I’m not going to lie and say that I love retail. All the horror stories are true. Retail jobs are pretty awful, half the customers are crazy, and the pay is not nearly enough for the levels of stress that the work entails. I won’t pretend that retail is a dream come true. However, I would not give up my experiences in retail for the world. In High School, the only job I ever had was a brief stint as a Teacher’s Aide in a hebrew school classroom. I only spent my junior year and half my senior year doing this and the work was only an hour and a half a week. Even so, I hated it. The kids were wild, the material was uninteresting, and I was never entirely sure what my job duties were. Never, in my entire life, have I wanted to be a teacher. This experience only reinforced that sentiment.
Over the course of three years of college I held four completely different jobs. I think I’ve had my fair share of experience with retail work. My first job was working at a supermarket the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year. It was terrible. The people were miserable, there was little to no communication between employees and managers, and the customers were absolutely terrible. I saw the worst of humanity at that job and, in hindsight, I am so relieved that I got fired. Was that a fun experience? Not at all. I suffered an entire year of self-loathing and depression to cope with the shame. But I grew as a person, learned to respect myself, and found my inner strength. In the long run, anyway. You can’t grow without a little hardship and struggle. Even so. Fuck that place. The lesson of this story is to treat your cashiers and the people working under you with human decency. They are people with feelings too.
My second job came at the end of that summer through the first half of my senior year. I worked at a frozen yogurt place and this job was actually really fun. The store was small, so they often only had one person in the store for hours. If you were over 18 and it was a slow shift, there was a very high chance that you would be alone. Customers chose their own food and all you had to do was clean up after them and cash out their order. Employees got free frozen yogurt, ice cream, and water. We got to choose the pandora station that would be playing and we got to pick what movies would be on the television (within reason, of course). I was good friends with my coworkers, so many nights were just spent hanging out with whoever was working beside me. So many inside jokes. Oftentimes I would have an entire shift go by where all I did was clean the yogurt machines, read, do homework, write journal entries, watch tv, and occasionally small talk with a customer or two. It was so chill. I was crushed when the place closed down right before my final semester.
For my last semester, I started applying to any place I could think of. Nobody returned my calls or responded to my applications. So I started working for a family member doing some filing. The job is boring, but it pays well and I don’t have to spend much time dealing with people. It’s not at all challenging, but that also means it’s not stressful. I can sit and plug in my music and watch the hours tick by. The place is incredibly slow and boring, but a job is a job. Plus, sometimes you need some quiet time to get your thoughts in order and just to get away from the daily chaos of life.
About two months into my last semester, I finally got a response to one of my retail job applications. The movie theater I had applied to e-mailed me asking if I still wanted to work there and, if so, when I could come in for an interview. Despite being crazed with my last semester’s workload (on top of an internship), I took the job. Work is work. For a long time the job just stressed me out. I regretted saying yes when my few free hours were suddenly filled with work I just didn’t have time for. It constantly felt like everything was going to crash down at any moment. But I stuck with the job and I am now so grateful that I did. It’s taught me to work in a fast-paced environment, pick things up quickly, work tirelessly, and create snap bonds with my fellow employees. This job challenges me and is already changing me for the better. It’s stressful and overwhelming at times, but it’s also really fun. What can I say? I love movies. I would honestly be happy to stick with this job a little longer, but I know it’s time for me to step up and start taking jobs that are more relevant to my field. There’s only so much psychology you can learn in making popcorn. Also, I’m a klutz and I should probably get out before I manage to burn a limb off. I’ve already gotten some pretty nasty burns all over my hand and arms.
Working a retail job is honestly an experience that I would recommend for everyone. It’s not exactly a fun experience, but it’s a character building one. You get to make some cash, fill up your time doing something useful, add something to your resume, and also get some great life experience while you’re at it. Retail isn’t easy. Hell, I got fired from my first job. But it’s an ultimately rewarding experience. Even all the bad stuff (like the overwhelming anxiety, the nightmares, and the crazy customers) is worth it for the ultimate payoff. Plus, it’ll teach you to treat the people who serve on you with respect. Retail workers are people with feelings who are just trying to make a living. They are not robots designed to cater to your every whim and they are not idiots who couldn’t get a better job. You don’t know their story. I can say, from experience, that the stories of the people I’ve met through retail have been some of the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard. I survived college while balancing a social life, academic life, and work life. Pretty damn impressive, if I do say so myself. It was incredibly stressful, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat if given the chance. I wholeheartedly recommend it.