The purpose of work

I take the train to work every day – living in LA, this news is always reacted to with bewilderment and later, amusement.  “There’s a train from your place to downtown?  Where is the train station?  But isn’t it….weird?”  Yes, close, and no.  Having taken public transportation to work for over three years now, I love it and have seen a lot of things that those who commute in the bubble of their car might not be able to experience.  I see the same faces every day,  I love seeing how busy the train station becomes, homeless people at the train station, the young professionals all dressed up and ready to make their mark, people trying to subtly hit on each other thinking no one else notices, cracked out teenagers, and a bunch of characters that make it interesting.  The one thing that stands out the most to me are the older generation of employees going to work every day.  They’re tired.  Fifty years of age and over, they have a worn, anxious appearance to them, worrying about their retirement, mortgages, their children, paying for college, so many things.  I wonder, what happened to the wide-eyed version of themselves?  The one that knew exactly what they wanted to do, full of spunk and moxie.  It really hit home when the train’s been late a few times… they are the ones pulling out their cell phones immediately to call their supervisors to apologize for being ten, twenty, thirty minutes late. Eager to please, so worried to lose their jobs because they know how difficult it would be to get another.

Yesterday, I saw a older gentleman, asian, and my father’s age.  He even looked like him.  The train was about ten minutes late, and as he was standing in line behind me, I heard every word of his conversation with his manager.  “Mr. S…., I’m calling to let you know I’ll be late.  I’m so sorry, the train is late….yes, I know.  It won’t happen again, sir…..yes, I understand.  I will stay late today to make up the time…. I was going to take Friday off to go to the doctor, but I can change the appointment”  He looked like a proud man, but I heard the desperation in his voice.  I turned around and smiled at him, and he said sheepishly, “My manager is 28, can you believe it.  Younger than my son.”  It broke my heart.  My own father is a proud man as well, typical asian, never praising to his children, always pushing us further, but worked so hard to support us. I never saw him apologize or bow down to anyone. I could tell he was the same. He was at the same company for thirty years until last year, when he was laid off.  He used to tell me that if I studied hard and was a good employee, I would have job security in America forever. I told him forever doesn’t exist anymore, but he insisted that it did. When he was laid off last year, after his company was bought out, it was the first time I saw him with tears in his eyes.  He went back to beg for his job, any shift.  They gave him the graveyard shift.  A twenty-nine year old gave my father, a man well over sixty, hours working from 9 pm to 4 or 5 am.  My mother had to beg me from going over to the office and pummeling him. If I happened to see him somewhere today I’m not sure I would be able to control myself.  Something in him broke that day, because he took it.

At work, I am the controller, but they have found another use for me. Apparently, I’m good at firing people.  They joke that I’m the “Up in the Air” girl, because I can fire ten people a day and console them to where they will call my corporate HR and tell them that they appreciate the way it was handled, which ultimately translates to less lawsuits for them. The past few years though, there has been a push to let go of the older group, as they’ve been there longer, are slower, and more expensive. They cry, they say they will take a pay cut, work part-time, whatever it takes. In every face, I see my father, his worry, his patience, how hard he has worked, only to be treated this way, his whole life gone, another dream broken.  And I am that punk ass kid.

In the future, when I start another company, I want to make sure that I am a good employer, one that doesn’t do this to their people, their work family.  At the restaurant, I can proudly say we hired and kept all our employees, paying them great wages, so I know it can be done and successfullly. I’ll do it again.

Daddy, I love you more than you will ever know and I’m working hard to make sure you or anyone else will ever have to bow down to anyone again.

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17 thoughts on “The purpose of work

  1. This is a beautiful post. Gosh I’m getting all teary-eyed over here.

    I can’t even express to you how much this post hit home for me, thinking about my parents.

  2. eemusings says:

    It makes me indescribably sad to see one of our office cleaners, an old Asian man, at work in the evenings. Maybe because he too reminds me of my dad. It just doesn’t seem right.

