Embracing the New “No Collar” in Me

I’ve always been a huge Survivor fan. Though my fanfare has waned in recent years, the grandfatherly reality show remains compelling to me.

This current season has pitted a tribe of “white collar” people against a tribe of “blue collars” against a tribe of so-called “no collars.” We can all envision the suited white collar person indoors and the grimy blue collar person sweating outside.

But what of the no collars? In Survivor terms, these people are the crazies. The ones with rogue tattoos and piercings, airy dispositions, and eclectic occupations like “coconut vendor.” The no collars do life differently from most, and they’re totally cool with that.

Amid the aftermath of a nine-month road trip, I’ve thought a lot about which tribe I’d classify myself under. While I don’t anticipate donning a literal feather in my cap anytime soon, I’ve realized which collar — or lack thereof — I wear in this world beyond Survivor.

Survivor 30 No Collar Tribe

Graduating as my high school valedictorian and exiting college with cum laude honors, you’d probably have thought me more the white collar type. Someone with a predictably scholarly course charted with advanced degrees and a six-figure salary.

But I never went to grad school. Have never once been tempted by the notion. Rather than acquire my teaching certificate, I started tutoring part-time in dozens of locations.

I suppose a more stable, “real” job could have been nice, but I liked the flexibility tutoring gave me with regard to my writing. It was an unconventional, “no collar” way of supporting myself while also fueling my passion. It worked for four years in southern California.

But then a little road trip happened and took unconventional and no collar to another level. I’ve had a few weeks to settle into my new home of Charlotte, and yet I’m finding it ironic how unsettling settling can be.

After nine long months on the road, you’d think I’d be relieved for a bedroom with four walls and a walk-in closet and even a sliding glass door that leads to a backyard with a fire pit and a treehouse. A place and a space to finally call my own.

At times, yes, I’m relieved to park my car, get out, and plop somewhere beyond the doors of my dear sweet Mitsy. But many more times, I’m shaken by this new normalcy.

Everyday now feels like a betrayal of my former self, my true self, that free no collar life that breathed without restraint on the open road.

I’ve been trying to get more accustomed with Charlotte these last three weeks. I’m recognizing street names and coffee shops and Bojangles Coliseums. I’ve started tutoring again. I’m gradually meeting people at my church and making my face a more familiar one.

Progress is being made in Charlotte. It is slow progress, but jagged pieces are sliding into place.

I see the pieces. I affirm the pieces.

I just wonder about all these interlocking and disconnected pieces. It sounds weird, but this newfound progress feels awfully like the old way of doing things.

And the old way of doing things is kinda what prompted my cross-continent road trip in the first place.

You find a place to live, you land some work, you pay the bills, you attend a church, you invest in a small group, you build up some savings and relationships, you lose some savings and relationships, and you grow tired by a lifestyle ruled by collars and normalcy while staring out your window wondering what else is out there.

Or at least that’s what my no collar self does.

I’m not saying I’m necessarily doomed in Charlotte. I don’t want to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want to give Charlotte a fair shot.

But I think I’m struggling because I’ve yet to figure out how to reconcile this new no collar man I became on the road with my old no collar way of doing things: the job-working, the relationship-building, the purpose-finding.

I’d like to think I’m in as good a place as any to work through this complicating transition. I’ve often second-guessed my decision of Charlotte, but I always return to the realization that I’d be wrestling with these same restless feelings anywhere else I might have moved and called home.

“The journey is my home,” said a writer named Muriel Rukeyser.

I think she might have been a no collar person, too. My heart echoes with her quote; it’s such a four-dimensional lens for looking at life and home. Home that goes beyond four walls, a sliding glass door, and one mere city when a whole continent has called your name.

I have no idea what my new no collar life will look like in an old no collar setup. But I’m doing what I must do right now. I’m writing and tutoring and exploring this expansive, quaint Queen City.

It all feels like a quick fix right now. But I’m still trying to bask in the no collar life. And I’m taking lots and lots of notes.

