In the last few days, there have been many job shaming articles written about a Trader Joe’s Employee named Geoffrey Owens, who once portrayed the lovable son-in-law, Elvin, on The Cosby Show. I found these articles to be appalling for their judgments, and instead of shaming them publicly, I would rather share a story about my own job history, self-esteem issues, and all the shame that came along with it too.
My story starts a few years after I finished university. I moved back from the opposite coast after quitting my marketing job at a tv/movie production company. I didn’t like anyone that I worked with, and I became pretty disillusioned with the industry as a whole. However, when I got back home, I moved back into my parent’s basement, and I knew I didn’t want to be there either.
I needed a job, and I needed one fast. I would have applied at a bar because it would have paid better, but I wasn’t much of a drinker, and I really wasn’t a nightlife kinda guy. I wanted to enjoy my work environment after my last experience, and since I did love the movies, I went to a local art-cinema and applied for a job. In a few days, I was hired, and my theatre life began….. And I loved it!
There were two jobs I loved the most while being there. The first was box-office duty as I got to chit-chat with the patrons and gave recommendations on what they should see based on their tastes. It was an art-house theatre after all, and the crowd loved to talk movies, and I could do that all day long. The second thing I loved was theatre cleaning duty, as part of the assignment was telling people to turn off their cell phones and pagers before the movie started. I took this time to work on a schtick. I went up to the microphone and pretended to be a completely disinterested employee going through the motions of telling people to turn off their cell phones and then I’d introduce the movie. However, I’d always say the wrong movie name and just let it sit like a lingering fart. I watched everyone squirm and rustle their pockets to see if their tickets proved me wrong. I got a big kick out watching their anxiety level rise. When someone eventually put their hand up to say ‘isn’t this so and so movie?’ I’d look at a piece of paper that had nothing written on it and say ‘oh yeah, you’re right.’ And then I’d be on my merry way, letting everyone think I was the worst employee ever, but I laughed inside the whole way out. Eventually, return customers figured out my schtick and we all had a good laugh about it. I tell this whole backstory because this theatre was a place I liked working at. I liked my co-workers, my bosses, and most importantly, the people that came there. I was part of their experience, and I enjoyed being part of their day. I took pride in it………..and then one day…… I was shamed.
It was night time, and I was cleaning up the condiment area, minding my own business in between shows, just doing my job, when someone I went to high school with was going coming out of the bathroom. I waved enthusiastically and said hello, not thinking that there was anything wrong with my job, and the response I got back was pretty scarring. With a look that is impossible to describe in words, yet was imprinted into my brain for the rest of my life, this person asked me if everything was ok, like if me working at the movie theatre was the equivalent of standing on a ledge of a tall building and that maybe she could talk me down. I had never experienced this type of shaming before, and I’m sure she didn’t even realize that she was doing it too, but the damage was done.
Being judged like that was a pretty gut-wrenching feeling, and I let it get to me when I shouldn’t have. I didn’t realize that having an honest paying job was something to be embarrassed about. But now it was in my head. I started to think, did everyone that came in here think this about me? Was I less of a person for working this job? Should I be more ambitious? What am I doing with my life? Would any respectable woman want to date me if I worked here? All it took was this one thing, and I was mentally destroyed. Soon after, whenever I recognized anyone I knew that came in, I hid. I didn’t want to encounter being shamed liked that again. It just hurt too much. All of a sudden the place I loved didn’t feel like it once did. It had been stolen from me by my own mind.
Eventually, I did end up leaving the theatre as I needed to make more money if I wanted to live outside of my parent’s basement. However, I did quit before I found a new job due to the fear of being shamed again. From that point on, I felt I couldn’t be seen in that role any longer, and it was the worst thing that could have ever happened to me. Every entry-level position I had from there, I wanted out of it right away. I wanted to get promoted quickly but didn’t have the patience to stick it out because I was stuck in a vicious shame cycle. My mind was stuck, and it took a few years until I had a solid mentor to help me work on my insecurities when it came to this type of shame, and that didn’t include therapy. Some people can brush it off, and some like me can’t, so the next time you try and shame someone, think again about what you’re doing because we all have feelings. And for those of us who feel shame, be aware of where your feelings are coming from and why, so you don’t fall into a dark hole just like I did.
And one more thing, to quote Geoffrey Owens himself. “What I hope continues to resonate is the idea that one job is not better than another. A certain job might pay more, it might have better benefits, it might look better on paper, but that essentially one kind of work isn’t better than another kind of work, that we reevaluate that whole idea and we start honoring the dignity of work and the dignity of the working person.”
If you or a loved one you know battles with any Mental Health Issues, please do get the help you need. If you need to talk to someone now, you can talk to one of the many fantastic therapists at Better Help by CLICKING HERE.
This post was created with the help of Grammarly.
Photo Credit: Film4