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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…

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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.

23 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

    • Sherry, once upon a time I worked for the tabloid giants American Media back in the early 2000s. They produce Enquirer, Star, Globe and a dozen other shit magazines. They routinely dispatched talented writers and editors, no loyalty to their employees whatsoever because David Pecker is exactly as his last name suggests. After five years I quit and left that grindhouse behind.

      Fast forward several years and multiple jobs later, I work in a contracting industry that is not much better. I’ve been laid off a few times, once served a pink slip ten days before Christmas in front of my peers. The only difference is that we’re at the mercy of government funding instead of a ruthless CEO like Pecker.

      Anyway, I’d rather think of all the experience I’ve gained and the amazing people I’ve worked with through the years. The point is that the production industry is nothing more than a machine that indiscriminately spits out the nuts and bolts it doesn’t need. That’s not to say you aren’t important or that you have no value, but the greater gears of industry can also make stupid decisions.

      We are always at risk Sherry. Even while we have decent positions, we can be gone tomorrow. I constantly bite my nails over this. At 43 years old I’m no more stable than I was at 23 years old. God forbid we see how bad things get for human beings in another 20 years when we are finally replaced by Grammerly AI Robots 🤖

    • Thanks Larry, I think most of us have interesting humble roots. I’ll never forget my first real job while I was in school. I worked second shift loading trucks at a bread factory. The route drivers would distribute their products over night to all of the local supermarkets and it was our job to load all the racks with different varieties of bread. It wasn’t difficult or complicated, but a lot of hours on our feet. In hindsight, through all of the stuffy corporate positions I’ve had over the years, I had so much more fun working in the warehouse…

  2. 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.

    • Lots of great points here Jeff. Career choices have always been a prickly subject for me personally. I recall a dozen times I zigged when I should have zagged, but how can you ever really know in the heat of the moment. Instead of complaining I have learned to be grateful for what I have, mistakes included. Of course we all want to be happy in our careers, so all we can do take the best parts offered and try to improve where we are lacking.

      As for your third point, I think that is a great practice asking someone’s name or recognizing their name tag. It puts the humanity back into something that has grown lifeless in society, especially during the holidays when so many people are working extra jobs or extra hours to move products. It’s true what you say, people feel just a little bit better about themselves when their names are mentioned, especially when it involves a compliment on their efforts…

  3. 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.

    • Agreed Mike. The road to “the top” doesn’t mean we need to steamroll and crush others in our path, nor do we forget them once we’ve achieved some measure of success. Real power is using that leverage to reach back down the ladder to help lift others up, to help them get back on their own path forward. Everybody has some rhyme or reason for being where they are, so instead of throwing stones, we need to throw a little compassion and remember that our own house of cards could crumble at any moment…

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    • Thank you for sharing that touching story with me Noemi. Your dad sounds like he was a special person who helped establish a sensible value system in you. And just as your father’s mason friend Anglu wept, it proves that an ordinary man is always a little more extraordinary than people may realize. I have never believed that people who achieve status, money or power are more important than the man begging on the corner. Everyone has a soul and from that soul we share what we have learned. A successful man’s soul may desire more and more material wealth, whereas a homeless man would simply be happy for something to eat and a warm place to sleep. That’s a sweeping generalization, but it proves that we are at the mercy of what we learn, the behaviors we develop as we navigate through this thing called life. We can only hope and pray that we are better and more compassionate than the generation before us. Anyway, kind blessings to you and your family. So sorry your dad is no longer with you to share in special moments, but I’m sure he’d be happy knowing you turned out to be such a kind and thoughtful person… 🙏

  6. 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.

    • Thanks so much Maureen. As an empathic being, you understand much better than most how the energy of doing business can influence a persons sense of well being. I agree with you about how certain people of achievement can be less happy. I believe the more material wealth you acquire, the more perceived status one gains, the more problems and aggravation that invites.

      Before you know it (not you specifically Maureen), you’re using that same money and influence to buy back your youth, the precious memories wasted in the pursuit of success, filling the soul with band-aids and remedies that simply don’t work. While there is nothing wrong with wealth or being “successful” it always needs to be carefully measured and treated with a grain of respect.

      Sometimes we are destroying our souls in this false pursuit of success, ignoring the simple nourishment we need that many blue-collar workers still magically have. They live simple and have more time for love, less time for Ferraris or cocktail hour on the yacht. Anyway, you know where I’m going with all that. I could ramble on and on, but like you said, people are people are people…

      We need not forget those who are not present, because they ARE present, whether we see them directly or not. You have a blessed and joyful weekend my friend… and thank you so much for the important role you play in your community. I know you truly understand the dynamic here, and I’m sure they all appreciate the caring role you play in their lives… 🙏

  7. 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.

    • Thanks so much for the feedback Darlene, your parents sound like incredible people, an inspiration despite the odds… and judging by your outgoing career and personality, I’d say they did a great job as parents. I was raised by a single working mother and it was a similar story, working hard to make end’s meat, never letting my brother and I realize how difficult things were. I grew up in southern New Hampshire, people wear their blue collars like a badge of honor, and I suppose this article was a reflection of what I witnessed growing up. Either way, there are countless legions out there working to move the economy, faceless individuals who are no less important than the CEOs or executives who sign the paychecks. We should always remember them, especially during the holidays when money is tight… You have a blessed day Darlene… (same comment on LinkedIn)

  8. 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.

    • Thank you Len, for your comments but more importantly for your career in the Marines. I was an Army reservist for several years, not quite the same full-time accomplishments as you, but enough time to grow a set and appreciate the true fruits of our liberty. I am especially defensive if those who serve in the military. People who have never laced up their combat boots will never know that special bond which is earned, not given, the blood which is spilled to give others the freedom have a peaceful career, blue collar and white alike. Wishing you many kind blessings this holiday season, and I’ll be thinking of our brothers and sisters who are not home for their families this Christmas. 🙏

  9. 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.

    • Those are some lovely memories Susan, and quite honored this article helped you to reconnect with those important years. My dad also ran his own business, but it was never easy for him. At times he managed to alienate some of us with his pursuit of success, but ultimately he gave us a great sense of hard work. I still appreciate that he did business the honorable way, but at times it was difficult to see the results of mixing family and business. Anyway, it’s not my intent to complain… I have nothing but fond memories at this point and set aside the less-than-favorable times when his business was really struggling. I saw the toll it took on him, financially and mentally. What impressed me most was that he never complained or made excuses. Eventually I decided to move on and be my own person, but I totally understand your feelings and happy you were able to learn from your experience. I suppose our past shapes us, and even though we may choose another path, we still take those lessons we learned with us. I hope you have a blessed and happy holiday season. Many kind prayers to you and yours… 🙏

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