    • I feel horrible when I see things like that too – almost like I want to grab the mop and start cleaning, I’m younger, he should be at a point in his life where he can relax. It’s sad to see that this isn’t always the case.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this! This is beautiful and I was getting all teary when I read it. It really hit close to home. I sent it to my dad because that is how I feel when I see some of the older generation working so hard when the should be relaxing.

  4. Aww, I feel embarrassed now! If my father ever saw this he would laugh at me and tell me how nuts I am.

  5. […] The purpose of work — The older generation and working (Your fab life) […]

  6. Diva says:

    Very touching… thanks for sharing.

  7. […] nicoleandmaggie Should have linked to this one last week:  A story of age discrimination and the problems of the older worker by your fab life.  I hope I’m financially independent by the time I hit […]

  8. What a great post! The disdain for and open discrimination against older people (by that we mean anyone over about 45 or 50) is a huge moral problem in this country, one that goes unmentioned most of the time. When I was laid off a supervisory job at the Great Desert University at 61, I couldn’t even get a part-time job driving the tourist train at the zoo!

    On the other hand, I do have to say this: the kind of work most white-collar people do demands constant updating of skills that are difficult for some older minds to acquire in the first place and annoying for us to have to keep developing. As a former manager, I can testify that it is deeply frustrating to have to deal with a worker (only five or six years older than I) who simply can NOT learn basic computer programs like Word and Excel (to say nothing of monsters like PeopleSoft), who consequently makes vast messes that the boss ends up having to undo, who in her grandmotherly concern criticizes what younger (relatively: 30ish!) coworkers eat for lunch and wear to work, who when sent to deliver an urgently needed assignment to the outsourced art director doesn’t figure out she’s driving in the wrong direction until she’s a good forty miles from her destination, who cannot remember instructions, and who forgets her food in the microwave and darn near burns the office down. After I finally shoveled this woman out of the job — it took 18 months to do so — I quietly made a conscious decision never to hire another older worker.

    The nature of our culture’s indoor, detail-intensive, boring, ditzy work conspires against older workers as it does against minds with so-called ADHD, who would prosper in the more physical or manually oriented work with which humans evolved. To a large extent, we simply don’t offer work that’s suitable for certain segments of our population. Or at least, we don’t offer enough of it.

    • Your response brings up some great points, all of which I wholeheartedly agree with. There certainly are employees who just have no clue and are unable to learn or update new programs and skillsets, and are essentially just trying to ride it out to retirement – but there are many like that in the under 40 set as well! You’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard about a ex-coworker who had to repeatedly be told how to save files, thought it was ok to tell everyone they were going to hell for not believing in their religion, and walked around asking people if he could have a bite of their food at lunch.

      I think the government should have better employment programs/incentives in place for older workers – maybe companies could get a tax credit for keeping staff over a certain age, enough of a tax for them to hire a younger employee that could be mentored to balance it out. Ultimately, if someone is unemployed, the burden falls upon the government, so it would seem in their advantage to do so. I would think that work experience and history, albiet with a slightly higher pay rate would benefit a firm, even part-time!

  9. […] The Purpose of Work Another heart warming post.  This one brought tears, so be prepared. […]

  10. oilandgarlic says:

    This is so sad. I often wonder why so many retirement articles push the idea of working longer when age discrimination is so rampant. I’m 40 now and I hate to reach the point where I’m desperate for my job because I know no one would hire me.

    • I’ve been talking to friends about this lately and sort of come to the realization that I need to spend the next decade or so working my butt off and saving like crazy, to build up passive income, becuase I might be let go and that we might not get another position.

  11. […] loved this amazing post at Your Fab Life. Startling little vignette, well written—and very […]

  12. Sunny Day says:

    This is a very well written story. Just reminds me to make sure I have enough retirement savings set aside so that I can have options.

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