My father was a machinist and my mother a nurse. I still recall the smell of the machine shop on my father’s clothing when he came home from work, the name “Gary” embroidered on his blue shirt. When I was a child, my father chopped wood and sold it by the side of the road to help make ends meet for his family of 5.
Due to my education I am considered “white collar” but still have “blue collar” values. I identify and belong to both groups.
My parents taught me about “needs vs. wants.” I still remember when a majority of children at school had a VHS tape player at home and I didn’t. After a year on the market, my parents purchased the admired VHS player. I still remember the day my father brought it home.
My parents stated that we needed food, clothing and a house, that a VHS tape player wasn’t a necessity. After all, the car my parents drove had holes in the base. My siblings and I would drop rocks and other items through the floor while my parents were driving. A VHS player was not a necessity in my childhood home.
I am frequently told I am “frugal” and I often think about the statement “needs versus wants.” I understand that money can come and go; I was taught it’s important to save. My education has created opportunities and allowed for a comfortable lifestyle. I can afford a new car or a computer, but I save for purchases over several hundred dollars and drive a 10-year-old car.
My father always had a second source of income. Whether it was chopping wood or working a part-time second job, he worked hard. With a full-time job and a comfortable lifestyle, I have always supplemented my income with side jobs. I have worked nights running group therapy or teaching classes at the local community college.
My father lost several jobs during the recession in the 1980s. As a result, I learned that it’s important to have a secondary means of income to supplement full-time work, because jobs come and go. A strong work ethic helped me achieve honor status at graduation from my Master’s program and find work straight out of graduate school.
My parents dealt with a variety of financial hardships. I remember my mother picking my father up on the side of the road because his car broke down coming home from a second job. I didn’t always get a second helping at dinner, even when I asked, because we needed leftovers for the following night. My parents shared their struggles with me and even though they tried to shield me, it was apparent there were serious financial concerns. As a result there was not a lot of small talk in the home, but authentic concern and discussion as a family.
I have found that small talk is often the preferred method of communication in the white collar world, especially at work or formal functions. With time and education, I learned how to “work a room” and engage in small talk, but initially it was foreign to me. I was accustomed to open and candid communication. I have learned to integrate both styles of communication into my adult life, which has been useful as a counselor.
I acknowledge that I have a Master’s degree and wear business attire, but perceptions are not always reality. With my parents’ support, I went to college and worked hard to enter the white-collar world. Education opens doors, but the past remains with every individual, creating a foundation for who he or she becomes. We are an accumulation of our life experiences.