The Myth of the Essential Business

When our government arbitrarily declared most businesses “non-essential” and shut them down as part of the COVID-19 lockdown policy, it bothered me a lot. If you saw “The Little Prince” animated movie, you will understand why. In that movie, success was defined as being “essential” — if you’re not essential, you aren’t contributing to adult society. In our case, too, the government has declared that if you are not a first responder, grocery store worker, or another professional whose job is necessary to people’s survival, you aren’t needed and can be shut down. And as it appears on social media, many of the general public agree with that.

No doubt, first responders, shop workers, delivery drivers are all very important professions. But what kind of message are we sending to people of other professions — musicians, artists, interior decorators, actors, sports coaches, fashion designers, beauty professionals, cosmetic surgeons, everyone else whose businesses are now closed as “nonessential”? Worse yet, what kind of message are we sending our children?

The message we are sending is that only the “practical” jobs that deliver immediate tangible results are valuable. Only those professions that help people survive a crisis are essential. Creative and other “nonessential” professions have no place. There’s no value in doing something that makes you happy if it’s deemed “nonessential.” And worse yet, you can be frowned upon on social media and even forced to close down and driven to bankruptcy if your job doesn’t seem “practical” enough to the government.

By contrast, I tell my kids that any profession is valuable as long as it helps them support themselves and hopefully make good money. Want to be an artist? Sure, if you can sustain yourself and your family with your art. I tell my kids that they can go ahead and follow their passion (even if the passion sounds impractical) as long as they manage to monetize it or as long as they have another source of income. In fact, there are very few careers that are indeed useless. Most passions can be monetized with the right approach. Yes, a person should be self-sufficient in whatever career they choose and not rely on others to subsidize him while he is pursuing his dream. But it’s not right to judge whether someone’s job is essential. When we make those judgements, we are telling our kids to fit into society’s “image”of the perfect adult, the “essential” professional, even if that means abandoning their individuality. We tell them to stop finding value in the things that make them happy and instead be essential because only the essential jobs truly contribute to society. As we saw in “The Little Prince” movie, such approach sucks the life out of you. All jobs are important and it’s not up to us to judge. Success and value include more than just being essential. That’s the message we should send our children.