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Is Any Work Beneath You?


This afternoon, I decided to chill with Dr. Phil. The episode today was about people who need to get a job and move out.

In one case, the young couple were living with her parents after he’d been fired from his job as a prison guard–for smuggling drugs to inmates. Now he’s not working at all because with his record he can’t get a “good” job and he thinks that working at a minimum wage job is beneath him.

To begin with, one has to wonder if anything is really beneath him since it’s kind of his own fault that he got in this strait.

I understand someone holding out for a job they’re better qualified for when they have a financial cushion. When my dad lost his job about 10 years ago, he got a good severance package (1 year’s pay) and thus had time to look for another job. Fortunately, he worked hard on the job search and did find another position.

On the other hand, if you ran out of savings and couldn’t find a job in your field–would you consider some kind of work beneath you? (besides anything immoral, anyway–scamming and certain sex-related jobs and the like or being a hired killer…yeah, there’s a list but it doesn’t include McDonald’s.)

Dr. Phil tried to convince this guy that making $7 or $8 an hour is better than making $0 an hour.

Thoughts about work:

  • Any job gives you a chance to practice personal development. You may have heard the story of the Three Stonecutters. You may not be able to be the one who says that he’s building a cathedral, but maybe you can say “I am a stone cutter and I am cutting stones to earn money to support my family.” It’s a start.
  • Any job that pays money, well, pays money. Simplistic, but something is better than nothing.
  • Having a job is psychologically comforting–not working can take a heavy toll on one’s psyche.
  • Superiority or inferiority has much more to do with how you treat people than what you do. There have been some leaders of entire nations who were also, well, Hitler or Stalin or Amin. And I’ve worked under really great people as cleaning staff.

It may be impossible to live and support people on minimum wage. But you have to start somewhere. I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that a certain job is beneath you.

photo by pineapplexvi

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Should You Take a Low-Paying Job?
January 22, 2009 at 7:01 am

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynnae @ January 18, 2008 at 12:08 am

I’ll comment, since we just went through this. I agree with you. If you have a nice financial cushion and can afford to wait for the perfect job, by all means hold out for a good job.

On the other hand, if you don’t have much in savings, you need to do what it takes. When my husband lost his job, he worked two part time jobs. One of them was doing janitorial work on the night shift. Not only did his “menial” jobs keep the bills paid, he gained a lot of respect from people, because what he did showed character and determination. And that can only help when you’re looking for a better job.

I watched Dr. Phil today, too. That couple was something else, weren’t they?

Early Retirement Extreme January 18, 2008 at 12:52 am

Well given my fortunate circumstances there are a lot of jobs that I would not take, but I would not say they are beneath me. However, previously, I have done a lot of different things. I really dislike the attitude of some degreed individuals when they won’t take a cleaning job or a burger flipping job because they think they are too good with their fancy degrees.

Money Management and You January 18, 2008 at 1:43 am

I cant speak for the individual in the article, but I do think that jobs are beneath me. If I can place a monetary value on my time (based on skills, experiences, connections etc.) and the job is less then that value, I will likely avoid it. This is because I know that my time is worth more then what they are offering, I should also be confident that I can convince an employer that my time is worth that much. There is however an exception I will purposely work for less money if I’m going to be gaining valuable experience and developing connections that I will use later on in my career.

RacerX January 18, 2008 at 2:20 am

That is really just an entitlment mindset.

Play out you job serch, by all means, but don’t punish your family for your issues!

dawn January 18, 2008 at 3:30 am

I know this is probably very old school thinking, but when I was a kid my mom taught us to view everyone as spokes on a wheel. And it takes all the spokes working together to make the wheel function properly. I also tried to teach my sons that there is dignity in all jobs, if the person working that job does it to the best of his/or her abilities. Heck…I think some of the most underpaid jobs in America contribute the most to society: teachers, daycare providers, nurses, garbage men, etc.
I personally, just don’t believe any job is below anybody, especially if they have people depending on them!

Mike S January 18, 2008 at 7:40 am

No job is beneath me (at least none that I can think of). It’s all about $$. I think I would perform just about any job if the money made it worthwhile, assuming no conflicts w/ personal integrity (I would not rip people off to make a buck).

Minimum Wage January 18, 2008 at 8:23 am

I’m quick to take a job that pays money, but then I always end up hating and resenting that job, and kicking myself for having taken it.

There are books on “underearning” which say you should not take a job that doesn’t pay enough, and I always take the job that doesn’t pay enough, then I complain about not earning enough.

