Why Being “Above” A Job is a Dumb Strategy

I know someone who has been out of work for four or five months. (He had been a big-wig at a financial/investment firm and got laid off.) I greeted him the other day when we were both out raking leaves and asked how the job hunt was going.

“It’s been hard. I can’t find anything,” he said.

“So you haven’t even had any nibbles?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve had a few interviews and one even offered me a job. But none of them wanted to pay me as much as I was making before. And the one that offered me the job wanted me to do grunt work for about half of what I was making before. They didn’t respect my talent at all.”

“Hmm,” I said, not wanting to say what I really thought. “What about another line of work? Have you thought about taking something else, like retail or contractor work, until your dream job comes available?”

“Oh, no. If I took something like that, it would cheapen my skills and make me look foolish. I need to stay on top of my game and I can’t waste time doing menial work.”

I bit my tongue, again. “Well, wow. You must have a lot of money saved up to be able to be this picky. Not everyone’s that lucky. Most people can’t get by that long without money.”

“Well,” he admitted, “We’ve already gone through the money we had saved. But I’d rather go broke than take some cheap job. It’s just too demoralizing to work fast food or something like that. We’re getting by on credit cards until something else opens up.”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, a few days later I ran into his wife. She wanted to talk about how hard things were getting for her family so I lent an ear.

“It’s just so frustrating. He’s home all the time, working on resumes and networking, but he’s not getting anything. We’re so far in debt now, he’ll need seven figures for us to get out of it.”

“Wow,” I said, because I couldn’t tell her that she needed to smack him.

“He won’t just get a job, any job. He insists on only taking the perfect job. And it isn’t out there right now. I don’t know what we’re going to do. I’ve been looking into getting public assistance.”

“Have you thought about going back to work?” I asked.

“Oh, I can’t. I have to be home with the kids. It’s too important to be with them right now. They need me.”

“But if he’s home all the time…” I let my thought trail off, hoping she’d see that he could be with the kids while she worked.

“No way. I will not go back to work under any circumstances until the kids are gone. They are my job right now. It’s a higher calling than any other job.”

I didn’t say, “Yeah, but they can’t pay you.”

I just offered a generic reply and headed off to do other things. I knew if I stayed I was going to say something I would regret.

I just don’t get people like this. They would rather rack up the debt or even go completely broke than take a job that they consider undesirable, beneath them, or in any way “imperfect.” As a result, they go deeper and deeper into debt while waiting for the perfect job that may not come along any time soon, if ever. They believe that they are somehow “above” certain jobs and that it isn’t worth their time to “degrade” themselves by doing something menial or lower paying. They refuse to enter the workforce if it means sacrificing pay, time with kids, or any other ideal situation. They are so afraid of looking silly or lower class that they cannot bring themselves to take anything less than what they think they “deserve.”

I was always taught that any job that paid you the money you need to live on was a good job. No, it might not be your first choice or something you want to do long term. It might not even be something you really want to do at all. But I was taught that you took whatever job you had to in order to get by. You can always change jobs later when something better becomes available but when you need money, you take what you can get. You also go to work for the first time (or back to work) if your household needs the money. Staying home with kids is a noble goal, but if you are needed out in the workforce to make money while your partner is unemployed, you do what you have to do. Yes, you might miss some time with the kids, but which is worse? Missing some time with them or getting them (and you) tossed out of the house when the bank forecloses?

This lesson is more important than ever in a down economy. The great, high paying jobs are scarce these days. Many companies that previously offered these jobs are laying off left and right. If you or your partner end up unemployed and you need money (and that would be almost all of us), you’re probably going to have to consider some less attractive alternatives.

There are still places that are hiring, but it may mean retail work, contractor work, farm work, delivering packages, cleaning houses or businesses, sorting freight, taking out the trash, working fast food, or some other occupation that you consider demeaning. The thing of it is, none of these jobs are “demeaning.” They are jobs that provide valuable services and pay real money. There’s nothing wrong with taking a job in order to get by. There’s nothing wrong with piecing two or three lower paying jobs together to bring in extra money. I have much more respect for someone who is doing what they have to do to make ends meet than I do for the whiny, pampered, over-indulged former executive who thinks he’s above certain jobs. I respect the mother who makes the hard choice to go out into the workforce because her family needs the money more than the one who sits at home and whines about how it is all slipping away.

