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12 People On The Judgments They Had To Deal With About Their “Embarrassing Jobs”

One of the worst things about New York — and probably many expensive cities I don’t have experience living in — is the rampant wealth inequality that’s obvious anywhere you turn. So many parts of this city are intended only for people with lots of money.

When I worked in a leasing office of a luxury building, I was exposed to so many people with so much more money than I had. Many were perfectly nice and courteous to me as I showed them apartments, and there’s nothing inherently evil about wanting to live in a luxury high-rise (and this was in Long Island City, Queens — a nice neighborhood, but certainly not the most expensive one you can find throughout the city). But there were also plenty of clients who gave off an extreme air of entitlement. More than once I had a person (usually a man, to be honest) yell at me over the phone because his lease application was denied — typically because of a bad credit score. These people usually thought their proven high incomes would make up for bad credit on their application, but at least in my building, that was never the case.

However, absolutely nothing I saw in that leasing office was as extreme as the entitlement my friends have borne witness to working in high-end restaurants and coffee shops in this city. I’ve had friends tell me they’ve been stiffed on $400+ checks, have had people send a dish back to the kitchen after having eaten 75% of it, and have even been told to their faces that they’re “not receiving a tip this evening.” But even worse have been the number of times guests ask them when they’re going to get a “real” job. So many people who’ve never worked in food service or retail or other industries only see those jobs as beneath them. They can’t seem to see them as anything but perhaps a stopover on the way to one’s actual career — which is hardly always the case, and a rude as hell assumption to make, in my opinion.

This weekend, I came across this Reddit thread that irked me for similar reasons. The original poster, atomictomato_x wrote the following about their experience at their side hustle:

Recently, I started a second job at a grocery store. I make decent money at my day job (49k+ but awesome benefits, largest employer besides the state in the area) but I have 100k in student loans and $1000 in credit cards I want gone. I was cashiering yesterday, and one of my coworkers came into my store, and into my line!

I know he came to my line to chat, as he looked incredibly surprised when I waved at him and said hello. As we were doing the normal chit chat of cashier and customer, he asked me, “Aren’t you embarrassed to be working here?” I was so taken aback by his rudeness, I just stumbled out a, “No, it gives me something to do.” and finished his transaction.

As I think about it though, no freaking way am I embarrassed. Other [than] my work, I only interact with people at the dog park (I moved here for my day job knowing no one). At the grocery, I can chat with all sorts of people. I work around 15 hours a week, mostly on weekends when I would be sitting at home anyways.

I make some extra money, and in the two months I’ve worked here, I’ve paid off $300 in debt, and paid for a car repair, cash. By the end of the year, I’ll have all [EDIT: credit card] debt paid off, and that’s with taking a week off at Christmas time.

Be proud of your progress guys. Don’t let others get in your head.

I’m glad the poster wasn’t at all embarrassed to be working at their side hustle — but I can’t believe how completely rude their coworker was. If you think someone should be embarrassed about what they do to earn money — no matter whether it’s their side hustle or full-time gig — it’s time to take a good, long look in the mirror and figure out what deep-seeded issues are making you feel that way.

The rest of the thread is filled with others’ similar experiences working “embarrassing” jobs, which I found both informative and cathartic to read. Here are some of the best responses I came across — be sure to check out the full post and its responses here.

1. “Speaking as someone that started at the ‘bottom’ (1st job was a bagger when I was 15) and now I’m a doctor, I’ve noticed a lot of interesting social phenomenon. I actually don’t like the term ‘bottom of the food chain,’ so I’m gonna say ‘the first stepping stone of my journey to getting the career that I always wanted.’

“Back when I worked the retail gigs (this was to pay for my SAT, college applications, and to pay for living expenses…my parents didn’t help me with school) I noticed that a lot of people would be incredibly rude to me. I would constantly be put down as ‘just’ a cashier when someone didn’t ring up right, or ‘just a stupid girl working retail’ when I wouldn’t let a customer use a photocopy of an expired coupon. It was even weirder when I worked as a tech at a doctor’s office…people would treat me like ABSOLUTE GARBAGE, screaming at me about their insurance (which half the time, they didn’t know anything about it and I’m just the messenger), being rude beyond belief…then the second the doctor walks in the door ‘Oh hi doctor! It’s so great to see you!’ (PS if you are one of these people and I overhear you yelling and cursing at my staff, I take great pleasure in confronting you and protecting my staff from abuse.)” – rougefleurette

2. “I worked a previous job at an engineering firm where the workload and skill sets between engineers and technicians overlapped a ton. Essentially the company was taking advantage of guys with 2 years degrees, or who worked their way up through their careers, trained them to do engineering work, and then paid them less because of their degrees.

