No Work Shames You! Yeah, right…

This is something I wanted to write about for a while now. In fact, I planned it ever since I first came to NYC in 2007. This post won’t tell you how to look for a job and find it, but it will tell you what does it mean to work in NY – and abroad in general. It may well be that many readers will protest and deny what I say below. But it’s time to face the truth.

Raise your hand if you never judged a person on the basis of the work they did for a living. I can already hear the collective declaration: „Never! Of course not! NO WORK EVER SHAMES YOU!”. It sounds great – in theory. But the theory is to practice what pre-election promises are to their post-election realization. Of course, we do judge people on the basis of the jobs they do. A doctor and a lawyer are still the main professions enjoying social respectability and are proudly mentioned at family gatherings. I recently discovered that even greater respect is reserved for those family members who for some reason appeared on TV. After all, TV means fame, and fame means…

At the very bottom of this hierarchy is – obviously and permanently – the cleaning lady and the garbage man. I remember these were the two professions we mostly laughed at when we were children, joyously chirping in front of our apartment buildings years ago. And so it stayed. There are professions we have no problem admitting to – and there is the rest: jobs the names of which we utter in half-whisper, hoping no one will hear us. What I learned over here – and what I consider my biggest success so far – is not to judge people on the basis of what they do for a living. It wasn’t easy for me and it took me a couple of years, but I’m getting there (I still have some distance to go). 

In the book by the founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, „It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks”, there’s a sentence I cherish: „It’s important to treat every single person you meet with the respect they deserve – you never know what is happening in another person’s life.” This sentence applies perfectly to people in NY. Each came here with a story of their own, each is struggling with their goals and their past, their failures and success. People come here because they know they will find a job here (you always can a job in NY!) and start a new life. Everyone has a reason of their own. And – precisely as Schultz said – you never know what happened in another person’s life and why they do what they do at the moment. If the only way for you to start anew is to start as a cleaning lady, you’ll become one. If you must do construction work, you’ll do it. Do you have to clean piles of dishes? You better start scrubbing.

Does it come easily? To the contrary: it’s damn hard. Being aware that what you do now is exactly – let’s face it – what you were laughing at once, can be painful. But you know why you do it. You know that your work will give you a place to stay and will relieve you from the stress of „making ends meet” – as well as allow you to slowly achieve the goal you set up for yourself.

For that’s how it is over here. Even doing the worst paid, allegedly „shameful” job, you can afford your rent and more (tickets to exciting events, nice clothes, good cosmetics, electronic devices, etc.) You can even travel to exotic places. That’s why I find myself amused by the perception of Poles working abroad by the Poles who stayed in the country – the latter look down upon the former with a particular brand of contempt. Especially since construction work over here – or even cleaning people’s houses – can give you a life even the „respectable” jobs in Poland won’t give you. I learned many times here that it’s to harm people by applying an easy stereotype to them. No sooner than you yourself end up here, on the other side, will you see how small-minded that practice is. It’s much more important what you do with your life after work. It’s often the case that you do much more things rather than people who for some reason feel like they have the right to judge you.

P.S. Who even coind the term „shameful job”? The only shameful job is the one you do half-heartedly, sloppily and carelessly. It’s a job like that that deserves no respect whatsoever .