© 2013 Diana

Why it sucks to be white collar

Author: Charlie



The inspiration for this post came from an essay by Joshua Fields Millburn. The clincher line of that essay was this one:

I sat down with my boss and told him I wanted to move on with my life. I had worked at the same corporation for twelve years, diligently climbing the corporate ladder one rung at time, but it was time for me to move on. We worked out an exit plan together, and in a few months I was out of there without a definitive plan of how to live.

This bit jumped out at me because I know people like this. I know a lot of people like this. They all work white collar jobs. They hate them. They all have an exit plan or dream of one. Why is it like this?

White collar jobs suck. It isn’t the desk or wearing a tie or even the responsibility that make those jobs suck. They just suck for some existential reason. This is virtually universal across the white collar world. People always talk about escaping the 9 to 5. They never talk about escaping the 8 to 4. 8 to 4 is the blue collar world along with 4 to 12 and 12 to 8. 9 to 5 is definitely white collar.

Blue collar jobs don’t have an exit strategy. I know some blue collar guys who wish they were country singers or lottery winners. But they never use the term “exit strategy.” Only white collar people use that term. “Escape plan” is another one. For Joshua, it was “exit plan.” It’s all the same thing. 

The first time I had ever heard of an exit plan was back in the 90’s when I had the only white collar college degree requiring job I have ever had. Some of the other managers were gossiping about one of the upper managers who had amassed a small personal fortune thanks to saving and prudent investing. I estimated the guy was in his mid-50’s. They envied him because the guy could now walk away from the bullshit. Work was a lifetime of living hell, and paradise was early retirement. I was horrified. I couldn’t imagine spending a lifetime working merely in the hope of getting to a point where you didn’t have to work anymore. It struck me as an empty and meaningless existence, and that is exactly what it was. 

For Joshua, the exit came at the ripe old age of 30. I don’t know if he enjoyed his job or not, but I’m guessing that he didn’t from the essay. I know I didn’t enjoy my job. I hated it. I hated the job so much that I began saving my money for the day that I would leave to find some other job. This became the famous Go to Hell Fund. I lived like a pauper to save that money, but it was worth it. When I left to go into the unknown, it was sweet relief. Every job I had quit before then had been sadness for me. This quitting was pure pleasure. I hated that job. On bad nights, I have nightmares about being back at that place. The only nightmares I have about my current job are about losing the job. The color of the collar makes a big difference.

The reason white collar jobs suck ties in to the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up a hill for eternity as punishment for his deceitfulness and wickedness. When the rock got to the top of the hill, it would roll down again, and Sisyphus would have to repeat his labor. For the Greeks, the greatest punishment was labor with futility. White collar workers know this futility all too well. Everything they do amounts to ceaseless senseless labor. This is seen in the way they despise meetings, emails, and endless fruitless discussions with co-workers, bosses, customers, and subordinates.

I think the punishment of Sisyphus ties in directly to his character. Sisyphus was avaricious and deceitful. He loved power and wanted to rule over others. He would betray people for the sake of his power. He had no principles except the Machiavellian principle that the end justifies the means. It was fitting that he should be condemned to labor with no rational end. Sisyphus is the white collar worker in both character and consequences.

White collar workers are avaricious and deceitful. They are without principle. This is why they are attracted to politics as opposed to labor. This is why they are quick to claim credit for things they did not achieve and equally quick to dodge blame for the things they did. This is a shitty way to live and work, so there has to be some sort of payoff to justify this sacrifice of mind and soul. This is where the exit plan comes into play. If you are going to resort to such atrocious means, there must be a suitable end. But with Sisyphus, that end is a mirage. The same applies to the white collar worker. Hell is a senseless existence.

