Today was the last day of my current job. I’m a college educated man who works, well worked, retail and for a long time I felt a total sense of shame for doing so. I graduated in 2008 and pretty much the next day the recession decided to hit and I was an English major stuck with no clue on what I was going to do with my life. I’m still searching for that though I’m starting to see some purpose materialize more and more within me. When I graduated college, I had no real plan. I applied for multiple jobs and with no real confidence in myself I couldn’t make anything stick so ultimately to help pay the bills I worked at Wal-Mart for a bit. In some ways I was an asshole. I thought I was better than that situation, which in some ways was true but the way in which “I was better than that” made me look like an entitled prick. Instead of finding ways to better myself. Instead of finding ways to learn from my experiences and instead of learning to love the people who I worked with and getting to know fellow human beings, I looked down on all of them. I looked down on the customers as consumers who ate nothing but crap all the time. I looked at some as “white trash” and I looked at others as entitled. I also looked down on my fellow workers, even when I moved to work in the pharmacy andI worked with more educated people I tried to find ways to bring them down mentally because I was insecure around people, like the pharmacists, who made more money than me and had more education.
In some ways I fit the bill of “entitled millennial.” I would even make claims like “I’m a college graduate, I shouldn’t be here.” And I would say this openly not caring about how it would affect my fellow workers. After a moment of working at a call center I, again, worked in retail in South Bend. I still had my moments of entitlement but started to accept that sometimes you do what needs to be done to eat food because food fucking rules. Over time, I started to look at the job as something I did to make money but really I was going to be a writer. In some ways I used this position as a way to look down on others because I still wasn’t one of “them” (and for the record I have no clue who ‘them’ is, I just know I wasn’t really a retail worker.) My feelings have been complicated by the fact that my wife is a grad student and so I go to other grad parties and when I’m asked what I do, I always told them I’m trying to be a writer instead of “retail worker” because I felt shame over this. In some ways I still saw myself as “better” than being in retail but it was still condescending.
For multiple years at the current but now not current place I work (that sounds weird), I found ways to withdraw. Part of it was my social anxiety but part of it was also because I still saw myself as the educated writer and I was different from retail worker. But in the last few months I’ve started to change my perception on life. I finally learned that people are people regardless of background and I started to see that I work with some really cool people who all have talents. I started to approach it as “we’re all better than retail” (this is symbolic. Some people enjoy working in retail, and that’s fine but it has a stigma as being low skilled, thankless labor and really this message is for others who work in similar jobs) and I also became more comfortable with myself and it got me to a point where today I realized how much I’m truly going to miss some of these people.
I’ve found that retail actually taught me a lot but it was just a matter of making connections between the skills I’ve utilized and learned in that setting and how they can transfer to all kinds of different fields. Now that I see these other awesome people, who too struggle with their identity as “retail worker” I want to help them. I don’t really know how at the moment but I see a generation (and others too) who seem to be stuck in a rut despite being very skilled.
I just want to see people, instead of “do what they can to get by” find ways to utilize their skills and improve their lives and our society in general and I thank working in retail for getting me to this point. I feel like this is a turning point. This is a time when I feel like I’m utilizing my fears not to cripple myself, but to help me find a purpose and I truly want to inspire others to do the same.
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