Radical Redefinition of Success:
How I Went From Corporate Executive to Garbageman
I Took Off Those Polished Shoes and That Pinstriped Suit, But I Found A Different Happiness
I have found by experience that the happiness that comes from money is fleeting and it can all change quickly.
My former career and much of my identity came to an end eighteen months ago when I was informed that my job as Vice President of Corporate Finance had been downsized, and me along with it.
This was just before the recession hit along with the market crash and I was certain I would find another job. What I didn't realize was that the entire industry I was working in would never again be the same.
For months I looked for another position comparable to what I had once been. I was at first stunned by my failure to find another job and then eventually depressed. The need for insurance within my family and the demands of debt and bills required that I find another job quickly.
At no time in my twenty year career in finance did it ever occur to me for a moment that I would ever take a blue collar job. My identity was in my white collar, my office, my MBA, my pinstriped three piece tailored business suits and my silk neckties, my Lexus, my expensive mirror-shined Italian shoes, my Cartier wristwatch, the suburban home I shared with my family and my executive job title.
I have since lost all of it except the most important thing - my family. Our house and my Lexus are gone. But before we moved into a small apartment, I had the challenge of my life from our former garbageman.
I had seen him every Monday for years as I got into my car and he emptied the trash cans. That last day, however, the invisible wall of privilege and status that had kept me apart had collapsed, and he offered me a job as a garbageman.
A garbagemen! Me! Mister Hotshot White Collar Executive!
That was a different world.
A different status.
I did not belong there.
I responded with annoyance and sarcasm. He then proceeded to tell me to swallow my pride and my arrogance and get down off my high horse.
I was stunned.
He said and I quote: 'You're not a suit anymore. Stop acting like one.' I had to face facts. He was offering me a job with benefits. I was in no position to turn it down.
With the support of my family, I made the decision to accept and started the following day.
I would like to say it went well immediately, but it didn't. I rebelled and fought the final stripping of my former white collar identity every step of the way.
I had not had a menial job since high school. I was sore and sweating and tired when I got home, like all the others in my position. There was nothing special about me, and I had to realize that. I did indeed have to come down off my high horse and throw away my former definition of success. I had to accept and finally embrace the new blue collar self that I had become.
Everything has changed, and a hundred small details illustrate this.
I used to be neat, clean shaven and dapper. That is impossible now.
I did not surrender easily. I was dragged kicking and screaming from my place of corporate privilege and status, out of my expensive suit and into the clothes of a blue collar man.
I no longer put on a crisp, tailored pinstriped business suit in the morning. I put on dirty coveralls with a name tag.
A silk necktie and a starched white shirt for a garbageman are ridiculous, and they have vanished.
I am picked up by a garbage truck now; I no longer step into a gleaming top-of-the-line Lexus.
A lunch bucket has replaced my leather briefcase.
I made an attempt to maintain some small connections with my old identity:
I tried to keep my corporate haircut but finally gave up after a few weeks. My new boss caught me with
a comb in my hand and smirked: 'You got a meeting, bigshot? Forget the fancy hair, suit man, get a buzzcut and grow a beard!'
So after a few more pushes from my new colleagues and the experience of working outdoors in a very hot summer, I surrendered my thick head of hair to a much cooler buzzcut, and I have even allowed a beard to grow: unimaginable in my old life of perfect corporate appearance.
The first day I was about to get into my Lexus, as I always had, when the garbage truck drove up! So I am picked up by a garbage truck now; I no longer step into a gleaming top-of-the-line Lexus. I sold it a few weeks later.
I kept wearing my Cartier watch (!) but my new boss also told me to take off my "fancy" wristwatch, so that too is gone.
I must admit that others no longer see me in the same way, and the attitude of my boss is an example of how things have changed. There is no hostility, but there is less respect. I am treated with a condescension that I had never experienced. I am a laborer now and I'm no longer called sir!
I never imagined I would have to fight to keep my own name! But even my name has been changed. Well, it has not changed literally. My first name is Roger. I was told that is not a name for a garbage man! So I am now 'Jimbo', which is short for my middle name James.
And the mirror-polished Italian leather shoes I used to be so proud of and kept in perfect condition in their shoe trees have given way to work boots and I even wear a different shoe size: my size ten wingtips fit with the black dress socks I once wore. Now heavy white sweat socks fit with size eleven work boots.
I had worn black business socks the first day, but I found they are very uncomfortable with work boots. So my black socks were tossed as well.
I was doing manual labor for the first time and eating far more. My body was changing. I am no longer trim and have put on plenty of weight.
I have grease and dirt in my skin. I do not smell good when I come home.
Every small, seemingly insignificant change is a symbol of the transformation I have experienced. Yet as this has happened I have realized that so much of my identity was formed by my career, my clothes, my trophies and my car that I did not know who I was. I tried to hold on to my hair, my name, my car, my watch and my socks. They were all taken away as they no longer fit my new life.
I had to admit, very slowly, that my definition of success was shallow and inadequate. I also - slowly - came to realize that I was working hard at my new job and bringing home a paycheck again and that was something to be proud of.
I found myself thinking less and less of my old life and started finding satisfaction in my new job. I was still looking for another corporate position but the recession was gathering steam and only part time work was offered. I had to have the insurance and the security of a regular job.
So my new blue collar self has taken over more and more of my identity, as Jimbo the garbageman pushes out the last traces of Roger the executive. With the extra weight from the job my three piece suits no longer fit - in more ways than one!
My understanding of success is completely different now. All of the outer symbols have been taken away in a powerful purging process. I have had to find a new success based on my inner self and NOT on money.
It is a work in progress, but I am on my way. Visitors' Pages For This Topic