Curtis January 18, 2008 at 8:45 am

When I left my first job to move closer to home, I moved in with my parents for a few months while I got settled. I didn’t have a job, but had several interviews lined up.

Three days after moving was the 9/11 attacks and the companies I was interviewing with decided they weren’t going to hire anyone. I found temp work for a while stocking shelves at a new Sears store and shoveling dry ice at a distributor.

However, if you ever tried to apply for a job in retail and fill out on the application that you have a BS in Engineering Management with 4 years of corporate procurement experience, you don’t get many call backs!

So, it’s not always that a job is beneath you, many times the employer feels you are above the job too!

Valerie January 18, 2008 at 10:14 am

That guy reminded me of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. Cousin Eddie had been unemployed for five years – he’s holding out for a management position.

guinness416 January 18, 2008 at 12:55 pm

I’ve done some fairly nasty jobs, worked nights, etc and would probably do so again if necessary. But a sudden change in job situation can absolutely be stressful, and I don’t think that should be trivialized.

My husband has been bartending since getting laid off from his IT job six months ago and finds it pretty stressful even though we’re not “my job defines me” kind of people. It could be a whole lot worse and he certainly doesn’t find it beneath him. But he is worried about getting enough hours to make it worthwhile, being able to support me should I ever get laid off or quit, getting back into his chosen profession in a timely fashion, the limited freedom and bnefits that comes with service work, and so on. Cash is of course cash but I don’t think those feelings should necessarily be glossed over with “pull your socks up!” rhetoric.

Lauren January 18, 2008 at 1:32 pm

I currently have a job and most of a college degree (so close!) and recently when I decided to move up my time table for savings/debt elimination/going back to school, I gladly took a job at a grocery store cashiering.

I wouldn’t say it was beneath me – but I was very humbled by the experience. I didn’t last long because it WAS stressful. It WAS frustrating to be treated like an imbecile when I had more education and common sense that most people in there, even the ones supervising me.

It takes a humble person to work in those kinds of jobs. Maybe he needs to eat some of it.

(I got a much better part time job in a low stress environment that didn’t require much in the way of requirements – they do exist, you just have to look)

paidtwice January 18, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Okay first off, that guy in the article sounds like a wackadoo.

I don’t think jobs are beneath me, and neither does my spouse. But – at the same time, finding an appropriate job can be a full-time job (hours wise) in itself. My spouse was laid off several years ago when the company he worked for went bankrupt. It took him 5 1/2 months to find another position in his field, and that was with 10 hour days of searching and calling and sending resumes etc etc. I supported that, even though it wasn’t wonderful for our finances, because I knew the reward at the end would be worth the struggle then, and I still believe that. If he had been working at a low-paying job during that time not only would he not have had as much time to network and search and ultimately find a job (his field is VERY competitive) he would probably have been making barely more than he was getting in unemployment.

Often there are more sides of the story than one.

SavingDiva January 18, 2008 at 2:09 pm

I think that I would just take a minimum wage job for something to do! There are only so many hours of TV that a person can watch. If I’m making minimum wage, then I’ll be on the look-out for a better paying job. I would much rather have a little bit of money coming in than none…also, I look at the rough jobs as character building experiences.

Looby January 18, 2008 at 3:30 pm

Like Curtis I found it hard to get hired for a low paying job with my qualificaions on my resume. I did work retail for a year after finishing my masters because I couldn’t find any jobs in my field. It was humbling as Lauren says and you are generally treated very poorly by supervisors and customers alike. Someone else from my masters class refused to take any store/waitressing jobs and lived off credit cards and family loans for over 6 months. She always asked me how my “little job” was while saying she couldn’t possibly bring herself to go back to those kinds of jobs. This did nothing for my self esteem but at least I didn’t rack up any debt while looking for my current job.

Ron@TheWisdomJournal January 18, 2008 at 4:54 pm

“Beneath me” is a phrase I wouldn’t use. There are some that I wouldn’t do simply because there are always other alternatives. Given the choice between driving a forklift in a warehouse and digging ditches for the same amount of pay, give me the keys. (I’ve done both BTW)

deepali January 18, 2008 at 5:11 pm

So I’m likely to upset someone with this, but I’m going to say it anyway. Only in America do you find people who think a paying job is “beneath them”.

If you need a job, you need a job. Suck it up and take the minimum wage, and be thankful you at least have that option.

