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Thursday, September 13, 2018

The lesson from actor, Geoffrey Owens

The recent situation with former "Cosby Show" actor, Geoffrey Owens touched a nerve.  What gives someone the right to shame someone by taking a picture of the person at their job? I was incensed and all I could think about was how Owens was feeling. Did he see his picture plastered on social media and feel shamed that he was caught working at Trader Joe's?

While I liked him as Elvin on TV, I admired him even more after seeing his talk show appearances and hearing his explanation of how he felt when the pictures came out.  He's owning his own story. He explained that while he was initially upset that he was being shamed about his job, he was doing what he needed to do to support himself when the residuals stopped coming after Bill Cosby's legal issues caused networks to pull Cosby's show from syndication.

Whatever the reason was for the original poster to take Owens photo (even if it was "Guess who I saw working at Trader Joe's!"), I'm happy to see that it has become something greater than shaming someone. It launched a discussion of being proud of doing whatever it is that you need to do to take care of yourself.  You are not your job. You are what DRIVES you.

I get it. The first question when you meet someone is almost always "What do you do?" When I worked at Microsoft, people treated me differently.  "Oh, you're at Microsoft" meant to them"Oh! You're making bank!' and there was implied respect for that. Later, after the Cinco de Mayo layoff, I started writing this blog that I was excited about but it was different. "Oh. You have a blog. Good for you!" as if that wasn't a respectable enough thing to do. The thing is, whether I was at Microsoft, or writing a blog or working at my old high school,  I respected what I did. I had to learn that it didn't matter what anyone else thought of me. It was about self-respect.  (After I was laid off at Microsoft, I realized how the "What do you do?" question can cause angst so I changed that question to "So, what makes you happy?")

When I was growing up, my mom was a NICU nurse. She was divorced and did what she needed to do to own her own home and keep me in Catholic school. I remember that there were times that she tried to make extra money, from working extra shifts at the hospital to piercing ears and making pillows. I admire that.  Before her, my grandparents worked in factories after the war and later when they retired, they cleaned homes and businesses. I remember going with them as they cleaned a local bank after hours. At the time, I was about six years-old. I would sit on the carpet in the bank with a pen and some blank deposit slips as they cleaned. I remember being very proud that my Meme and Pepe were so trustworthy that a bank would trust them with all their money when the bank was closed. (I was little and clearly didn't know much about banking.) My grandparents, my mom, Owens, millions of people do what they need to do and they did it proudly.

It's been an extraordinary lesson watching how Geoffrey Owens is managing this situation in which he has found himself.  Because of the notoriety of his role at Trader Joe's, he's had to quit his job but he has new opportunities. Tyler Perry has offered him a role on "The Haves and the  Have Nots."  He recently landed a role on "NCIS: New Orleans." That's great. Owens is booking TV roles again. However, I think the greatest role he has played is in teaching us a lesson in how to handle a less than ideal situation with pride and respect for yourself.  And if someday, he's back at Trader Joe's, I hope the question he's asked isn't "What are you doing working here?" but rather "So, how's your day?"

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