OK, “saved my life” is a bit hyperbolic. But it definitely gave me some rejuvenation in an otherwise stagnant cycle of stress that perpetuated an ever flowing stream of second guesses in my career. Truth was, I just need a little bit of past to push me into my future.
Boy oh BOY do we have a lot to catch up. But instead of killing myself trying write the perfect first post of 2015, I’m just going to go ahead and write about what I’ve been thinking about a lot.
2014 was quite the year of internal positive change. 32 is right around the corner and what they say is true:
“Every time you give one less fuck, an angel gets it’s wings.”
I’ve never been one to chase the past, I have continuously planted one leg in the present and one leg in the future, to a fault. These past few months, I did something so unheard of, so retro, so OMG #tbt….I….got a part time job in retail for the holidays.
Grad school is winding down (one more year!), tuition is going up, rent is going up, bills going up. Salary? Staying exactly the same. So, between working a demanding full time job, going to grad school, maintaining a healthy loving relationship, I then got a part time job to fill in the gaps. So from October to the end of December, I worked 7 days a week (I had Thanksgiving and Christmas Day off). I’m not going to lie, it beat the crap out of me. So much so, I’m now on a twice a week regimen for the chiropractor. Oh, and I lost 40lbs. But that post is coming later. As I approach my third and final year of grad school, and my 4th year in my ‘big girl’ career, I found myself exhausted and afraid to admit: what if this isn’t the right career for me? Hardly a philosopher’s dilemma, but as my body and mind grew weary it was hard not to wonder if this huge investment of time, money and energy was all worth it. Spoiler Alert: It totally is.
A little history: I started my career in retail, did about 10 years of it, then took a leap of faith and landed in education. I love where I am, and I owe a lot of my skills and ability to the years of retail. Patience, empathy, reading people, developing a thick skin, multitasking, physical stamina, personal goal setting, organization etc. All perfectly honed during my retail years.
But a lot of important things are left behind once you fold that final shirt and punch out for the last time. And that is what I’m here to reflect on. It made me remember the great parts (and shitty parts) of working in retail when I was younger, and how that all applies to my life now and what I take for granted. Reflecting on my past has never been a favorite of mine, but this second job helped me make some important connections.
1. It was really nice to bitch to someone who has the exact same job as I do, to share the empathy, the frustration and the giggles. In my full time (FT) position, I’m the only person in my department with my job title and responsibilities. While my FT co-workers are forever generous with their ears, it was really nice to work with a bunch of other people who know the struggle first hand. We were all the same, where break rooms and lockers are a sacred place.
2. A new appreciation for product and what it represents. One, learning about the products and what makes them so special, is something I’ve always enjoyed. Second, I heard all sorts of stories about why people were buying certain items. I helped a couple pick out a gift for the mother of a newborn child they were about to adopt. I helped a gentleman buy his terminally ill girlfriend an item because she always wanted this item but could never afford it. I picked out many pieces for nervous boyfriends buying something for their new girlfriends. I helped a gay couple who were celebrating finally being able to marry in their home state (the list of touching stories goes on and on). Sure, not every sale had such profound meaning. But the ones that did, I will forever remember their names, faces and their story. It made me less cynical. That people still care about what and why they buy certain things. It also reminded me that people are carrying around these moments and situations and we often times forget that people have a lot going on that we never stop to think about.
3. You can truly judge a persons character by what they do when they think no one is looking. Like, the way you treat a sales professional. Thankfully, it wasn’t often but, if you are this nasty to a complete stranger who has offered you nothing but smiles and a gracious attitude, I do not want to know what lurks deep inside. And like previously stated in Number 2, they have some shit going on that you’re not even aware of. No, of course it’s not fair for them to take it out on you – that’s their issue, not yours. But it’s important to remember that in any industry, just because you’re at work doesn’t mean you’re immune to someone’s outside emotional baggage. That shit still bothers me and I would get so bent out of shape when I got into it with faculty member (for example), someone I’ve built a relationship with over time. But remembering that perfect strangers can be dicks for no good reason, made me appreciate how thick my skin has gotten over the years.
4. Everyone will try and Pretty Woman you. Big mistake. Huge. I worked at a higher end shop, but not everyone customer treats it as so. I’ve never been one to dismiss a customer based on appearances, your dollar is just as green as the next persons. If you’re looking for some fantasy vengeance, you won’t find it here. We are professionals. It takes a certain level of poise and graciousness to not take the bait of someone who is looking to just shit all over you (see number 3). This is a particularly important professional trait to work on, especially in my FT job – If I had a nickel for every time I was selected by someone who was just looking for a fight or for someone to yell at, I’d have like, four bucks.
