It Shouldn’t Have Taken Geoffrey Owens Being Job-Shamed For You To Understand That Work Is Work
“So I’m going to apply to Trader Joe’s,” a girlfriend of mine said, who is currently looking for a new job. After going on a few different interviews over the last few months and having nothing pan out just yet, I had encouraged her in the past to try spots near our neighborhood. The chocolate shop (she likes to bake), a clothing store (she loves clothes), and yes, both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (who doesn’t need a discount on groceries?!). When I did so, she nodded her head at the possibility, but I could tell she wasn’t really feeling the idea, so I let it go. She had worked administrative positions at full-time jobs in the city, so I could understand the hesitation. But, you know, bills, they tend to not be as understanding.
So imagine my surprise when she told me this week that she was thinking about applying to Trader Joe’s. I immediately assumed that the renewed interest was because of former Cosby Show star Geoffrey Owens working there and saying that over the past 15 months of being employed at the grocery store, it was something he enjoyed, it was flexible work, and it was a job. There was nothing to be ashamed of.
I told her, “Yeah, girl! I’ve been trying to tell you, work is work out here, and Trader Joe’s is nice. Especially if you can get on the cash register or hold the line flag!”
A day later, while talking about Owens with my co-worker, looking at all of the responses people had to the story and thinking about my friend, I was pleased to see that there was such support for the actor. But I couldn’t help but wonder why it took him getting an unflattering photograph taken of him ringing people out at a Jersey Trader Joe’s for folks to acknowledge what they always should have known? You can’t turn up your nose at any kind of job when you don’t have one. You can’t be stuck in your pride when you have responsibilities, but alas, people usually are.
I thought about all of the girlfriends I had after college who would stress about finding their first full-time gig, ready to pull their hair out as those first student loan notices started getting sent out. Meanwhile, I had spent all of my college years working in customer service (and my teen years, too). I worked at the gym on my campus, and when I went home for holidays, I clocked hours at retail stores like Linens-N-Things (RIP) and both Victoria’s Secret and their sister store, PINK. I had worked my way up to being a bra stylist (I helped dress mannequins and put together outfits for people when they shopped) so I had some influence with the managers. Granted, I had big hopes when I left journalism school, but I knew I had bills so I worked there during the day and applied for full-time gigs at night. Plus, I loved my co-workers, got pretty good hours, and could get 50 percent off new styles when they came in. Worked for me!
So I told my friends if they wanted to work with me, I could put in a good word. Of course, folding sweats and bringing order to panties wasn’t what they studied or even cared for, but in the meantime, they could make some money. Each girl said “I’ll think about it” and chose to remain unemployed until further notice. One actually remained unemployed for so long when she couldn’t find anything that she ended up depressed, staying indoors, avoiding everyone and living with relatives while she figured out things. I kept offering to put in a good word at PINK, even after I moved on to full-time work, and she kept saying she was fine. But she wasn’t.
I also thought about how my husband and editor laughed when I said that if I lost my full-time gig, I would apply to a store like Anthropologie and freelance write on the side. I didn’t say it pained or stressed. I knew that it could happen to anyone, and while I would prefer to stay full-time with benefits and vacation time, if I had to, I would go wherever the work was. (Plus, Anthropologie has hella cute stuff).
And that’s how it should be looked at. It shouldn’t take a famous person’s influence for people to be reminded that when you need to take care of yourself or others, you have to do what you have to do.
“There’s no job that’s better than another job,” Owens said on Good Morning America this week when speaking on his experience. “It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper, but actually, it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”
He put it best. Work is work. You are not defined by the job title you have, whether you are a CEO or sales associate, and if you lose that work tomorrow, you don’t lose your dignity or respect. In the end, when it comes to the great job debate, you either have one or you don’t, and really, that’s all that matters.