I was watching the John Hughes rite-of-passage film Some Kind Of Wonderful (dodgy plot and style cues, but some great music) when a parent of one of the kids comes up with the line ‘You could be the first one in this family who doesn’t have to wash his hands at the end of a days work’. Whilst I could recommend a whole personal hygiene regime for knowledge workers, my thoughts went in different direction.
I have been fortunate on reflection to have been successful in a blue collar job and kind of successful as a knowledge worker.
It wasn’t all roses, I got burned with bitumen and had to wear a full-face respirator for hours at a time. I froze in winter and boiled in summer. The pilot plant that I worked on was so loud I literally couldn’t hear myself think (and that was with the ear defenders on). Since I left the chemical industry I developed a sense of smell and lost the ability to do my party trick: balancing a baking sheet directly from a hot oven on the tips of my fingers.
Washing up at the end of a shift is as much a mental thing as a physical thing in a blue-collar job. You literally wash the days work off along with the grime. There is a definite separation between your work and the rest of your life. With knowledge work the difference doesn’t appear so obvious.
I have friends who check their Blackberry devices whilst they are on holiday, I have a note pad that goes everywhere with me, even the bathroom so I can note down ideas as they occur. A holiday doesn’t really kick in until the second week of the time off, as it takes the first week to ‘de-programme’ the low level sub-routines in my thoughts that relate to work.
This means that my real work week is far longer than I ever had to work in a blue-collar job and more than once I have pondered on balance is it better to be a plumber or a PR person?