When I was a college student, I hand-cut loaves of bread and assembled made-to-order submarine sandwiches to earn spending money.
It was the era when a certain sunglasses manufacturer burst into the Midwest markets and was proclaiming some type of “nuclear” protection. For a price.
As I recall, minimum wage was slightly over $3 … and those glasses started at $100.
One summer morning, my co-workers and I were relaxing around the break table, getting a short rest before hungry office workers began lining up and looking at their watches every 2 minutes.
Mary had a big smile on her face and was jabbing her finger at the ad in her hand. “Did you see you can choose the color of the frame? and the lens! They’ll make those changes for you and you can walk out of the store with exactly what you want!” A few of the ladies were considering buying a pair. Our red polo shirt uniforms added a visual energy to our rapid hand gestures, as we discussed what our favorite pair would look like… and where we would wear them first.
The friendly manager overheard us and ambled over to join the conversation. “I’ve been saving up for a month and I’m buying a pair after the next paycheck.”
A wave of sincere congratulations and smiles rose from the table, but we exchanged wistful looks with each other.
Later that week, one of the owners unexpectedly walked through the front doorway. He was a fairly young guy, perhaps 5 years older than I. He and his business partner owned this franchise location as well as 3 other ones.
I complimented him on his new shades.
“Thanks, I just bought these yesterday!” With his tanned left hand he whipped off the pair perched on his summer-blond hair and quickly pointed out the features he chose during the customization. “And I like them so much, I’m considering going back next week to pick up another pair!”
I knew he wasn’t rubbing his wealth in my face. But later that afternoon, when I was staffing the store by myself and all was quiet, I grabbed a napkin and pen.
I was a shift supervisor, the highest pay bracket below manager, making not much above the legal minimum wage.
I began writing numbers and multiplying.
If I worked 40 hours a week, buying one pair would still be a ridiculous extravagance.
So if I couldn’t afford a pair, the manager could after a month or so, but the business owner could buy them on a whim… then that tells me a lot about who does most of the work… and who keeps most of the money.
And which one I might consider being, after graduating from college… if I got bored with engineering.
That lesson has stuck with me through the years.
–LYnn Selwa, “The Rocket Science Coach” ™
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