How My Experience in Retail Helped Prep Me For Blogging Life (& All Life)

Posted July 20, 2020 by Amber in Bookish Things / 4 Comments

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Boy oh boy am I glad I no longer work in customer service.  It is the least rewarding, most personally harmful job I’ve ever had, and I carry the damage from that job with me still, six years after getting out of the industry.  To all y’all who work in any aspect of the service industry – I love you, I appreciate you, and hang in there!

As miserable as I was working retail, I still try to find silver linings.  I started in retail when I was eighteen because I needed money for college… and I got stuck there after graduation because my major was unimpressive to employers (I have a B.A. in History) and because I interview poorly.  And, who knows, I may just be a rubbish worker only destined for retail?  That’s how I felt for years, anyway.  I would like to reiterate that if you work in retail and you hate it, there is an escape!

If you work in retail and love it… well, more power to you.  One of my best friends still works in retail, and he seems to love it.  I really don’t understand?  But I’m happy for him… I guess?

Anyway.

Working in a customer service industry teaches you a few things about humanity, communication, and patience.  I’ve been able to repackage these lessons and take them with me later in life, and despite the anxiety I get just thinking about my old job, I am grateful for those life lessons.

Working in retail taught me, in bright colors, that the world is made up of all sorts of people.  My third year working retail, I used to keep a journal of the three best and three worst people of my work week.  It was therapeutic at the time, and I’m glad I did it, because it helped me see both sides of the world in a time where it always felt like the world was falling apart around me.

I did this for an entire summer and ended up with little things – like customer orders I looked forward to every year – that I still remember and made me smile.  Humans are capable of small, seemingly insignificant, and very important kindnesses.  There are a lot of the worst kind of people – people who threaten assault because of a price.  People who demean you because of your age, gender, race, job, etc..  People who blatantly say horrible, dehumanizing things that make you physically sick.  Those are the people who stick out the most.  I try and make myself remember that there are good people too.

In the course of six years, I cannot tell you how many times there were days where I wondered if life was worth living.  And then, in the course of my job, a stranger would do or say something so kind and unexpected that it would take all my self-control to not cry, and suddenly, it would feel like I could go on another day.

A stranger.  Strangers at my job would give me hope for humanity.  My job that also seemed to show me the worst of the world, often also showed me some of the best.  I also think that says a lot about my friends and family, but that’s another thing.

In this way, retail taught me that there are a lot of bad apples out there.  But among them, there are good people, trying to do their best.  There are people whose lives you will touch even though you aren’t doing anything special.  Because I remember the little things that people did for me in those darkest of my days, I try to apply those lessons to my every day life, and that includes my participation in the community.  Simply put:

Be kind.

It’s such a small thing, and it is so, so difficult for most people.  Remembering to smile and believe there is good in the world.  To treat everyone with dignity and respect.  To listen.

And from all those who struggled with kindness, retail taught me patience and forgiveness.

Sometimes, this needs to be patience with others.  Many times, this is patience with myself.  Everyone has a different journey in life.  Some will sprint, while others will take a leisurely stroll.  Some people have huge followings that grow overnight, while others have small, cozy followings.  Patience has served me so well in many parts of life.  I try to be positive and patient with others, but I am terrible about giving myself that time and space.  I get upset when things aren’t going according to my plan.  It makes me want to give up, quit, curl up in bed and say goodbye to the world.

But I can’t do that and I shouldn’t do that, and look!  Three years of grit and sweat and tears later, here we are.

Finally, one of the biggest things I learned in retail is how to be a better communicator.  This has served me not only as a member of this community, but in life in general.  It speaks a lot to my own sense of entitlement that I need to remind myself to take a deep breath and listen.  It’s so easy, so tempting, to get defensive.  To fight back.  But most the time, I’m ignorant.  I’m identifying the incorrect problem.  Learning to read through the discussion on Twitter, to consider both sides of a conversation?  That has given me so many opportunities to be a better human.

And part of that is just growing up.  Getting wiser.  Learning that the world doesn’t revolve around me and how selfish that view is.  Still, it’s a skill I’ve transferred to other parts of life, and I hope it has made me more thoughtful and more open to new lessons and experiences.

I’m not perfect – and I have so much still left in this life to learn.  I am so inherently flawed as a person and my ignorance hurts many people every day.  But I hope, I hope, I can continue applying these lessons in my life, and right here in the community.  And hopefully I will continue to grow and be a better blogger and friend.

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Have you learned lessons at a bad job that still made you a better person?  Have you ever needed to apply those lessons here in the community?  I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

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4 responses to “How My Experience in Retail Helped Prep Me For Blogging Life (& All Life)

  1. I agree so much with you on this whole post. I have also been working off and on in retail for about six years (the off parts were when I was in school because I had no way to get there) and I am still currently working at my retail job now. It’s so stressful at times, I’ve had a customer cause me a full-blown panic attack that made me cry and shake with anxiety, but I also remember that while helping a customer during that panic attack, they slid me one of the ring pops that they were purchasing for me. It was a wonderful silver lining to that story and the part of that day that I remember the most. It’s the nicer customers that I tend to keep in my mind most because they left such a good mark on me, but I won’t forget the rude ones either because I can still learn from those experiences too.

    I sometimes think that because I’ve been over a year out of school and still in retail that it’s all I have for my future, but I know there is going to be a different career opportunity coming to me soon. I can feel it. All I can do now is continue to work my best at my job. I luckily have really great co-workers so it makes going to work easier and sharing those difficult customer stories nicer, you have someone there to fully understand the situation.

    While I don’t want to be in retail forever, I’ll never change my years working in customer service for anything.

    Monica Laurette recently posted: Barkskins by Annie Proulx
    • Amber

      Perfectly stated! I can definitely relate with the panic attacks as well. Some people are horrible, but there are opportunities for goodness and it’s just so heartwarming when someone is kind. I was out of school for 3 years before I was able to get out of retail and it was one of the most trying, stressful, devastating period of my life thus far. I believe in you, though, and I hope you get out soon!

      Still, everyone should HAVE to work in retail or hospitality or SOME sort of customer-facing customer service job in their lives. It builds so much patience and empathy towards others. I often think that 90% of the kind people have been on the other side of the register. 🙂

  2. Amber thank you for this post! A month ago I started working in customer service and I feel my depression is increasing by the day. I too have a Bachelors in History and now I’m stuck in a job I absolutely hate and can’t find a silver lining. I wake up dreading work and during the day I go through the monotony of listening to people complaint and being incredibly rude. I wonder why people are rude, even when you are the most frustrating there is no reason to being rude to someone who is just trying to help. My family doesn’t understand how much I hate this job and especially now with this pandemic and economy I can’t just quit. The last weeks have been very, very hard so thank you for writing this post. Makes me think about others things and realized that I’m not alone 🙏

    • Amber

      Oh Leyanis, my heart breaks for you, it really does. 🙁 Retail is rough in a normal climate, but the pandemic has brought out the worst in so many people. Not to mention that jobs are scarce and there are too many people fighting for a single open position, even undesirable ones. It’s so difficult.

      I hope you are able to find comrades in your coworkers. It’s funny how a common enemy (the customer) can bring together people who may no normally click otherwise. <3 I truly wish you all the best and am sending oodles of strength and love!