by Jim Wellington
I stopped shaving and allowed my beard to grow; the expensive barber was no longer part of the routine and I allowed my hair to grow as well. My appearance started to change dramatically. One morning I was leaving the garbage outside as I had done every morning for years and the garbage man stopped with his truck as he had also done every Monday. But this time he stopped and said hello.
In all those years he had seen me as the impeccably clean cut, pinstriped-and-shiny-shoed exec, remote behind my fortress of affluence. We had nodded, but nothing else. Now, for the first time, he saw me bearded and barefoot, hauling out trash in a sweat suit. I was now on his level, and he felt comfortable speaking to me. He assumed I had lost my job and offered me a kind word that cheered me up. I was ashamed of my previous snobbishness. For the first time I saw the garbage man as a man, as a person.
I found an apartment to live in. Then I gave away all my tailored business suits and all those handmade leather shoes that I had paid so much attention to. I had worn them with so much pride as I clicked along the office floors. But it wasn’t honest pride. It was a facade. I wanted to throw away everything associated with the image – all the toys and symbols: my golf clubs and every pair of black dress socks, my tuxedo and the patent leather pumps that went with it, all the cuff links and the silk neckties, my car and my financial magazines. I sold my Porsche and bought a small pickup truck. I kept every book and some furniture. Oh – and one pair of shoes. The ones in the logo. The ones I wore that last day as a white-collar man. As a reminder….
Then my new life began. I took my time for the very first time; with the image gone, my real self started to appear. The very first job I took was as a truck driver. The same garbage man who had collected at our home every Monday suggested that I look into it if I was really serious about leaving the white-collar world behind. (He found it incredible, but was happy to help!) Within weeks I was driving a rig.
Later, I found a job as a taxi driver; then I became a house painter; finally I took a job as a janitor. Yes, a janitor. The idea of doing blue-collar wok at the age of 58 would not make everyone happy. But I find peace and relaxation in it. At home I experiment with watercolor painting. I garden and fish. And I know everyone in my blue-collar neighborhood. My high blood pressure and cardiac problems went away with my old life.
I would never suggest there is anything wrong with the executive life. For many it is exactly right. For me, it was a prison and a facade.
My neatly groomed executive hair is now a shaggy grey ponytail held back in a rubber band. I have gained a few pounds and my once clean-shaven face is under a white beard. Laugh lines have replaced the worry lines. There is plenty of dirt and grease under the nails that were once manicured and years of putting my feet into Birkenstocks, work boots and going barefoot have toughened and put calluses on the white collar soles and heels that I once kept wrapped in a cocoon of Italian leather. Overalls, janitor’s jumpsuits and flannel shirts fill my closet. I have not worn a business suit since the day I stepped out of those dapper pinstripes.
No one would ever know I was once a corporate high-flyer. But I keep the photo of the mirror-polished shoes I used to wear as a banker next to a photo of the boots I wear now as a janitor. The difference is between illusion and reality.
Part III CLICK HERE
You may enjoy reading the entire series of articles by Jim Wellington where he shares his journey to finding his authentic self.
- Personal Journey – From Pinstriped and Brief cased Banker to Janitor, Part I
- Personal Journey – From Pinstriped and Brief cased Banker to Janitor, Part II
- Personal Journey – From Pinstriped and Brief cased Banker to Janitor, Part III: Why Did You Do It
- Personal Journey – From Pinstriped and Brief cased Banker to Janitor, Part IV:The Role of My Teachers
- Personal Journey – From Pinstriped and Brief cased Banker to Janitor, Part V: A Few Final Thoughts
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