No one is “above” any job. We all have our preferences and things we’d rather not do, but when it comes down to the fact that you have no money, you throw all that away and you get to work. You stop whining about how unfair life is, or how you can’t do this or that, or what your friends will think. You stop worrying about how your talent is going to waste or how your career will never recover from a stint in the fast food industry. You stop all of that and you go to work doing whatever you can find that pays money. There will be time to indulge your preferences and desires later, when you’re back on stable ground.

You might be surprised at what you can learn or discover about yourself when you take a job that is “beneath” you. Working with the public in retail can help the former executive learn how his business is seen from the customer’s side. Serving fast food can teach you the workings of the restaurant industry and maybe you decide you’d like to have your own franchise. Selling cars will sharpen anyone’s sales skills. Manual labor gives you exercise. You can cancel that gym membership. Working on a farm might give you a new appreciation for where your food comes from and part of your pay might be produce or meat that you can use to feed your family.

There isn’t any job that doesn’t offer some sort of valuable experience, if you choose to open yourself up to that experience. Nothing is beneath you. Honest labor for honest money is always respectable. It might not be your first love, but none of us gets everything we want in life. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do what you have to do. Otherwise, you risk irreparable damage to your family’s financial future. It’s a lesson my neighbors haven’t learned yet.

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17 Responses to Why Being “Above” A Job is a Dumb Strategy

  1. Alice says:

    I agree that he needs to be less picky. I don’t agree that she should go back to work just because the kids don’t pay her. If her kids are in school perhaps then she could find something during the day. When my first 2 were young I worked nights so that I could be with them. I don’t agree with using credit cards to get by. I hope he decides to take a job soon!

  2. Debra says:

    Dude. If I was a stay at home mom and my husband wouldn’t take a job beneath him, I would surely send him to take a job beneath him before I’d offer to go back to work and leave him with the kids. No way, no how. He needs to change his standards and support his family, not look for what he’s used to.

  3. Amanda says:

    One of them needs to go back to work. You do what you have to do, even if you don’t like it. And as the article says you might learn something. I worked two jobs when I got out of college. One at a bank, where I hoped to move into a differnt position and another at a clothing store, that in addition to providing needed income, allowed me to purchase professional clothing cheaply. After a year, I was promoted at the bank and quit the retail job, but it opened my eyes as to what I was capable of.

  4. Heibi says:

    I understand your point that it is better to have some money coming in, but I don’t think it would be worth it for the husband to take a fast food job… or something close to minimum wage. If he were to take this type of work, then he is at risk of being pigeon-holed and therefore making it even more difficult to get the job he really wants. However, in this poor economy he should probably be willing to take at least a 20% pay cut…maybe even further. I would love to see former executives working fast food, but it just isn’t going to happen.

  5. Dan says:

    Wow, your neighbors honk me off. I was employed as mid-level tech support up until 18 months ago. At that point we were purchased, and I went back to school to pursue an IT degree.

    During this time, my wife lost her position at a warehouse that pays very well for our local economy. Needless to say, things are tight.

    I am now working 3 jobs – IT intern, gas station, and ‘tech’ writer for the local paper. My wife is working at a big blue retail chain stocking overnight. The gas station and stocking are below our intelligence levels, but until we are both done with school (this spring), these combined positions help sustain our household and our children.

    Heck, I also repair PCs on the side.

  6. anonymous says:

    I lost mega respect for my own father when in the recession of the 1970’s he seemed unwilling to apply for jobs that were beneath him. My parents were divorced and he did not pay child support for years. He must have thought it made me think more highly of him to not take any of those lowly jobs. Pbbtht.

  7. Courtney says:

    Perhaps someone who has a better understanding of unemployment can shed some light on this – is there ever a time when taking on a much lower-paying job nets your family less money than taking on unemployment?

    If that is the case, I can certainly understand avoiding taking lower-paid jobs. But otherwise, I agree – do whatever you have to do to get by. You don’t have to list fast food on your resume when you’re applying for future jobs.

