This post is driven by the recent news item concerning a former Cosby Show actor, Geoffrey Owens, who is now in his late 50’s and working at Trader Joe’s as a cashier. A large news organization got wind of this and decided that this needed airtime, and that it was a shame that this actor has fallen so far from his previous success. The actor himself is working there because he enjoys the job, at least for now.
Twitter blew up in support of Mr. Owens. The common theme is that he should not feel any shame in what he is doing now. Here here! Mr. Owens is working at something he enjoys and which provides an honest income, while he also watches for opportunities (gigs) in his primary vocational area (acting).
I have had some experience in working jobs that have no relation to my main vocational area, jobs which do not require the education and work experience that I have accumulated during my life. I have taken those jobs to meet my financial and social needs. Even though they have been low-paying jobs, I have truly enjoyed the experience of working with co-workers and with the customers. However, I have felt some discomfort, even embarrassment, in revealing these work experiences to people that I know from my professional life.
Why do I feel that way? I think it is because we are trained to believe in a caste-type system in the employment context…a hierarchy of vocations, from manual labor up to professional levels of employment. From no education required to years of education required. From little training needed to years of training needed. And if we work at jobs in the “lower” part of that spectrum but have the ability to work at “higher-level” jobs there must be something wrong with us and we should not feel good about that. Vocational level equates to success level, to the degree of pride that we feel, to our self-image.
But it shouldn’t. I believe that our work should not define who we are. How we do the work, how we approach it, should. Are we conscientious, honest, helpful to others, positive in our attitude, quality conscious, focused on doing our best? That should define us. That should be a source of pride, a boost to our self-image.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think many people struggle with this, and that this is a significant driver of job and life dissatisfaction.
On Good Morning America, and as reported on Yahoo , Mr. Owens said he hopes his story changes the public’s idea about the worth of certain jobs over others. “Every job is worthwhile and valuable,” he said. “I’ve had a great life. I’ve had a great career … so no one has to feel sorry for me. I’m doing fine.”
So can we all.