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.

Generic Job Post Seeks Unenthused Applicant

I graduated last year. It sounds better to say it that way, as opposed to, “I graduated a year ago,” or “I graduated almost a year and a half ago” or “I’ve been unemployed for the past two months and the four months before that.” Yeaaahhhhh.

So, I apply for jobs. And paid internships. And unpaid internships that offer transportation stipends. And unpaid internships that don’t offer transportation stipends.

After reading so many job listings, I began to notice a pattern. There is basically one template of stock phrases that employers recycle into a nebulous description of human behavior.

Let’s crack the code!

“Looking for someone with 3-5 years’ experience… “

How did this become the standard line? If I add up my work experience, beginning as a babysitter at age thirteen, I have almost a decade of experience. Does that count?  What if I have two years and ten months of experience, but I promise to remember birthdays and bring in cupcakes?

“Interested in a fast-paced work environment…”

Most likely “fast-paced” is lie, a pathetic ploy to suggest that the work they do is exciting. It is not.

On the other hand, if true, “fast-paced” secretly means: “You will work late every day.  Your boss will be a Ritalin-addicted megalomaniac. Watch your back, your co-workers are already plotting your demise.”

A clock ticks loudly in the background. Two minutes ‘til the staff meeting and your memo is stuck in the hot plastic depths of this ancient printer! You plunge youry hands into the dark teeth of the machine, desperately tugging at the crumpled folds of paper. Your sleeve catches! The lights on the dashboard of the beast flicker and smoke pours of its orifices! You scream, but no can hear you through the thick walls of the conference room.  As you struggle, you swear you can hear the loud “click click click” of Deborah from Accounting’s whore-high heels.

“With a strong interest in our company’s work…”

What “work” is that exactly? Your website is chockfull of jargon about “client-based consultation” and “seamless transition management.” Writing a cover letter will take three hours of aimless research about “project management for network allies.” Even with this research, the paragraph that I cobble together sounds so vague that my bullshit is audible.

“A team player…”

Group work sucks.

We will either get along and half-ass the project while bar hopping OR we will hate each other and begrudgingly complete our work while complaining on Twitter that “My coworkers are lazy idiots #whydoihavetodoeverythingmyself.”

“Familiar with X, Y, and Z software….”

Nada. I could take a class, but what if I get a job after it starts? An imaginary future problem is a reasonable excuse to not take a class and continue being ignorant.

I could teach myself, but that seems like a lot of work. Note to self: Do not describe self as “self-starter” or “highly motivated.”



Translation: You will be working alone in a dusty cubicle by an abandoned elevator shaft. Rumor has it that someone died there. You will not get invited to birthday lunches. All of the fun projects will go to the summer intern. The one time that someone gets lost and wanders by, you will be flailing like an idiot, trying to turn the motion-activated lights back on.

“Ability to multi-task…”

Of course I can multitask! While I’m tailoring my resume to this position, I’m also watching an episode of Hoarders, shopping for cankle-sliming shoes, and checking my facebook like an overconfident middle-schooler scouring the cast list of Footloose Jr for their name.

“Please list your salary requirements…”

You already know what you want to pay someone! Why are you doing this to meeeeee?

I have researched comparable pay-rates and would accept a starting salary between $30,000 and $35,000.

I will accept anything between minimum wage and $1,000,000,000.

Will work for expired granola bars.

“Due to overwhelming response, only qualified candidates will be contacted. No phone calls.”

What an uplifting finale! I will proceed to check my email five thousand times a day for the following two weeks.  No emails will arrive and the hope that has been allowed to grow in those two weeks will be squashed like underwear at the bottom of a suitcase.


All of the things employers say and what they actually mean.

Obviously, since I don’t have a job, I can’t end this post with job hunting advice, but…good luck out there…unless you’re applying for the same jobs as me…oh, you have a job?…where?…are they hiring?