  8. Kathy says:

    I took a 50% pay cut out of necessity, just because there was absolutely nothing in this area remotely close to my old job.
    Sometimes that’s what you have to do, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. It does cause you to lose confidence in yourself. And employers read on your resume that you did this and assume that it was intentional. It kills future chances, in more ways than one.

    So I wouldn’t be too hard on the guy, he’s not all that wrong.

  9. Michelle says:

    I currently work two jobs to pay off my credit card debt. I’m probably the only person who has a college degree out at the cab company where I answer phones, but I gotta say – working there has been a very strangely fulfilling experience. It’s amazing sometimes what you’ll find when you search “beneath” you.

  10. tynana says:

    Give me a break. I quit a high paying job to stay home and take care of my elderly mom who had a stroke. I was making very good money when I left and had 20 years in with my company. Now that mom is doing better I am back on the hunt for a job in this tough economy. I have an interview tomorrow paying half of what I was making and I am thankful to even get an interview. My DH is facing the prospect of losing him job due to the problems in the Auto industry. He has been telling our friends he is not to proud to ask if you want fries with that or whatever it takes to support his family. You can ride that high horse latter. You are not going to “lose your skills” by taking a lower paying job. Remember Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Might want to review all the deadly sins at this time. It might just change your way of thinking.

    Let me just close by saying I had to vent a bit. Hope I did not offend any one.

  11. Julie says:

    I have to disagree with the thought process that if you take a “job beneath” you that future employers will view this negatively. My husband lost his job several years ago when working for an IT firm. He swallowed his pride and worked 3 jobs one of which was at a local restaurant. After six months he was able to find a much higher paying job with a Fortune 500 company. I am lucky to have a husband whose main concern was providing for his family

  12. Sylvia says:

    Thank God my husband doesn’t have that attitude. After being a minister for 20+ yrs (and with a Ph.D) he found himself unemployed. He took day labor jobs for us to get by. Not easy for a 55 yr old man used to office type work to do labor with strong 25 yr olds used to labor jobs. I can’t work due to MS and collect no disability. We also had 4 kids at that time to raise. Ya do what ya gotta do has always been our motto. That was 4 yrs ago and he now works 4 jobs for us to just survive. And this looks like the way it will be. We were raised middle class with the idea that any job that took care of your family (ie:food/shelter) was a “good” job. And what really amazes me are that these are the same folks who complain about Mexicans, etc taking “our” jobs. Yeah right, like it is keeping them from working a labor position. Unbelievable how we have become such an entitled nation. Entitled to only do what we want to and think is not below us.
    “Pride cometh before a fall”

  13. fathersez says:

    Youyr neighbours need to have their thinking seriously examined. He is getting deeper into debt and putting his family in grave risk.

    I,too,am now jobless, after long stint as a so called bigwig. I have joined a MLM company and started selling an educational product that I can truly endorse.

    I don’t feel that this is below my station at all. In fact I think I am now genuinely adding value to people’s lives.

  14. H.T. says:

    I agree that one should do what is necessary. I also do not believe that working in the fast food or menial jobs is a negative of one’s resume. In fact, I would put that there and it will make me stand out enough where the hiring company will ask questions.

    It will also show to any hiring company with half the brain… A prove that person is “willing” & has the ability/capability to do what it needs to get done. It shows a hard-worker, not a self-entitled dreamer.

  15. threadbndr says:

    My grandfather was a banker at the start of the Great Depression. By the time it ended, he was a rural mail carrier and grateful to have a steady job.

    He used to say, “there’s no shame in being a ditch digger. So long as you are the BEST damn ditch digger out there with a shovel.” Anything that is legal and moral to do is worth doing if it keeps a roof over your baby’s head and food on the table.

    That attitude of entitlement and credit is a big part of what got us into this mess to start with, neighbor. Wake up!

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  17. bindu says:

    I work as a dental assistant and in my present job, which pays higher than the previous one, my boss always gives me shit not for my dental assisting skills,but my garbage removal skills and not so perfect English.(English is my second language. I am thinking about resigning my job, but keep going because of the present situation.

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