Is Ego or Meaning Driving Your Life?

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” –Thomas A. Edison

Actor Geoffrey Owens Becomes a Victim of Job-Shaming

Geoffrey Owens was an actor on the Bill Cosby Show many years ago for 44 episodes. After the conviction of Cosby his television reruns had been canceled. That left Geoffrey with no source of income. He found work at a Trader Joe’s. He enjoyed his job and was proud of it. A Trader Joe’s customer recognized the notable actor and took a photo of him working. The picture went viral and some media outlets job-shamed him.

Job Shaming Epidemic

It was shocking to me that some media outlets chose to shame Geoffrey and treat him as a loser, or a fall from grace, who was working at a mere Trader Joe’s. This reminds me of the time my family and I dined at Seasons 52.

A beautiful young woman was serving us when I asked her, “How long have you been a server here?”

She immediately ranted loudly, “I am not just a server. I am a skilled cellist.”

I said, “How dare you say you are not just a server. These servers have dignity, pride, and skills. You act superior and demeaning to them when you say I am not just a server.”

She and I had a long discussion that day and became life-long friends.

Emily’s life changing story

A friend of mine and I were students of a Taoist monk years ago. My friend was wealthy, very intelligent, attractive, and quite miserable. Emily had immersed herself in misery and unhappiness. She wanted a big job, to be successful, and to be well known. None of these goals had been realized, and her frustration and anxiety grew daily. Her misery, anger, and frustration reached epic proportions. She decided to make an appointment to seek the guidance and wisdom of our Taoist monk teacher. Emily met with the monk alone. She told me she was going to ask the monk how to get rid of her misery so she could realize her full potential of great success.

I knew her appointment was at 1 pm that day but never heard from her the entire day. The next morning Emily was pounding on our doorbell. She rushed past me and sat down at our kitchen counter. Than she said, “Kathleen, I am so angry I can hardly talk. I could not sleep last night.”

I asked, “Did you see the teacher yesterday?”

Emily said, “Yes and that is why I am freaking out. I told him my problems, what I wanted, and how I did not understand why my dream job, boyfriend, and success was not here yet. I asked him what I could do to find happiness and success since everything I tried had not worked.”

The simple monk suggested, “Emily, you are not going to like what I believe you should do to learn about yourself and happiness, but I am going to tell you anyway. I want you to go down the street and get a job at McDonald’s where you will wear a uniform, work with common people, and serve customers.”

She said, “I sat in shock, silence, and then laughed out loud.” She looked at the monk and said, “You are kidding me. This is a joke. Me, working at a McDonald’s with those kinds of people. Not on your life.”

The monk stood up, smiled, bowed, and sauntered back to his small, simple office. Emily said she sat there for an hour, drove home, and could not sleep.

I burst out laughing. I told her I agreed completely with the monk.

Her face turned bright red, and she screamed, “What? What do you mean?”

I told her part of her life challenge is that she had spent her entire life insulating herself from the regular world of working people. She saw taking a job at McDonald’s as a slap in her face, demeaning, beneath her. I said, “I’d love to work at McDonald’s. I can’t imagine what I’d learn about myself, my McDonald’s coworkers, and the customers. It would be like going back to school.”

I begged her to consider what the monk advised her to do for her own personal growth and eventual happiness. She refused. Weeks later Emily moved to California, bought a gorgeous home, and struggled with her misery for many years.

A Fall From Ego or The Rise to Meaning

I was raised in a culture where all work is respected, sacred, and has meaning. My family had Hall’s Dairy, and they all worked from 3 am until 5 pm each day. Everyone in the county knew my family, and we were respected for our hard work, dignity and a sense of community responsibility. Work gave us meaning and purpose.

Work is more than a way to make a living. We are co-creators in the world. We co-create with the Creator, with our coworkers, and with our family. Work is a place for personal growth and it gives us the opportunity to develop our talents, live our morals and values, and work through our mental and physical challenges in life. Work helps us challenge our negative emotions such as anger, fear, jealousy, and hate. Also work gifts us with the growth of positive emotions such as love, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, kindness, and hope.

As we change careers or jobs in our lives, we have the option of perceiving the change as a fall from ego or the rise to meaningful work. When we are ego-driven, our title, power, and the amount of our paycheck determine our happiness and success. Our ego grows as we identify more with the external trappings of our perceived work status.

As we change careers, we can live life with more joy and less pressure if we experience our work as a source of meaning and purpose in our lives. I left a career as a money manager with a big title, large salary, and even larger ego. What seemed like a fall from grace at the time later transformed into my authentic life of meaning that I was meant to live. Experiencing meaning in your work leads to a fulfilling life.

Discovering An Authentic Work Community

Ego-driven work never allows us to experience an authentic, intimate community. Relationships in ego-driven work are fragile because everyone has to be careful not to damage another person’s ego.  Meaningful work allows each of us to be our authentic self, discover our calling, and experience happiness and real success in our lives.  Holy work makes one whole.