“One day someone made the mistake of saying ‘just a technician’ and oh boy you could cut the tension with a knife. Guys who were every bit as capable and intelligent were looked down on because they didn’t have a 4-year formal education. Just because some didn’t, or wasn’t able to earn a college degree does not mean they are lesser people.” – Looppowered

3. “Reminds me of my story of my first job. 15 years old, get a job at a fast food burger joint, manager hands me a toothbrush on the first day and says we need someone to scrub the grout on the baseboards. Did the entire restaurant over about a week.

“I get one of two reactions from people. It’s either ‘wow, your restaurant must have been really clean.’ (It was, the owner was very particular about cleanliness.) Or it’s ‘wow, I would have walked out, I’d never do such menial work.’ If it’s the 2nd response, I generally know we’re probably not going to be great friends.

“I personally feel that I am not above any kind of honest and good work that needs to be done, and if I had to feed my family I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m thankful that I don’t, and really appreciate those who work their asses off making my life better.” – wildeflowers

4. “I work at a large chain grocery store, and people used to ask me when I’m going to get a real job. I always told them ‘I make more than I could if I went back to being a licensed electrician, way more than when I was an office manager, and I’m in management with a good future and really good benefits. If you work hard at even a crappy job, there’s always advancement opportunities.'” – Idgafin865

5. “College grad. Worked a day job at a school and realized I had too much debt so I picked up a job serving at a corporate restaurant. Would see friends and old high school people and get comments like this all the time. ‘Why are you working here if you have a degree?’ ‘When are you going to use your degree?’ etc. and could tell a lot of people look down on my choice. Was self conscious about it, but the looks on their faces when I moved out of a shitty town in Indiana, am now living in a luxury apartment in downtown Denver, working less than 35 hours a week, making over $55k, snowboarding whenever I want, traveling, eliminating my debt, and doing whatever the hell I want, all while working at a different location for the same restaurant is priceless. Most become envious. I made a different choice, don’t judge me.” – HoosierProud

6. “I make over six-figures but up until earlier this year, I still moonlighted as a bartender 10-20 hours/week. I loved the contrast of having a 9-5 job where I got to sit all day and another job where I was constantly running around talking to people. It helped me avoid the 9-5 drain that so many people get.

“People always assumed I was a student (I’m 25 but could pass as a college kid easily) because I was still working a ‘low-wage’ job. I felt no shame and honestly, my coworkers are some of the hardest working people I know. It was always funny to hear about my 9-5 coworkers complaining about mundane things while my restaurant friends are on their 4th straight cl-opening shift that week.” – chewabletomato

7. “When I worked at a grocery store, I did so for 5 years, through high school and into college. One of the rich kids came through my line and joked ‘Look, a lifer at Safeway Grocery.’ And laughed with his buddies who were also my high school people. (Notice I didn’t type ‘friends.’)” – Pavlovs_Doug

8. “My uncle owned a catering business. My mom worked for him. He had a job one summer in the middle of nowhere at this beautiful country estate. It was owned by a man who had started his own construction company. He did really well and every summer he’d host this huge blowout for his employees at his place. It was a 400+ head, steak and lobster, open bar type affair on the grounds of his beautiful country home.

“I was like 14 or 15 and working the butter pot (my job: unwrap stick after stick of butter, melt it, serve it up). A popular, but not mean-spirited, girl from my high school was there with her friends. Her dad worked for the company.

“‘Hi Godbois!’ she said, approaching me as I unloaded a cooler of butter from the van. We chit chatted as I hauled the butter to the kitchen, then she got a weird look. ‘Does your dad work for (construction company)?’ I said no, I was working for my uncle, who was catering the party. She kind of got a confused look on her face and wandered off after saying some half-hearted ‘ok, well see you later!’ or something.

“I talked about it later with my dad and that I was a little embarrassed that a girl from my school saw me and seemed embarrassed for me. He ran me through the logic that I was now $200 richer (for a day’s work, at 14/15), I was doing a job that needed to be done, I was helping people have a really good time, and that you should never, EVER be embarrassed if you’re doing good work for a fair wage, no matter what that work is. Plus, he said, I would have just spent the Saturday watching TV anyway.

