My mother worked in a cubical next to the copy room, surrounded by filing cabinets and boxes. There was barely enough room for her and her work, much less me, after I outgrew a box-sized desk and crayons.
Mostly I spent my days in the law library, curled up in a chair with a book. The librarian also doubled as the office hostess; she was an easy friend for a child in a building full of adults. I helped her to set up conference rooms for luncheons and meetings, investigated the food as the caterers unloaded, wiped down tables with long, even strokes. Eventually my arms and legs grew so that I could reach the middle without jumping.
My observational skills grew as I did. I noticed that people would leave their coffee cups on the counter or in the sink, even though the office had two functioning dishwashers. Associates and partners would walk past my friend without the tight nod they reserved for each other. It was as though she inhabited another hallway—unless they knew there were post-meeting leftovers to scavenge.
These responses are not new.
In many cases, they are symptomatic of a need to rise by ascending over someone else.
You’ve only “made it” if there’s someone to look down on. In other words, these positions are rendered “less than” by those benefiting from a service, people who fail to offer consideration or basic respect.
Children are told that they must pick up their rooms or get grounded; we know that clean spaces matter. And yet, custodial workers receive little recognition for the vital work that they do to keep spaces clean and orderly.
In an era when an actor can be publicly shamed for working at Trader Joe’s, it behooves us to think about what we’re telling ourselves (and kids) about jobs, labor, and what we’re working toward.
“Better” jobs should be those that support us and our families, period. In some seasons, a “better job” may look like more pay and benefits for more hours; in others, a better job may mean less pay but more flexibility.
So, as you’re working on your resume or going into your job, take stock of the things you do, of the person you want to be. Give yourself credit for what you’ve done so far, for the person you are on and off the job.
And as you’re going through the checkout line or picking up your coffee, look at the nametag pinned to the person who is helping you. Make eye contact, say thank you, and remember that no job is less than—we’re all just doing the best we can.
Story by Emilie Duck