The opposite of Sisyphus is Prometheus. Like Sisyphus, Prometheus was crafty and deceitful, but he used his craftiness to steal fire from the gods and give it to humanity. Prometheus is considered a hero in Greek mythology because he used his knowledge to better humanity. He is the patron god of humanism and technology. He is the epitome of those who work today to actually produce things that are meaningful and useful to others. These would be blue collar workers, engineers, doctors, and the like. Unlike Sisyphus, Prometheus used his skills to better the world.

Zeus hated Prometheus and condemned Prometheus to be chained to a rock where an eagle would eat his liver daily only to have it grow back again the next day to be devoured once more. Hercules would later rescue Prometheus because you can’t let a good guy like that suffer for eternity. The relationship of Zeus to Prometheus is identical to that of management to labor. 

One of the tricks that Prometheus pulled on Zeus was to offer two sacrifices. The first sacrifice was beef wrapped in a stomach. This looked awful on the outside but was very pleasing on the inside. The other offering was bones wrapped in glistening fat. This looked great on the outside but was awful on the inside. Naturally, Zeus chose the latter sacrifice.

The two sacrifices are an apt metaphor of blue collar jobs and white collar jobs. Blue collar jobs are the beef offering wrapped in a stomach. They don’t look glamorous but are very satisfying. White collar jobs are the bones wrapped in fat. They look awesome and glamorous on the outside, but they yield misery and displeasure.

Joshua says as much in his essay:

Just one year ago, I knew I wasn’t living a healthy life, I knew I wasn’t focused on my relationships like I should be, I knew I wasn’t pursuing my passions, I knew I wasn’t growing as an individual, I knew I wasn’t contributing to people like I should, I knew I wasn’t living a meaningful life.

But according to most people—many of the people around me—I had it “figured out.” I had the safe, impressive corporate job that nobody questioned and everyone could be proud of. I had the luxury cars, the oversized house, the superfluous stuff that was supposed to make me happy but never did. I also had the debt and the discontent that came with those things. I was a consumer, not a creator.

White collar jobs look good on the outside. In fact, you are encouraged to enjoy the “perks” that come with the job. This is merely sugar sprinkled on shit. The belief is that with enough sugar on it, that turd you are going to eat might be enjoyable. It never is. 

A job that produces nothing of value or service to others is a worthless job. This is why white collar jobs suck. It isn’t the office or the tie. It is the lack of belief in what you are doing. The human mind cannot tolerate this insanity without heaping doses of cognitive dissonance. The only antidote to a bullshit job is to do real work. Real work is anything that produces value or service to other human beings. Spending all day in pointless meetings or playing office politics does not achieve this aim.

It is possible to find meaning in white collar work. This is called “leadership.” Leaders actually do serve humanity. The problem is that leaders are quickly cut down by their peers and their avarice. Good leaders don’t last long in the world of politics. The ones who do last are very lonely and very rare. They tend to be renegades and mavericks. Most of the time, they get fired. The only thing you need to do to be a maverick in the corporate world is to be honest, virtuous, and consistent. These are the qualities we prize in real workers. Those same qualities make for a short career in the white collar world.

The only advice I can give to the dissatisfied white collar worker is to craft a better exit plan. Find meaningful work. Do whatever it takes. If you think the best part of life comes when you retire, you are a deluded fool living a wasted useless life. If you want your white collar work to be meaningful, become a renegade. They will find an exit plan for you. Or, you might be the next Steve Jobs and change the world. But probably not.

True satisfaction comes from honest work. It can be great or humble. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that what you do be meaningful. Once you find that meaning, work ceases to be work. It becomes something else. Prometheus suffered the wrath of Zeus, but it was worth it. Sisyphus would have gladly switched places with Prometheus. This is because it is better to suffer for doing something great than to suffer for doing something meaningless. The only hell that exists is a life without purpose or meaning.



Date of birth : 2 DEC 1970

Place of birth : Camden, SC

Family : Married with no children

Religion : Catholic

Politics : Independent

Occupation : Menial blue collar jobs

Education : University of South Carolina, 1994. BA-English


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