Our jobs do not define us - it's time to stop job-shaming

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on teaching ourselves to stop job-shaming others based on their work.

I remember learning about the “most intelligent man in the world” when I was in primary school. Christopher Langan, who has an IQ of between 190 and 210, apparently started talking at six months and was reading newspapers at the age of two. But what stood out to me as a kid was that Christopher was a nightclub bouncer; not a rocket scientist or a surgeon or any of those other jobs that are associated with 'intelligent' people. My innocent brain assumed that the world was fair, and people were rewarded based on their skills and talents, so I couldn’t understand why the smartest man in the world wasn’t working in some distinguished career.

I Googled him this week and found out that other jobs Christopher, now 66, has held over the years include weeding potatoes, firefighting, digging clams, lifeguarding, and working in construction.

As we grow up, we are taught to believe that if we work hard, we will be rewarded with the best paying, most prestigious jobs. In reality, that is not the case. When asked in an interview with Super Scholar about why he worked in non-intellectual jobs despite his intelligence, Christopher responded: “I did so by necessity. Through its jealous stranglehold on intellectual certification, academia has all but monopolized gainful intellectual activity; if one has no money, no connections, and no degree, one’s intellect is all but vocationally irrelevant.”


Last week, Geoffrey Owens, an actor who has starred in many shows including It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, That's So Raven, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but was most well known as Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show, was photographed working in a supermarket in the US. A couple of media outlets shared the pictures in an attempt to shame Geoffrey for working a job bagging groceries in a dirty uniform. The backlash against the judgemental media outlets came quickly. Speaking on Good Morning America, Geoffrey said he had been job-shamed, and added: “There is no job that’s better than another job. 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.” Needless to say, thanks to all of the media coverage, Geoffrey has received several acting job offers over the past few days, yet he said he does not want to move on solely because of the job-shaming.  

"Honestly, I mean, I know this might sound weird, I wouldn't feel comfortable getting acting jobs from this event," he said. "I wouldn't mind getting auditions. I don't mind if people call me to try out for things due to what's happened, but I actually wouldn't feel comfortable with someone giving me a job because this happened. I want to get a job because I'm the right person for that job."

The world we live in places a lot of value on work. One of the first questions we ask when we meet someone new is “what do you do?” But what someone does for a living is not the measure of who they are. A doctor can be a mean-spirited individual. A successful chief executive might be terrible when dealing with people. A cleaner might be a genius. Jobs do not define us. They are just a means of making money.  

There is something deeply wrong with people who feel that they can judge others based on the work they do. Success and happiness in life mean different things to everyone. We are all just out there paddling our own canoes. Focus on yourself and stop trying to sink someone else.

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