Keeping Up With The Work Joneses

So What Do You Do?

The tried and true age old question we ask each other when we either meet someone for the first time or we reunite with someone we have not seen in a while.

My guess it is that about 50% of people are over-the-moon anxious to tell of their wonderful job title and career status. The other half, like myself, cringe at the thought of having to answer this question. The discomfort, I believe, comes from both an insecurity about ones’ social status and lack of positional progress. The thought of having to tell a person that you are “still at the bottom” is nothing short of embarrassing. Especially, if you were once deemed as gifted student and bright prospect. Top of the class does not always equate to top of the work force. Great minds do not always get rewarded with socioeconomic prosperity. The dissonance created by this unpredictable formula leaves many who fail to reach a certain workforce ranking feeling nothing short of a failure.

Oh yes…. that dreaded word: failure.

Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash

Now we have all kinds of cute sayings and euphemisms about failure that are designed to take the sting out of the realization of its presence. But when we strip away these inflated motivational adages we are left with the facts of existence.

  • We are not where we hoped to be.
  • We are not where we (and others) have expected us to be.
  • We are not even close to the place that turns our situation around.
  • We are destitute and dissatisfied with life because of the place we have found ourselves to be.
  • We, in a nutshell, feel like trash.

As much as our friends and family try and give us words of encouragement and show us the bright side of life, we still feel a deep sense of social shame for not “measuring up” to our potential. All of this potential has been riding on 12+ years of education, social cultivation, and rearing that has forced itself upon unsuspecting people like ourselves who know nothing else than to follow it’s guide. To follow it’s unassuming path of claims that promise to lead us to victory.

For those who have reached an illustrious role in society, the question does not become “am I ashamed to tell people what I do,” but am I truly happy in what I do?  So many of my colleagues who have mid and director level positions unknowingly display a visible level of discontentment in their face. Just as secure as they feel saying they are “this” or “that” I gather they often feel just as insecure about admitting how trapped or truly unhappy they are in what they do. Many of whom do not even have the guts to openly admit how dissatisfied they are in life and with what they do for a living for fear of being “found out” or sounding ungrateful for the title and position they have secured.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

My interactive data has computed that these individuals have predominantly accumulated years of a certain title behind their belt largely due to their life choices such as having kids, needing to pay off student debts or purchasing a home/car which forces them into the day-in and day-out grind. They “have” to stay there because, what would happen if they didn’t? The thought of this scares many who have such prominent titles or roles more than the terrifying realities of what they have to face on a day-to-day basis. Realities that often include: racist bosses, sexist cultures, toxic co-worker interactions, unsafe workplace environments, and of course the constant uncertainty of job reviews which lead to anxiety about job assurance.

Now, without a doubt, these same realities are faced by those who are “at the bottom.” Yet, their slice of the workplace pie comes at a much smaller piece. Meaning, they still have to take the crap but are getting paid significantly less money (due to their entry/low level position).

So how do those on the lower end of the financial stick and career title ever feel like they will be proud to say what they do?

I believe that this level of confidence will largely come to this group of individuals when they find a more sustainable income producing occupation that is personally fulfilling. This role may never reach the earnings that their colleagues amass, yet this group will be satisfied enough with relaying what it is they do because they will have reached a point in life that is dignifying.


Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

That’s all most people “at the bottom” want to feel. They want to feel some sense of worth – both socially and personally. Yes, the one does indeed play on the other and they each go hand in hand. For one to say that they “could care less about what society thinks about who [they] are and what [they] do” is to strip away one’s direct participation with the larger community. A community that we are all a part of, no matter how removed and distant a person believes they can be. While one’s identity does not have to be fully tied up into society’s stamp of approval over what a person does for a living, we all still feel (whether we want to openly admit it or not) a desire to be proud about our participation in the global workforce community.

  • We want to feel like we are contributing.
  • We want to feel valued.
  • We want to feel like we have succeeded.
  • We want to feel like we are who we and others expected us to be.
  • We want to be who we hoped and knew we could be.

A success.

Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

To whatever degree that looks like and whichever occupation that ends up being all anyone wants to do is find work that makes them feel valued and successful. Work that makes them feel proud to say this is what I do. That affords them enough financial opportunity as their fellow person who decides to do whatever it is they choose to do as well.

What are your thoughts about this? I’d love to hear your comments below! Will you be the first to share?

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