Just recently I heard someone put down a woman’s intelligence because she’s “only a waitress.” And she did it so matter-of-factly. As if the woman must be inferior because of how she makes a living. It’s tough being judged by your job. And unfortunately all too often that’s how the world sees you.
Even people who have known you for a while might be thinking “too bad she never made anything of herself.” Not that they’d tell you that to your face. But people do base their opinions on all kinds of external factors, including job and marital status and, of course, appearance. I call that linear thinking.
Shocking thing a friend once said to me
After the horrible September 11 attacks, I was speaking with a friend. She had lost a cousin who worked in the World Trade Center. “Well, it wasn’t that much of a loss,” my friend told me. “Not only did he have no wife or children, but he was only a low-level accountant.”
I was so shocked I didn’t know how to respond. At the time, I probably just let it go. It wasn’t the first time she came out with an opinion based on generalized labels. But it did get me thinking.
So many people are passed over or dismissed without looking at their real impact on this earth, well beyond mere job title. We affect the world in so many ways, and value is not limited to a few surface labels.
So what if you are judged by your job … does it really matter?
If we were perfect, nothing bad anyone says about us would matter. We know who we are, and, even if there are things to improve, that doesn’t make us any less worthy of respect.
Each person has something unique to contribute to the world!
But, often these kinds of judgments, or the way people treat you as a result, start to take a toll on us. Maybe we even begin to believe some of it, and carry it in our posture or our willingness to speak up. Worst of all, maybe it cuts into our ability to dream wonderful things for ourselves.
And that’s the real reason I’m writing this. People who judge you do not have your best interests at heart. Nor do they know everything. So don’t let their opinions shape the rest of your career or life. Only you know for sure why you make your life choices and where you want your life to go.
Each step you take along the way, no matter what it might be, eventually gets you to a place you can’t even fully imagine yet. You meet people along the way and learn things that a “perfect” path might not offer. And certainly those judgmental, busybody know-it-alls can’t see all the possibilities ahead.
My own non-linear path
I’ve been a waitress and a locker room attendant. Also an elevator operator, the head of an MIS / research department, a project manager for a major environmental organization, and a temp receptionist, among many other off-the-linear path things.
And all of it helped me become a successful consultant and even a career coach. But I never forgot for one minute who I really was inside. Or all that I knew I had to offer. As I see it, that’s the real secret.
Pros and cons of being judged by your job
So, having said all that, are there any positive takeaways we can get from people judging us? Well, maybe. Especially if you can find a way to use it as motivation for some ongoing self-reflection.
For instance, does any of it ring true for you? Maybe you’ve settled and deep inside long for more. That doesn’t mean you can’t still do your best where you are. But you can also start thinking about what else you might want for yourself. And what steps to take now to get yourself there eventually.
Then again, some people really enjoy work that others might consider lacking any value. And they should not be made to feel bad for that choice, whether it’s filling a temporary need for a paycheck or something that works well for them in the balance of their whole life.
Also, there’s the question of exactly how do we judge what has real value. Does a waitress who brings a daily smile and good service to her regular customers have less value than a highly-paid, socially respected professional who spends much of their day focused on screwing their competitors?
Just make the rice
A Zen Buddhist teaching tells us that when we make the rice, we should make it the best we can, fully engaging ourselves in the job. There is no higher or lower or should or could – there is just making the rice. Without judgment or the weight of expectations.
Whatever we choose, we are enriched when we do it the best we can. Whether it’s helping heal a sick child or helping a customer learn to use their new cell phone. But if we let how others see us affect how we see ourselves, we are not just making the rice anymore. We’re letting layers of judgment — our own and others — get in the way.
Even if you decide you want something different that fits you more, you still want to give your best to what you do now. It pays off in the long run, both in the people you connect to and the way you feel on a daily basis. Even if the job sucks, you want to get as much out of it as you can.
Story from my dad’s funeral
I grew up in a very small town where income level and background played a big role. At my dad’s funeral, a self-appointed judge of right and wrong brought her own person to conduct the funeral the “right” way, in place of the man my mom asked to officiate — a person who actually knew my dad.
Not wanting to cause any ruckus so as not to upset mom, we let the man speak. And I’ll never forget his words “Although David was only a butcher, he was also a good man.” I thought my brother was going to shove the man into the opening right there at the gravesite.
Only a butcher? He and mom were immigrants and survivors (with stories of survival I’ll never fully know), starting a new life after the war where they lost almost everyone and everything they knew and loved. Dad got to work every single day at 4am, no matter how he was feeling. And the job was not easy.
He did heavy work in a dank hotel basement, making sure his wife and two kids had the money we needed to live. And then he came home and helped clean and cook to make things easier for mom, especially after she started working at the hotel. And he loved us deeply.
The word “only” does not belong in his story or in anyone else’s story. It’s a judgment of value based on a person’s job. But the value of a person does not rest solely on the work they do. Although, whatever it is that we do, we can always add value.
A few more thoughts
We each give things to the world that ripple on far beyond us. Things no stranger can ever see. And things that even people who know us may never know. I just want people to really get that they are not their labels — and that they can still accomplish things of value wherever they are. And where they are is not a limit to who they can be.
I used to work for an organization that helped homeless people. But once, when I was out of work, a homeless woman in my neighborhood, who I used to talk with, offered to ask her brother for a job — for me. I didn’t take Shirley up on it, but those are the kinds of things we never know about people from just outward appearances.
To my former friend and to the man who spoke at my dad’s funeral Shirley’s life would have been a wasted life. But in her own world, even with very real personal issues she grappled with, she reached out to help me and even helped take care of other homeless people in the neighborhood.
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