“It’s stuck with me all these years. My dad had a lot of faults. But he was a really hard worker. I’m glad that he took the time out of his day to talk to me about it. I think about that conversation every so often and it makes me proud.” – godbois

9. “My husband is getting a Ph.D. and I have a master’s (imagine all the debt we have!!!). One of our jobs we do to help pay for his Ph.D. is bartending/catering for extra money. The things people say to us and how often they speak down to us is so sad. Someone asked my spouse, ‘What is your real job?’ For some of the staff we work with, this IS their full-time job. There is nothing wrong with what you do for a living (for the most part) and/or working extra to pay off debt! What’s wrong is looking down at someone for a job they do, or thinking a job is something to be embarrassed about. Keep up the hard work!!!” – kimberlycg14

10. “I started working at a grocery store in college when I was about your age (went to school on the GI bill) and my family gave me this same shit. Landed a management position there making more than I could make in my field in a little over 2 years. Now I make 50k plus benefits (401k, profit sharing, paid vacation, health insurance, etc) and I still get shit about “working in a grocery store”. ¯_(ツ)_/¯” – BroseppeVerdi

11. “This is how I feel being 23 and the assistant manager at a Walmart Subway. It’s not a glamorous job but I have to support myself while going to school full time so fuck it. The only time I ever feel bad is when you get that snobby customer that just reminds you somehow ‘they’re better than you.’ Fuck those people.” – SmellOfKokain

12. “I worked at Trader Joe’s after college for a number of years and there certainly was a social stigma to it. It was that stigma that made me feel shame rather than the actual work. It’s unfortunate because it was one of the most gratifying jobs I ever had, but I couldn’t help but feel that way.” – Twix_McFlurry

Image via Unsplash

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  • Lauren E

    The reddit r/personalfinance community is a great resource. 🙂

    I think that in the referenced example, a good way to handle these types of situations (if you feel safe doing so) is to turn it around on the person. Doesn’t always work out in real life, of course, but here’s an example situation:

    “Aren’t you embarrassed to be working at a grocery store?”
    “No, why would I be embarrassed?”
    “Because you have a real job!”
    “I actually have two real jobs.”
    “Yeah but this isn’t a *real* job.”
    “I’m sorry, I don’t understand, what do you mean?”

    Rinse and repeat. Hopefully by asking questions and forcing them to admit why they think a certain job is “less than”, they’ll realize how judgmental and rude they’re being (but we all know that some jerks are just true jerks deep down, so those are the toughest ones to deal with!).

  • Julia Schnell

    My favorite story from working in food service is the time I was hosting at a taco bar and a random guy grabbed me by the arm to pull me over to his table. He jabbed his finger in my face and said to his kid, “You need to do better in school so you don’t end up LIKE HER.” I didn’t say anything and walked away after freeing myself from his grasp, but thought, “You don’t want your kid to end up a graduate student with a full ride and a job to save up in case I also go to law school? OK DUDE.”

    But I also wish I had been less ashamed of working as a cook for a few years after undergrad. I’m so much more curious about/informed about wine after cooking at a wine bar, but couldn’t appreciate it at the time.

  • Lava Yuki

    The thing about doctors is utter nonsense. As a junior doctor, we have to take a lot of abuse from seniors, patients, nurses and other staff. Although there are a lot of friendly people as well, I am quite insulted and disappointed to see that anyone could possibly think doctors get 100% respect these days. Litigation is all over the place, and there is a huge pressure on doctors trying to balance doing everything they can for their patients with the risk involved among the stress of long hour and night shifts, endless jobs as well as not so nice people to deal with as hospitals already stress people out. I think those work 9-5 should be grateful to be able to even plan their day without some emergency cropping up and ruining dinner plans etc.

    • Anne-Marie

      I think the original reddit commenter was probably referring to patients and clients’ behaviour. I totally agree that doctors are under a huge amount of stress and are not always treated well by fellow staff or even all patients, but from this doctor’s experience, I’m assuming it’s that they’ve seen that clients/patients tend to be more polite to the physician than the “other” staff at clinics etc.

      And if having a 9-5 schedule ruined is such a deal breaker, medicine probably isn’t the right field for that person anyways :/

  • Allie Cleve

    I used to work at a tourist attraction selling green screen photos (not glamorous but the hours were really flexible which was perfect to fit around my master’s degree) and this woman came in with a Chanel bag- I’m a huge fan of designer bags so naturally I complimented her on it, she just looked me up and down and went “you’re going to have to work A LOT harder to be able to afford one of these”. Naturally, her husband then paid for the photo…

    • Holly Trantham

      Wow. I can’t believe the nerve of people :/