5. It made me remember that my professional appearance matters, especially when having to follow dress code. And I loved it. It gave me a reason to revamp my wardrobe. As stated earlier, I did lose 40lbs, but I had some weird insecurity shit to get over (talk about that in a later post) and I wasn’t ready to try on new clothes. Fitting rooms and I do not bode well together. But, having a strict professional dress code forced me into getting the f*** over it. I never set foot in a fitting room, but I did buy everything online and lucked out every time. Now I have an array of tailored and polished dresses and suits (in smaller sizes!) and I feeling fan-fugg’n-tastic (Thanks, Ann Taylor). I also took it a step further, keep my manicure game tight, get my hair done, wear clean make up. All of this transferred over to my FT job, which I will admit, gave me the freedom to slack off on my appearance a bit. Jeans, pony tail, sneakers, frumpy sweaters, roll into work with no make up. I dressed up when I had meetings or conferences, but most of the time I just wanted to be comfortable while I was stressing out all day and/or studying. But it’s amazing what a little effort can do to your confidence. My confidence, assertiveness and professional demeanor is the first thing customers see. And now, it’s the first thing students, parents and professors see. Being forced to step up my game had a great spill over effect for my full time career, and has already reaped some benefits!
6. I got more exercise. I sit at a desk 9-10 hours per day. Then I sit at a desk in class for 6-7 hours a week. Then I go home and sit at my desk and study for 10+ hours per week. With the exception of going to the gym and my morning commute, my daily life is fairly sedentary. Working on my feet for 10 hours per day two days a week, while tiresome at first, quickly gave me some of my stamina back. I had more energy after 10 hours of running around in heels (ok fine, 4 hours in heels, 6 hours in flats) than I did sitting down all day. A little more exercise, better posture did wonders for these weary bones.
7. Ain’t nothing like your retail friends. We have the same hours. We have the same gripes. We covet the same new items that just came in today’s shipment. We like alcohol, a lot of it. And I tell you, making friends over 30 is incredibly difficult. Working in retail is a fantastic opportunity to make friends (if you’re not an asshole). Well, you could say any new job is a great place to make new friends, but that isn’t really true. Working in retail takes a certain something that not everyone has. You need to be outgoing, you have to like people (or at least pretend), you have to love to talk AND listen, you have to know how to gossip AND accept that you’re being gossiped about and most importantly, you need a fantastic sense of humor. Most of the time, making new adult friends means you’ve met through mutual friends, you picked up a weird hobby and now you have a weird hobby circle of friends, or you kind of sort of hang out with Abby from accounting because she’s the closest in age and likes cats too. But there is no better feeling rolling into work and starting a conversation with ‘Girrrrl, did you see the new bags we just got!? Let’s get orange chicken for lunch – I HAVE to tell you about last night…’
8. Discounts. Let’s be real. This is a big deal. And as soon as everyone finds out, they wanna hit you up too. And everyone knows where their Christmas gift is coming from…
9. Immediate feedback and praise. Retail is one of the few industries that has a very quick input/output feedback system. If you have a huge sale, your manager is coming over to praise you. If you totally f***ed up, your manager is coming over to not praise you. Your customers are emailing the store and filling out surveys, you’re going to find out just how good you are REAL quick. And for someone like me who revels in criticism and high evaluations, this is my kind of tempo. It’s fast paced, thrown to the wolves, figure it out and self advocate kind of environment. Working in education, there is no surprise that things move at a glacial pace. We won’t know how great that program is until students graduate or a research study comes back in a few years. I will say, I am VERY lucky my FT job boss is amazing. She consistently thanks me and values my input – and I know how rare this is to have. I shall never take this for granted.
10. It made me appreciate the freedom in my career. There are a lot of fantastic things about the retail industry. But there are some things that are no comparison. Like having your own office, with a door. Not having to tell people when I’m leaving for a pee break. Running errands during the day. Making personal phone calls whenever. Consistent schedule. Just plain ole calling out sick, instead of having to beg another person to cover your shift. It’s the little things that I never have to think about, that all of sudden I had to remind myself to do. Remember punch clocks!? And inventory! And requesting days off a month in advance!?
All in all, working at this particular company is amazing. The managers are incredibly supportive, hands on and hold themselves accountable. I really cherish that. I love all the people I’ve met and working with them is fantastic. I do understand I lucked out, not every retail experience is similar to mine, but in this case having a part time job did a lot more for me than just help me with bills. It helped me tap into some old happy memories and get back to my “roots” so to speak. Definitely gave me a breath of fresh air for my full time job and appreciate everything I have. I mean, I know I hit the boss lottery when I started, and my story hasn’t changed. It was really nice to hit a reset button and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. Because I love it.