What type of collar are you? Why do you think so?

  • MLYaksh

    I don’t really identify with any of the three collars actually. I’m not a well paid minister but I don’t feel like I’m a grunt worker. I’m also not a idealist no collar person. I think I just don’t like the labels.

    I view myself as such- I am a man following Christ, doing what He calls me to do however He has gifted me to do so. Jesus called me to be a minister of sorts, so I spend my days prepping for rehearsals and such so I can minister to kids in a children’s service, adults in an orchestra, and students in a choir. Maybe God will move me one day to a typical white/blue/no collar job- but for now, I just can’t identify. And maybe that’s a good thing.

    Or maybe that makes me a no collar who refuses to be called a no collar. Would that make me a no-no collar? Suggestions are welcomed.

    • To me, “no collar” indicates the lack of weight one gives to labor. Both “white collar” and “blue collar” indicate jobs first and foremost. We’ve taken these terms farther, and used them slightly out of context, but they are more about types of work than anything else. NO collar, on the other hand, is a new term dreamed up by a marketing team. I feel like it indicates those who see more to life than work, rather than a set label. Because our society is SO entrenched in “What you do is who you are” this no-collar approach is “weird” to the majority. How could you not want a career? How could you fathom being OKAY with not having a “real” job, or having some “lesser” job like Coconut Salesman? What kind of life are you living?! You’re throwing it all away somehow!

      In the end, we humans love our labels, and we use them to “belong.” We aren’t in the Garden anymore, so we feel the need to band together with others like us, to prove our worth and be important. If I’m blue-collar, then I’m with other blue-collars, and here’s why we’re awesome and- subsequently- I’m awesome. Even banding together as “no-collars” takes this core human desire and runs with it. The label doesn’t matter. White-collar, blue collar. Methodist, Catholic. Vegan, Feminist, Communist, American, Runner, Technophile, Jock, Nerd, Goth, Straight, Gay, Nazi. We want to be in a category so that we belong, because we don’t belong here outside of the presence of God and until we get back there we will have that longing. Then, though, there will be zero need of labels. We will be “only” a Child of God like everyone else, and that is the best company one can be part of, and no further grouping is necessary in any way. 🙂

  • Rebecka

    So much of what you’ve written here resonates with me. I did very well at school and would have probably done well at some white collar job too, but it would probably have killed my spirit. I’ve always wanted to do something creative and I love it on stage. I come alive when I’m acting. When I was younger and my dreams were bigger I was always a little scared of getting a part in a play that became so successful I’d be stuck playing it for years because I was so afraid of
    the same old, same old.

    I still dream about living a year here and six months there and travelling in between. Does that make me a no collar?

    • Sounds as unconventional and thrilling a life as a no collar would dream up!

  • I know I cheer on the No-collars, and jeer the White-collars. I can’t tell you the elated whooping as I leaped from my couch when the White-collars lost the first immunity challenge. “Suck on that you greedy pansies!” or some such venomous declaration rang through the air. I was PUMPED. Serves them right for being white-collar jerks. Thinking they’re better than everyone else because of their money and jobs and titles!

    And then, as is thankfully becoming the norm when I step back and see myself, I was crushed by my lack of love for the individuals on screen. This is who I am? Sigh. I am very often very tired of “me…”

    And so the journey continues…

  • naturgesetz

    At Mass this morning the priest read this:

    http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1356

    and I thought of you. Here’s a bit more detail:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benedict_Joseph_Labre

    You wrote in your newsletter this morning about the contrast between a “normal” life and having to move again. I tend to think it would be nice if you could settle down and enjoy life in Charlotte. But there have always been people who couldn’t stay in one place (or in one job). So I think it’s good that you’re giving Charlotte you best shot, but if you have to move on at some point, so be it. I don’t think you’ll ever be as destitute as St. Benedict Joseph, but if you hit the road again, you can consider him your patron saint.