Jobs, Gigs and Geoffrey Owens

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 07: Geoffrey Owens attends the press launch for FringeNYC 2012 at the New School for Drama on August 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Yesterday, I read a story about Geoffrey Owens. He was snapped at a Trader Joe’s ringing up customers. The picture was then aired in a report on Fox News and The Daily Mail shaming him for his current job status. I read the report and felt compelled to respond. Though I am a digital media entrepreneur, I am also a cashier, campus monitor, daycare van driver, pizza delivery man, mail room coordinator and deli clerk-per my “work” resume. My media and journalism resume read much differently and I’m proud of both.

At the age of 12, I started my first business: “Winfred’s Window Washing Service”. I worked that job until the age of 16 when I took a weekend job at a local insurance company.

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My first “job” was at 14 when I began sacking groceries at Winn-Dixie. From there, I became a cashier and then a produce clerk. In college while in pursuit of my degree, I stocked groceries and scooped ice cream at a regional ice cream restaurant. Once I switched instruments, I was able to make a decent living playing music, which I currently do full-time. I’m always in search of the best opportunity and remain prepared to take advantage of whichever opportunity arises, first.

In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to travel to Japan. I was able to leave my job and return to work following the three plus weeks abroad. However when I returned, I noticed that my supervisor was harsh with me. The other employee in my department was coddled and treated with favoritism because he had little help while I was away. I left with full confidence that my job was safe, what I didn’t count on was the cold reception upon my return. I returned to Japan in 2013, unemployed at home. That year and the next year were trying times for myself and family. The dream, the accomplishments meant nothing with no prospective employment on the horizon.  

As creatives, finding work can be one of the most excruciating and humbling experiences. Countless creatives must rely on entrepreneurship to sustain them as they audition, submit work, proposals, await callbacks and project start dates. Conversely, many traditional jobs don’t offer the temporary support many creatives need and their multiplicity of jobs in between “work” is viewed disparagingly as it were a bad credit score.

How do you fill in the blank explaining your long time off between jobs as: “worked as an extra for a feature film” or “toured as a lead guitarist for two years”? For those of us in the creative arts industry, when “work” is hard to come by we have to rely on “gigs” until we finally get the “job” which is more commonly acceptable for creatives of a certain, younger age. The older you get, it’s frowned upon and friends and family demand that you “grow up” and get a “serious” job. 

Sometimes, a serious “job” can feed you and your family for years to come and create a secure future even unlike traditional work. A good album, residual royalties even regular touring and gigging as a musician can all provide in ways a 9-5 could never.-that’s the beauty of creativity. Unlike traditional work, creative work has a life-span that doesn’t always translate to lifelong financial security. During the length of time between work lapses, the issue of continuing education arises. Techniques change, laws change methods change, how is a creative expected to stay sharp without real-time work?

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That’s where we found Mr. Geoffrey Owens last week when a woman rather ironically named “Karma” photographed him at work at a New Jersey Trader Joe’s dutifully cashiering at the grocer. Fox News and the Daily Mail made a story of the sighting which has since caused both a firestorm of fierce backlash and a tsunami of support for Owens. Known as “Elvin” on The Cosby Show the brilliant actor played the role of the oldest daughter Sondra’s (Sabrina LeBeauf) husband.

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Since the Cosby Show, Owens has furthered his thespian work with appearances on numerous shows and films and various stints as a teacher/professor. As of last week, he’s also ringing up groceries! While much of the support for Owens says this don’t matter, I believe it does!

As a creative, we’re always working for or toward the next “job”. Paychecks and even the lack of paychecks are in no way indicative of our work prestige. The fact that Owens is at work at Trader Joe’s isn’t a problem, the thought that he couldn’t or even shouldn’t is.

Of all the conjecture surrounding the picture and report, no one has proof that he has to work at Trader Joe’s out of necessity. Even if he does “need” the job, when did gainful employment become news? Can you imagine that someone was wise and aware enough to know that a cum Laude graduate of Yale University who co-starred on one of America’s most remarkable sitcoms of the 80’s and most recognizable faces in television wouldn’t create enough of a stir to drive up consumer traffic and ultimately profits at the store? 

He could work in a corporate setting, use his resume to become a casting director, writing coach, acting coach or anything else he could imagine. Instead, he’s a darn good cashier today! We have seen actors don and doff weight, change their hair color, grow beards and much more for their next role. Whether Owens’ latest job is for a role or not isn’t important. What is important is the life lessons for creatives and non-creatives alike.

Life goes on, regardless of your dubious or famous past- what you do with it is up to you! Many of us creatives work “day” jobs and dream at night. For many of us still striving, this is our reality. So, the next time you see your favorite Instagram comedian tearing your ticket at the movies,your favorite blogger/vlogger ringing you up or the next social media celebrity bringing you food, don’t take a picture…take a selfie! The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately. You need to see us working hard! It’s grunt work, it’s dirty work and sometimes…it’s ugly work! Artists don’t have to starve and kudos to the men and women who are working to make sure that neither they nor their dream do! 

We are teachers, gigging musicians, stockers, hairdressers, seamstresses, event planners, executive assistants, receptionists and transcend what the current job title insists. Regardless of the job, creatives like Geoffrey Owens will never be out of work!

-Fred

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