s a great true story published in 1840 about a college student who, after a case of the measles, joined the crew of a whaling boat thinking that it would improve his health. The book is based on the diary he kept while at sea from 1834 to 1836. That novel is all about the difference between blue and white collar work, and well just a great story.

  9. I have heard about, and met at Acadia National Park 2 years ago, retirees that work part time in the National Parks for cheaper or free camper / trailer spots and hookups. Its something I hope to do once I retire. (https://www.aarp.org/work/job-hunting/info-03-2012/seasonal-park-jobs-for-older-workers.html) and (https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/workwithus.htm) I don’t know if this is what you had in mind, but several friends of ours along with my wife and I are planning on doing it for at least a season assuming it’s still available when we retire.

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