I can understand that you choose not to take a job because you’ve got something better to do with your time (ie, try and find another job), but those tend to be the rarer exceptions. Most people can hold down the minimum-wage job while looking for something better.

mrsmicah January 18, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Interesting point, deepali. At the same time, while I think Americans are much more likely on the whole to have an entitlement attitude, I’d say that aristocrats anywhere or upper class/caste people are also likely to behave the same. It’s just more people here consider themselves “above” things…

FourPillars January 18, 2008 at 6:58 pm

I would definitely work for minimum wage if I had to. I wouldn’t like it but I would do it.

Deepali – if you think that only happens in America then you need to come to visit Canada!!


Toxic Money January 18, 2008 at 9:08 pm

And living off of someone isn’t beneath him??? Please! Even $5/hour is better than $0/hour. Besides, his previous job doesn’t sound glamorous, either. It’s not like he’s a doctor!? He’s lucky that he didn’t marry my daughter.. he’d be on the street long time ago!

CatherineL January 18, 2008 at 9:26 pm

Hi Mrs M – This guy sounds like a lazy tike. He was probably making so much from selling drugs that he thinks most jobs are low paying.

When I was younger and needed work, I took just about any kind of work to keep money coming in, and this was not always a smart move.

But, it doesn’t sound like this guy has a lot of choice. He’s lucky he’s not in prison himself.

I wonder if he realises the dangers he was putting other guards and prisoners in by supplying inmates with drugs?

vh January 19, 2008 at 1:11 am

OMG, don’t get me started.

I have this admin secretary…make that “had,” because she at last announced she’s quitting. This woman thinks it’s an embarrassment to have an honest job: she imagines that being a secretary is so far below her royal self that she demanded I change her title on our Web site. Then she humiliated one of our young asst. editors when he introduced her to a client as the office’s secretary, ordering him, in public, never to call her a “secretary” again.

When I suggested to her that a secretarial job is honest work, she actually yelped, “No, it’s not!” Like, maybe part of the job description is ferrying dope to the inmates?

Last week I learned she has been telling people she’s the director of our unit…that happens to be my job.

As a state employee, she’s almost impossible to fire. We were in the process of RIFing the position, just to get rid of her, when she finally did us the favor of resigning.

I used to believe there’s no such thing as “overqualified”–that if you want a job and you need a job, you’re qualified, even if you DO have two master’s degrees. But after this long-drawn-out (three interminable years!!!) and miserable adventure, I’ve had to reconsider that opinion. I don’t think I’d ever hire anyone whose experience and training might give even the vaguest cause for that person to consider the job “beneath” her or him.

PM January 19, 2008 at 4:26 pm

After I graduated college with a B.A. I discovered that it’s very difficult to get a low-paying job because I was over-quailified. People expected me to instantly find a good higher-income job. I was willing to work because I needed money, I just couldn’t find anyone willing to hire me. That being said, I did manage to find work at an inn doing cleaning and waitressing. The same perseverance that took me through college got me through cleaning toilets. I even started selling holiday crafts at local craft shows for a friend. I now have a salaried job with my own staff 4 years after graduating. I still sell crafts, not for the glory but because it gives me extra money. Debt doesn’t care where the money comes from as long as you pay every month.
While waitressing, there were this party that I was serving that struck up small talk with me. After learning I was a recent college grad, a man a the table that actually told me I was a disgrace for stooping to do work at a restraunt with a college degree and several other insulting things. I went home crying that night. The point is that part of American society does think that some jobs are beneath certain people. While I happen to be terrible at waitressing, I would do it again if I needed the money that badly. Even a low paying job is better than no job. I don’t know what that guy’s problem was, but I do know that I paid my rent on time every month regardless of the work I had to do. Perhaps he was the ex-prisonguard that Dr. Phil interviewed.

Living Off Dividends January 20, 2008 at 7:44 am

looks like some people are too dignified to earn an honest living, but still mind sponging off their old relatives.

on the flip side I know someone who’s worth 50 times more than my mom, but is uneducated and works as her chauffeur! there’s always dignity in labor.

deepali January 20, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Mike – Don’t ruin my good impression of Canadians! 🙂 But I think it’s a symptom of prosperity – you don’t see that attitude in my parents’ homelands, for the most part, except perhaps among the very elite.

Mrs. Micah – I think the difference is that in America, entitlement isn’t limited to class. In other countries, I think it’s growing in the “consumer” classes, but isn’t anywhere near what you see here.

I blame TV commercials. 🙂

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