Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Until very recently, I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ve worked more salaried jobs than hourly, and in so doing, I routinely would put in sixty hours or more of work each week. Don’t get me wrong; I did take advantage of these jobs in that if it didn’t interfere with any of my duties or obligations, I would sometimes leave early, routinely took leisurely lunches or on rare occasion take a day off, but usually I would get into work before just about anybody else and leave after everyone was already gone.
My dedication was never to my employer, as odd as that might sound coming from a workaholic like myself. Most of my life I was a professor, and my dedication was towards my students. I would put in extra time to meet them, even at odd hours (something that contributed to rumors about me) if they needed me, and spent time preparing for upcoming lectures, writing exams and examples of how to solve problems and so on. As a dean, I put in a lot of extra time doing what I could to help improve the reputation of my rather unpopular college and faculty and fighting to do what I could for them. But always, the common thread was hard work.
Many years ago, I was involved with a young woman who, when I knew her, was unemployed. Circumstances had made her family dependent on welfare, and if she had ever had a job, she certainly didn’t have one when I met her. At the time I was employed and my workaholism was in full swing. One day, she shared with me exciting news. When we met, she opened with a huge smile and a “Guess what?” She went on to tell me that she had just landed a new job and told me it was at a fast-food restaurant that shall go McNameless. I was so excited for her, and happily congratulated her. Suddenly her demeanor changed, and she scoffed “oh, please, like I would ever work THERE.”
It was at this moment that I realized that she could never understand my work ethic. It was a new relationship, and I ended it there. What she saw as a “joke” told me that she viewed the job, and people working there, were somehow beneath her. If she felt this way, how could she ever understand my need to put so much dedication into my work and my students?
All of us are important, and regardless of our job, we’re all just trying to get along. If fast food is a first job, or a permanent one, anybody working at such a place is just as important as ever I was regardless of my title. It’s all to easy to put others down and belittle them. This is why so many can be so mean to people just trying to make money to survive. There is nothing wrong with working fast food, or retail, or any job for that matter.
As dean, I rather enjoyed speaking with everybody on campus, including some in historically ridiculed positions such as the man who did the mail run. He was retired and just wanted a simple job for supplemental income, and yet I know there were others on campus that would barely acknowledge him, or worse, outright verbally abuse him. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had he just decided to leave. How would those people feel if suddenly they had to find the time in their calendars to run mail to and from the mail room, during their working hours, and distribute the mail themselves. Frankly, it would have seemed like justice to me.
Today my dedicated working days are behind me. I’ve burned myself out, and lack of appreciation drove me away from even wanting to find a new job. Now I’m looking for something simple, easy, and free from responsibility. Actually, I’m looking for a gig as a comedian if you know anybody (hint, hint). Even if I’m successful, it’ll be back to the bottom of the pile, brand-new, underpaid and certainly without appreciation. But that’s okay. Even if I bomb on stage, it’ll mean that I tried, and I’ll be just as much of a person as that headline act for whom I bombed. Assuming I’m lucky enough to land “opening act” status.
We have to learn to be kinder to each other. We don’t know the journey of that fast-food worker that led them to their job, or where they are in their life. Maybe they love working there and it’s all they want to do, and that’s great. Congratulations to those for having landed the job of their dreams, and we should all wish them happiness. Or maybe they want to go to college and have aspirations of becoming a CEO on wall street and their job is just a way to make ends meet as they’re trying to land a loan for their first classes at a local college. Outstanding, I love those aspirations and wish them the best of luck as we all should. They’re just people, trying to make ends meet by serving other people.