Digging the Ditch

Most of us here have the unique privilege of sharing corporate tips, professional knowledge, and worldly career guidance. I have seen business platforms like LinkedIn used for standard networking, advertising, art, literature, and even spiritual enlightenment. I see news, bias and political rhetoric dumped off like a burning pile of manure. In many ways, it is a never-ending stream of corporate jargon infected with Facebook negativity. Lest we forget the overt predators and bitcoin scammers hiding quietly among the algorithms. Yuck…

Despite the obvious, none of us ever spend a second of our time thinking about the people who have quietly missed the career bus.

We spend our time posturing and connecting with like-minded professionals, never once considering the kind souls who pick up our smelly trash every morning. We don’t think about the crossing guard who shuffled our children safely across the street to school, or the construction worker digging ditches to fix that broken water main.

That’s right, most of these kind folks are probably not present on these business platforms. For one reason or another, many of them have never been afforded the luxury of working in an air-conditioned office, let alone their own bite-size cubicle with sophisticated computers and software. Many of these folks do not have a specialized degree, no certifications, and perhaps only basic health insurance if any at all…

While many of us salivate over upward mobility and the chance to navigate an industry ripe with opportunity, this is not so for the man hanging drywall with his damaged neck, the very same person who helped build the facilities we sit comfortably in as we complain from our keyboards. These same folks develop our fast-food restaurants, they keep our public parks and sidewalks clean, at least they try to… yet they are not visible on sites like LinkedIn. They are not here, and we don’t think about them as we wipe our asses with opportunity.

For me, I try to remember that life is difficult. The choices we make when we are young are never taken at face value.

What we think and do at 20 is never the same as when you are 40 or 60… Choices have consequences, and those consequences can absolutely ripple down the chain of years until we find ourselves asking why… Why didn’t I finish school? Why did I have kids so young? Why was I such a punk? Why am I still working construction?

That’s not to say I’m an expert in any sense of the word, nor am I judging those who have made untimely career decisions. I love my fellow workers. All of them, blue-collar and white. I walk down the street and appreciate that man digging the ditch, the hot dog vendor on the corner, that lady working nights at 7-Eleven.

Everyone has a purpose, everyone serves a role. We need not look down on them simply because we have some distinguished piece of paper that provides more.

We are not smarter than the next guy on the evening train, so let’s treat each other with respect. Let’s thank the common folks for their hard work and dedication. They are no less important…

No matter what your education may imply, a career will always be a privilege. We must not take our positions lightly, because there is very little which separates us from those digging the ditch. Despite our privileges and experience, each of us remains a pink slip away from futility. I’ve been there. Layoffs and unemployment are not pleasant benchmarks. They are career blemishes that magnify the importance of each bill we pay and each mouth we are destined to feed. Educated or not, this fact serves as a humble reminder that nothing is ever guaranteed – not our paychecks, our positions, nor our ability to navigate an industry. What’s here today can easily be gone tomorrow, and there’s nothing any professional platform can do to save us from digging our own ditch…

Aaron Towle
Aaron Towlehttp://www.repdigest.com/
Aaron Towle is a Multimedia Artist living in Green Cove Springs, FL. He proudly served in the military as a journalist and now works as a developer in the Defense Contracting Industry. He is passionate about art, literature, and photography and looks to continue building his credentials as a professional writer. He currently produces an online publication called Reprehensible Digest, which explores the subtle dynamics between art and literature.
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Susan Rooks

Aaron, this is a wonderful reminder of something my dad taught me back when I was 14-15, too young to get a legal work permit, but not too young to work in the store he owned — in the shipping department! We were middle class, hardly wealthy, but we certainly didn’t want for much. But my dad always wanted my brother and me to realize how our money was made, how others worked to ensure our success — despite the horror my mother felt at my working in that lowly position. To her, it didn’t feel right. We OWNED the store; we owned several small women’s clothing stores! We were somebodies!

Gotta tell you, Aaron, I LOVED working there with the shipping department manager, whose name was Leo, I think! He was a short, squat, burly kind of guy, probably in his 50s, and the first person to show me what my dad was made of. (I worked in the department for two summers. Loved it!)

Leo had owned his own small store for a while, but somehow he lost it. And he knew my dad, and my dad knew Leo was a quality man, and although going from store owner to shipping department manager could have been seen in a negative way, both men saw it for what it was. The best part was that Leo told me my dad had apologized to him for not having a better job for him!

Yeah. True. Tears me up remembering that and my dad, who also always knew the names of those who worked for us in the different departments. It took me a while to see how that impacted my life, my beliefs, my way of valuing all the contributions others make no matter their job or status in life.

Darn. Now I need to find a tissue for my eyes.

Len Bernat

Aaron – Wonderful article. I worked my way up the ranks from Private to Captain in 20 years in the Marine Corps. I never forgot what it was like to scrub toilets or man a buffer as I rose through the ranks. So, I have always gravitated to the folks who truly create the success in the business – the custodian, the HVAC tech, the mechanic, etc – because they were often the unsong heros who fed the Profit Monster every day. Great reminder of this important trait a leader must develop.

Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett

From Darlene: I posted this on LinkedIn also, but just thought I would copy here.

