This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on Sept. 6, 2004.
My dad said that anyone who worked for someone else was a fool. He thought
people who punched a clock, worked from nine-to-five and answered to a boss lacked independence and guts. I believed him.
Growing up in the 50’s, I watched my Dad leave every Monday morning, off to sell his wares to retailers in neighboring states. He was a manufacturer’s representative and supported his wife and five children on a straight commission job. His car was his office and he made his own hours.
Although we enjoyed a middle class lifestyle on Dad’s earnings, my parents did not feel the need to help their daughters pay for college, although they did help their sons. I wanted to go to college and I knew that I would have to earn the money myself. I landed a job at the phone company right after I graduated from high school in the spring of 1968 and put most of my $75 weekly salary away for tuition.
I lived at home with my parents and walked (yes, walked) to work so I wouldn’t
have to spend money on gas. During the cold Ohio winters I borrowed Mom's car. One balmy spring day, after a particularly frigid Midwestern winter, I trudged along to the telephone office.
Dad was right, I told myself, working for someone else is miserable. I had to
punch a time clock and then sit at the switchboard until my scheduled break. My supervisors stood behind us and secretly monitored us on a regular basis to ensure we gave service with a smile. It felt like prison.
I walked along with gloomy thoughts as my only companion. I-Phones had not been invented, so, to divert myself from my self-pitying thoughts, I began to observe my surroundings. I listened to the leaves sing their spring song. I began to feel joy as I walked beneath the leafy canopy of green and light on the early summer day. I felt happy, even though I was going to work. How could this be? Where was my pride and independence?
I reminded myself that the twice-monthly paycheck would get me away from the switchboard and off to college. I liked the predictability of a regular salary. I liked having a paid vacation and other benefits. I was independent. I was paying for my college education on my own. That was very independent. I began to re-think the be-your-own-boss idea.
I never held a commission job or started a business. Over the past 35 years I’ve worked mostly for non-profit agencies. I can take breaks when I feel like it but I can’t take a day off when I feel like it because I have obligations.
After all these years I realize I don’t mind working for “someone else.” Indeed, the vast majority of Americans are employed by “someone else.” The country could not get along without us. As we pause on this Labor Day weekend to honor the “nine-to-fivers” I take my place among them, with gratitude and pride.
I admire the brave souls who prefer to live by their wits as they collect commissions or start a business. They trade a regular paycheck for fun and adventure, unlimited potential and maybe some big bucks. We honor those workers too.
Most of them will probably work on Monday. I will enjoy my paid day off.
Kathleen Vallee Stein