Unless you’re a trust-fund babe living in a coked-out fantasyland, you have a job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15.7 percent of us work in wholesale or retail trade. In other words, 15.7 percent of the workforce doesn’t remember what a weekend feels like. For some people, it’s the job they hope to have for years. For the rest of us, it’s simply a job we work while keeping our eyes wide open for bigger and better possibilities. While it seems like most of my friends have moved on from random schedules and underwhelming pay, I’m still working retail while I finish up school. We all have different paths. And as I follow mine in pursuit of a new career, I can’t help but reflect on everything that retail has taught me. Well, five things…
1. How to talk to idiots.
Perhaps you’re waiting for your cup of Starbucks when you run into an idiot. It happens when you least expect it, really. The grocery store, the hot tub, the marina in San Francisco, and sometimes even in your own home. However, in these particular scenarios, you are able to ignore the idiot and even throw your coffee at the idiot if necessary. Unfortunately, in the work environment, I am forced to treat idiots like normal people. In fact, my manager insists that the customer and the idiot are always right. Let me tell you, it’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s straight up painful as hell. But I must say, after civilly dealing with idiots for 8 hours at a time, I feel myself grow a little bit.
2. Turning on a smile even if you don’t feel like it.
Chances are that you’ll go through a break-up at some point in your career. This is something that everyone experiences, except for that one high school couple who limits themselves by never dating anyone else. They stay together for years, get married, stay in the same town they grew up in, and eventually fantasize about what their lives would be like had they ventured outside their comfort zone a little bit. Or maybe they just got lucky. I digress. What I’m trying to say is: real life is going to happen while you’re on the clock. You might total your car or realize you’re more broke than you thought. However, when bad news hits, you still have to show up for work. And you can’t cry while you’re at work either…not without freaking everyone out. Your personal life cannot mesh with your work life. You hear me? They just can’t. Working in retail, or any job for that matter, teaches you to put your best face forward even when you don’t feel like it. You may even find that working takes your mind off whatever bad news you’re dealing with. You’re stronger than you think.
3. Sorry, sorry, so sorry.
Let’s face it, the customer is not right 100% of the time. But in the retail environment, we are taught to treat the customer as if they could do no wrong. You want to return that pair of underwear that you’ve clearly worn? Sure! You want to get a 20% discount on that book because the white pages look slightly yellowed? Eh, that’s pushing it, but okay. Whatever they want, we give it to them. If we can’t, we say sorry. When someone asks me if we carry a book that we don’t have, I apologize. When our in-store price doesn’t match the online price, I apologize. The place looks like a tornado hit it because your kids are running around throwing shit everywhere? I’m sorry. I have become extremely comfortable apologizing, which I have realized isn’t an easy task for many people. Sorry I’m not sorry.
4. People come and people go.
You might work with someone who could turn out to be one of your favorite people. More often than not, this person will leave. It’s not the end of the world. You can be real life friends, which isn’t paid but it’s something. It will be sad to see your favorite coworker go but you should be happy that your friend got out of the retail world. Let their escape inspire you. Don’t be that guy who stays at that miserable job for five years because he never tried to reach for something better. Retail should be your temporary stop towards something fabulous. I’m just sayin.
5. Lower your expectations of people.
If I expected my customers to treat my work environment like it was their home, I would be extremely let down 99.9% of the time. Most customers will shift into animals, causing you to feel like you’re working at the San Diego Zoo. It’s just something that can’t be explained and will probably never change. I blame it on bad parenting, but what can you do? The damage is done. Why people think it’s okay to not pick up after themselves or their children is beyond me. Yesterday, a kid put his piece of chewed gum inside a book. Lower your expectations. When you realize that people aren’t going to live up to your standards, you’ll be much less disappointed.