I love this Aaron! My dad was a factory worker who lost his job and benefits after 20 years with one company. At age 40, he had to be retrained and went to work as a tool grinder with a very generous company in Worcester, MA where we lived. He worked very hard and did not come from privilege, to say the least. My dad was artistic as a child (I showed the same traits when I was younger) and was extremely bright. He was quite interested in history and world events. My mother who was several years younger also came from an even more impoverished background but made a living as an office worker. She too was hard working and loved going to work to make a living, accomplish whatever tasks she gave attention and to socialize. I am most proud of their determination to make a good living for our family and provide us with safety and shelter. When the going was tough, I never knew it. We did not have much money, but I never experienced that also. They did what loving parents were supposed to do shield us from any worries that children did not need to have.

Thank you Aaron for indulging us with this very important article. I too make sure I say hello with a smile and thank you to those who may feel invisible, but are not and should not.

Maureen Nowicki
Maureen Nowicki

There is so much wisdom in your post Aaron. My own experience has taken me to working with people as a social worker specializing in career placement. I assisted newcomers specifically who were medical professionals in one country and pumping gas in the next country. Not only dealing with different language and cultural norms but having to undergo a shift in their families and their own expectations of what their day-to-day living often with judgment from other’s imposed. I also have seen people with status and supposed professional success – be miserable. And people who are digging ditches be amazingly content in themselves and their lives.

People are people are people with sometimes difficult choices to make and living with those choices as you described. None of us are infallible. We are all tender and vulnerable – and as you said everything can change in an instant.

For me it comes down to being decent, respectful, and accepting of each other for who we are inside.

That is what ultimately matters.

A wonderful post, Aaron. Thank you for the putting it forward for us.

Noemi Zarb

Great reminder Aaron that treating people as people means being respectful towards and grateful to everyone irrespective of background and education. Your words resonated so much because you resurrected my late father who inculcated this lesson in us by leading by example. He never showed any bias based on snobbery and reached out to everyone in such a kind and unobtrusive way. He was an air traffic controller but always rolled up his sleeves when we had workmen in the house. He would also ensure that we offered them food and drink.

Allow me to share one other memory. When he was dying, our mason called Anglu and his wife visited him in hospital a couple of days before he passed away. I’ll never forget the look on the mason’s face. Anglu stepped inside the room, glanced at my father who could only utter a barely audible greeting and make a very weak nod. Anglu was so overcome that he walked out of the room in a river of tears. Both turned up at the funeral Mass and are still in touch, never failing to mention what a gentleman he was.

I’d like to end with one of my favourite quotes:

‘Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.’ (Ezra Taft Benson)

Thank you, Aaron.

Sarah Elkins
Sarah Elkins

Great reminder, Aaron, that each person has his/her own history and meaning in life. It’s an honor to be trusted with the stories of others, and if we can stop just for a moment to know the people around us, we can bring so much warmth and love to our communities.

Mike Pitocco

Well said Aaron. Easy to look down on the so-called ‘little’ people, to consider others of less value somehow due to our self-contrived measures of success. Society on the whole says “do whatever it takes to get ahead”, “climb the laddder”, “it’s all about you”. How many have achieved corporate / financial success only to find themselves lonely, depressed, even suicidal. Hopefully we value others and make human connections along the way, especially with our loved ones, regardless of our position in life. Great reminder Aaron, thank you.

Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler

Aaron — Thank you. Your fine piece hit me on a few levels.
(1) I’ve been wrestling with this thought of late: “Choices have consequences, and those consequences can absolutely ripple down the chain of years until we find ourselves asking why…” These “whys?” – aka “mild regrets” – are primarily focused on career choice: Why didn’t I go on to get that Phd in history? Why didn’t I more fully explore psychology especially organizational psych as a career path? Why didn’t I take one engineering course just to experience it?
(2) I was blessed to have had parents who grew up in the depression and knew the value of hard work and scarcity. And while it was tough at times to grow up in a house that valued work almost above everything else, the lessons were invaluable. I was delivering newspapers on bitter cold Chicago mornings in my early teens and grocery store clerked through high school. If I wanted to go to college, I was going to pay for it myself. And honestly, I behaved differently because I did.
(3) One of my closest colleagues and friends reminded me that first and foremost, everyone has a name. As a salesperson, he was always quick to recognize the name on the name tag of the restaurant server, flight attendant, or the grocery store clerk. If there was no name tag, he asked “And what’s your name?” I’ve never forgotten their reaction and that powerful lesson: value who they are as a person first.

Larry Tyler

Aaron I loved this story. I started my retail career as a stock boy at a five and dime. In truth that was the foundation that took me where I am today. As Susan said a great reminder

Sherry McGuinn

Aaron, this is one of your best yet. As you know, I was pink-slipped over the phone after fifteen years at a huge marketing conglomerate. After the place went corporate, after being privately-owned, the crap hit the fan. I wasn’t even allowed to go back to retrieve my things. They just kicked me to the curb like I was trash. So that said, I take nothing for granted. Ever. And I am proud to say that I have never looked down on anyone who is just trying to feed their family and make an honest buck. We’re all in this together. Or should be. Thank you for writing this eloquent reminder of just that.

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