I recently watch a video clip of Ashton Kutchar speaking at the Teen Choice Awards. It was a pretty impressive speech, with some fairly powerful messages. Hard work. Smart is sexy. Generosity is critical. Like I said, great messages…and to an age-group that desperately needs them.
Yet, I find myself growing ever more uncomfortable with one element of what he had to say, and it’s something I hear repeated over and over on a weekly basis. And that is…the message that one needs to settle for starting at the bottom. The “no job should be beneath you” message. Ugh…is that TRULY what we want people to believe?
At the risk of sounding elitist….oh, hell, I think I already surpassed that…In SPITE of sounding elitist, I’m here to say the opposite.
I believe there are jobs that are beneath me…jobs and tasks that have always been beneath me. It’s not because I’m better than other people. It’s because I refuse to accept that there is a particular rung upon which either my journey needs to start or progress.
I know what you’re thinking. We really oughtn’t allow individuals to pick and choose what jobs to take or leave, particularly at a time when so many people are out of work. Those without jobs ought to simply be happy to have a job, right?
Well, guess what….I agree. They should be happy to have jobs. And even when those jobs are beneath them. But that doesn’t mean the jobs aren’t beneath them.
Several years ago, I’d gotten fed up with a particular corporate role. I felt vastly undervalued. The environment was toxic, the leadership worse. And worst of all, I’d continued my complicity to the unethical, harmful practices of the company the longer I stayed. So, I left. Walked. No notice, other than simply sticking my head in my boss’s office and informing him immediately prior to departing. Wow, did it feel awesome!!
I left without a plan in place, and only one adjunct teaching gig on the horizon. But I simply had to go (and in hindsight, it’s been the second-most positive decision I’ve ever made). Well, to make ends meet initially, I took a job at a neighborhood coffee shop. I accepted a job for which I was endlessly underemployed. And I appreciated it. The small income. The healthcare. And yes, the endless supply of coffee (a fantastic bonus, I should add!). But yes, the job was beneath me.
Let me clarify my use of this term….beneath me.
Now, I don’t buy into the notion that a highly educated, skilled individual needs to be utilizing all that knowledge and ability in order to be fulfilled. Nope, there are plenty of examples of the attorney who trades in the six-figure income for the joy of teaching, the physician who opts for a career in public service, or a Ph.D. who prefers brewing coffee to the grind of the publish-or-perish university life. Those individuals are actively choosing an alternative path, not forced onto it by lack of work.
Nor do I buy into the idea that one needs to suffer in order to appreciate. Quite honestly, that sounds like sour grapes from those who have suffered, an idea more bound in a hazing, right-of-passage mentality than anything else.
So, when we encourage individuals, particularly young adults to simply “be happy you have a job,” let’s not mistake their drive to find something more fulfilling as a negative or unappreciative attitude. Instead, let’s acknowledge their passions and encourage them to take that underemployed opportunity as a mere stepping stone to something bigger and better. And for those who want (and can afford) to wait until that something better arrives before leaping into (or back into) the workforce, let’s celebrate that enthusiasm, as well.
Does one have to hold a menial job in order to appreciate the world around them? I would argue, no. I would hope not. If one can find or build opportunities several rungs up the proverbial work ladder, fantastic! Let me give you a boost up to that elevated level.
But, then again….perhaps just my own perspective.