After the instability I’ve faced in my career in the past three years, I can testify there is a big difference between who you are and what you do for a living. As much as we’d all like to do what we love for a living, sometimes identifying too closely with your career can be unhealthy, especially when you believe that said career makes or break your character and who you truly are. And the internet had a harsh lesson for several outlets who tried to shame a former actor on The Cosby Show when he was spotted bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s location.
On August 31, The Daily Mail published a story about actor Geoffrey Owens who is most famous for playing “Dr. Elvin Tibideaux”, oldest daughter’s Sondra’s boyfriend and then husband on The Cosby Show. Karma Lawrence, a customer at a Clifton, New Jersey Trader Joe’s, spotted Owen bagging groceries and snapped a pic of the actor. Fox News later picked up the story and featured Lawrence’s reaction after spotting the 57-year-old saying it was a “shock” to her. Lawrence, who is the wife of the store’s security manager was shopping at the time and went on to say she actually felt sorry for the actor:
“It made me feel really bad. I was like, “Wow, all those years of doing the show and you ended up as a cashier.”
Well of course, if you want to find a collection of people who are forever angry and fighting for a cause, the internet is never far. But many users came to Owens’ defense and made some pretty interesting points about our culture’s false assumptions about celebrity, making a living and what careers are worthy of respect. Even some of those in the entertainment industry chimed in about side gigs they’ve taken on to support their dreams:
That last tweet though…It’s no secret that our culture routinely makes the false assumption that celebrity equals wealth. I remember watching an interview with Michael B. Jordan not too long after the phenomenal success of Black Panther where he revealed that despite being a working actor for years on shows like All My Children, Friday Night Lights and The Wire, he didn’t feel comfortable financially until the past several years or so and at his lowest point entertained applying for a job at a fast food joint. It doesn’t help that we have reality shows featuring Instagram stars living in luxury but not really being transparent about the fact that half the time their “home” is an Airbnb, the Lamborghinis are all rented and the production is footing the bill for their lavish vacations. Just because you see someone 2000 times a day on a viral video on your social media feed, or some reality star is in the studio in a fur coat recording the 20th single that will probably never see the light of day doesn’t mean that their bank account looks any different than yours.
We also need to stop determining what level of respect to give to people based on their job title, how many zeros are on their paycheck or other factors that at the end of the day are no indication about a person’s integrity or character. I just had a conversation with a friend about how I hate when you meet someone and instead of getting to know you it’s more like they’re interviewing you to determine how much respect to give to you by only asking questions like, “What do you do for a living? Are you married? Do you own your own home?” I went from the climbing the career ladder at the beginning of my career making a pretty decent salary in my first years working professionally at a non-profit shortly after finishing undergrad, to being laid off, humbled and accepting an entry level position just to be able to take care of my family. It was a lesson that in a world the likes to tell us if we’re not accomplishing our dreams we’re not working hard enough, that we only have so much control of our careers whether we’re an entrepreneur or an intern. What’s most important is not our job titles, but the totality of what we contribute to the world as mentors, mothers, fathers, friends, and whatever roles we find ourselves in at any given point. So in an appropriate lesson for Labor Day, maybe we should applaud those who are making an honest living, minding their business and not hurting anyone and stop glamorizing wealth, celebrity and the idea that having a “regular job” is something to be ashamed of.
Colleagues and students also took to social media to point out that Owens is a well-respected acting teacher at the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York and works consistently as an actor appearing on shows like Elementary, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Blue Bloods. VIBE reports he also has two upcoming projects including the film Impossible Monsters and the short film Fizzle.