Retail and Shame and Excuses and Moving on

I read this article on The Billfold the other day. It was like looking in a mirror.

Between the inconsistent hours and the lack of good sleep schedule, I didn’t always make the best decisions. I didn’t bring in a good meal from home to work because I had an hour-long commute and a 30 minute break; instead I ran around down the block or the food court to get something to gulp down. I decided to surf the internet instead of writing a decent cover letter because there wasn’t enough time between then and when the bus came. I slept in later than usual because my body let me. I spent six or eight hours on my feet, so I treated myself. These were my rationalizations when I got next to nothing done on a day I had a midday shift or when I got the bare minimum of errands done—depositing a check, doing laundry—on a day off.

I’ve been working retail for about a year and a half. Been promoted, gotten a raise. Hated it, mostly. I’ve made myself indispensable and I get a strange and powerful sense of accomplishment from showing up, solving everyone’s problems, and taking care of business.

I am also not the most responsible person when it comes to money. I don’t say “no” to  invitations and I don’t have a policy of ordering the cheapest thing on the menu.

When you work a shitty job, when you feel bad about your job (when you feel bad about yourself because you’ve always tied self worth to external evidence of success like grades/jobs/salary/title/whatever), spending is a quick pick-me-up. Working at the mall means I am surrounded by potential highs. Pop into Loft and check out the clearance section. Starbucks is practically a necessity at this point. Do I get a thirty minute break today? I’ll be in line at Panera.

I know that it is stupid and wasteful. It is a luxury that I can only afford because I still live at home and don’t pay for things like insurance.

Then The Atlantic published an article by Joseph Williams, who used to work for Politico.

I identified with his feelings of “brainwashing”:

As the learning curve flattened, however, my past life faded over the horizon and I gave up looking for an on-ramp back to journalism. Starved for approval after so much rejection, I started to take a weird, internal pride in my crappy menial job, almost against my will.

I felt a thrill when Stretch gave me a high-five for taking an online order from a customer without screwing it up. I quietly exalted when I correctly diagnosed that a customer needed stability running shoes and not the neutral ones he wanted. I congratulated myself on my work ethic when, instead of taking an unpaid sick day, I pushed through a Saturday shift despite a wicked, can’t-breathe bronchial infection.

Why do I care so much about a dumb job where I’m constantly taken advantage of? Working overtime when I’m supposed to be part-time, making wayyyy too little for how much work I put in, being scheduled my entire birthday weekend even though my boss took off for a football game (not that I’m bitter). Apparently, I’m just that much of a people-pleaser.

I’m ashamed of my job. But I’m good at my job. I shouldn’t be ashamed of my job. It is a perfectly reasonable job. A lot of people work retail. And it is a very nice feeling to walk into work and have people say, “Thank god, you’re here!” But it’s not what I set out to do. It’s not what I want to do. I’m wasting my time. It is a shame that I haven’t fought harder to get out of this. I’m ashamed of myself.

I got comfortable. Comfortable and lazy.

Shame isn’t going to fill out job applications for me. Luckily, I’m not completely lost. I’m taking a class (that isn’t that useful and may be a waste of time but will force to create pieces for my portfolio). I’m doing an unpaid internship (story of my life) in my desired field. I’m not sure what to do next…but I’m trying to figure this shit out.

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