As part of Chief Petty Officer Initiation, Sailors memorize several readings, each teaching some lesson related to their impending promotion. One of these is a comparison of a Chief and an E-7. There is no difference to the untrained, but most of us know better. The first line of the comparison provides a basic explanation: the E-7 is always part of the problem; the Chief is always part of the solution.
Some may wonder what relegates one to life as a number instead of as a Chief. This is not easily explained, but there are some examples. Choosing not to participate in Initiation certainly results in designation as an E-7. Less commonly, Sailors who completed training but who fail to earn their anchors daily through performance and devotion to the Core Values can be known by pay grade. Betraying the Chiefs' Mess in some other way can also result is losing the respect of the Mess and the proper title, albeit unofficially. Similarly, the moniker of E-8 and E-9 can be assigned to those who don't meet muster relative to expected performance in those grades.