I had never heard the phrase “blue collar” until I met Nate. We were discussing our personal histories on an early date and I complimented him on his effort to earn a scholarship. He shrugged and tossed the phrasing out there as if to explain his state of mind. “My family, you know, everybody earns their way. They're blue collar workers, for sure.”
He elaborated when I blinked at him blankly. “We're hands-on. We get in the dirt. Work hard, play hard!”
The truth is, the distinction between white collar and blue collar had never occurred to me before. Effort was a given; everyone I knew worked their dang butts off. Industry aside, my personal experience told me that success took determination. My grandpa was in investment real estate: definitely something intended to be a desk job, a position of delegation. But I saw him day in and day out pacing the floors of his condos, wielding tile samples next to the contractors, steaming wall paper away from peeling structures. An unyielding pragmatist, he recognized what needed to be done and he did it.
My mom inherited his endless energy. She was a flight attendant, gone long hours. Long days in a row, really. My childhood was better for it, though, as I had the pleasure of accompanying her on many trips and witnessing her in action. She was determined to send her kids to the best schools in the country, and I can still remember the click-click-click of her heels. Perfectly-coiffed hair, head held high. Her roller bag streamed across the pavement as I trailed her from the ferry to the bus to her office in the skies.
Her collar, quite literally, was blue. The trademark of an at-your-service laborer, helpful and cheery and ready to please.
I suppose I gained a limited understanding about the difference between blue collar workers and executives as I compared-and-contrasted days spent with my mom and days spent with my grandpa. Grandpa – as hard as he worked – had people offering to help him. Mom had people demanding her assistance.
But it wasn't until I took one of my first jobs post-college that I really understood privilege. Low man on the totem pole in a swanky Los Angeles office, I witnessed people with expectations. These are very different from accomplishments, I learned. These are nuances that form gaps as big as canyons among humanity.
As convenient as nepotism and favor are, I'm sure, their beneficiaries don't fully understand the joy of having earned something. Of sacrificing sleep and time and physical exertion to fulfill a dream. There is an unfathomable joy in taking a step back, sighing and beaming, “I did that on my own.”
I want those feelings of accomplishment for myself and my children. I want them to cherish the warmth of a worn muscle, the looks in the eyes of people they've directly helped. That's why I make a point, every chance I get, to appreciate blue collar workers. We say thank you to the waitresses at the restaurants, to the teller at the bank and the man wielding the construction sign. It's what America was built on. Stop and notice the people who keep society moving.
We've been working with 1in100million.com and watching their unique #WorkforceStories. It started as a simple way for me to show the boys what an electrician was when we had to have some wiring dealt with, and it grew into a fun way for me to show them different blue collar careers. A trauma nurse, a teacher, even a baseball bat maker!
The latest profile featured Brett Laxton, a former major league pitcher for the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals, who now makes hand crafted wood baseball bats for the top MLB players. Brett’s father also played in the majors, making this an interesting legacy story that our boys can relate to. It's been refreshing to take a break from their morning cartoons and spend time actually learning about the world through fascinating stories like this one.
Do you teach your children about blue collar work? Learn more and subscribe to share workforce stories with your own family at 1in100million.com.