At the beginning of this month, actor Geoffrey Owens made the news for being photographed working in Trader Joe’s, a US grocery chain.
Monstrous purveyors of fetid journalism the Daily Mail appeared to take pleasure in this purported downfall. “From learning lines to serving the long line!” they sneered, not passing up the opportunity to remark on the stain marks on his T shirt “as he weighted a bag of potatoes”.
Job shaming, it was correctly called.
Although a minority mocked, it was heartening that most, including celebrities, rallied to his defence, mainly through social media. What exactly what shame-worthy about working as a shop assistant, a job which millions around the world have done or still do?
“There is no job that’s better than another,” Owens later said on Good Morning America. “It may pay better, it may have better benefits, it may look better on paper. But it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile.”
Yes it is. He has since been offered several acting jobs. This is correctly called having the last laugh, and if I knew how to input that yellow emoji of a bulging bicep you’d find it here.
A lesson to writers
Actors, artists, writers, singers, dancers … we’re all trying to get by in competitive, creative industries.
The nature of our work — if we have any — can be sporadic. Feast, or scraps, or even famine. If there’s no meal at your table, there’s no shame in temporarily switching tables or restaurants.
In a previous post, You Have One Job, I described how I have done — and sometimes continue to do — just that, and other writers did too.
Want to do another job? Need to do another job? No matter what it is, how menial some perceive it, how low-skilled it may be relative to other work, including writing, it’s OK to do it. You don’t have to do it with particular pride, but I’d certainly urge you to do it without shame.
It’s not a failure, nor does it nullify your successes; it’s earning an honest buck, it’s keeping busy, it’s meeting new people, it’s doing wonders for your mental health, it’s exposing yourself to new experiences (which could generate ideas for either articles or a fictional character and story).
Another lesson to writers
Owens’ words that no job is better than another really stuck with me, and he’s absolutely right. Every job is worthwhile.
When we take that on board, when we understand and believe this, the writer’s life becomes just a little easier.
Gone is the pressure to be ‘better’ person in a ‘better’ job.
Gone is that burden that some aspiring or even successful writers bear in feeling that they should ‘Never Give Up’ — thoughtless, privileged advice I see far too many writers dish out, and which I have railed against before on this blog.
Writing is great, people, but it’s only great if it’s great for you.
Whatever you do, it’s worthwhile.
Well said, Alex. I’ve never worked in a shop but I’ve worked in McDonald’s, I’ve done a paper round, I’ve mucked out smelly horses – and even smellier dogs – I’ve washed up at the Ryder Cup (I mean, I literally washed glasses and cups – not that my golf was, ahem, ‘below par’), I’ve picked strawberries for tuppence ha’penny a punnet, I’ve been bored senseless in several office jobs … and so the list goes on. There was no ‘shame’ in any of them. They all taught me something (even if it was ‘I never want to do this again’!).
You really have got your hands dirty, haven’t you?! Full of admiration … I wish I had that kind of job experience. Not too late, I guess!
Very good post, Alex! Totally agree.
Thanks, Susheela – appreciate it!
I’ve always found that when it becomes necessary to generate some fast alternative income, it is often better to take a job which is fairly repetitive in nature, (and therefore probably low-status in the eyes of Daily Mail enthusiasts), because that leaves the mind free to wander and often stimulates creative thoughts.
Yep, very true. I guess the same principle as tackling an ever-increasing mountain of ironing one has been putting off for days and weeks … steaming those collars and cuffs for a few hours will soon get the juices flowing …
Job shaming on my own behalf is something I have been guilty of in the past. After the well paid professional position ended, I found myself almost apologising for whatever job I was doing at the time. ‘I just work in a shop,’ type of comment. No more, whatever I do now i deem to be worthwhile. Apart from ironing!
I wonder whether that’s called something … inverse job shaming, auto job shaming? I often had fun working in a shop. People talk to you. You learn about all the characters out there. It’s insightful! And as for ironing … well, like swimming and bath-soaking, ironing is idea time for me!