There are days when you feel good about the things that are going right in your life, and there are days when you feel like maybe you are a complete failure. Things aren’t really black and white. Sometimes we sacrifice in one area so that we can benefit in another. So maybe I am guilty of spending time thinking about the sacrifices- but I am great at talking myself out of it. Usually.
I have made sacrifices in my career and income that benefit Teghan. She attends a good school and has extended family around her because of those sacrifices. Those sacrifices allowed me to spend time with my sister before she died. These things are obvious priorities. But it’s hard to go backwards. It’s easy to do a job that you know well, but not so easy to know that you passed this point in your career a long time ago. Life is full of give and take, right? That’s helpful.
But do you know what else helps? Thinking about how far you have really come. I was reminiscing about the jobs I had when I was young and didn’t know enough to stay out of the retail business. Or worse- that brief job I held at a pizza place when I was fifteen (across from my high school). That pizza place was where I first discovered that I was clearly not cut out for food service. That, and the four days I once spent working at a doughnut shop drive-thru.
You know, I used to be way less responsible. It wasn’t until I left the world of retail that I discovered I had a type of work ethic that was rare and desirable. And who would have ever imagined that I would enjoy managing others? When I was nineteen, I used to sleep in the back room at Meijer’s. But really, running the shoe department for the evening shift wasn’t exactly stimulating. If a job is dull enough, you are forced to use your brain to come up with creative ways out of the situation.
No one ever caught me sleeping.
What do I have to complain about now? Sure, we aren’t living on much these days, but once upon a time I was working part-time for minimum wage. And minimum wage was $4.25 an hour.
My career is amazing when you hold it up against all that. I’m feeling better already.
Most of my best retail stories come from the five years I spent working at a bridal shop. I could write a book about how, despite popular belief, working in a bridal shop is NOT a fun job. I have lost all feeling toward wedding gowns, but I still know which one will look best on you. And the brides and their mothers were nothing in comparison with the owner of the shop and her two daughters.
But I am burned out on those stories. Sometimes I forget that the bridal shop was my step up from another employer.
In my early twenties I worked part-time for a Christian bookstore. I spent most of my time there creating merchandise displays- draping fabric, arranging artwork, and strategically mixing Precious Moments and Seraphim Angels at various heights that were pleasing to the eye. It was very pleasant work, really.
Some of it was odd, and not quite as enjoyable. I suppose all jobs come with a little nonsense. For example, we had monthly meetings where we talked about what direction we thought Jesus saw the store moving in. Now, I’m not saying anything bad about religion. I am just saying that this particular business had a little trouble figuring out how to properly inject Jesus into their retail plan. I expected them to try, but…. it was a little weird.
Our manager was constantly coming around to remind us (in that hushed, southern voice) that Jesus was watching us. That was annoying. It was her number one phrase. As if Jesus were some creepy guy that loitered in the greeting card section all day spying at us through the breaks in the shelving (that’s the joke we all made about it, anyway).
And I never really bought into the whole sales pitch about how we sold Beanie Babies as a way to reach the local non-Christian population. I mean, we opened an hour early on Beanie Baby release days, and customers were required to pick their Beanie and then leave the store immediately. They had to come back later if they wanted to look around. It was a frequent monthly meeting topic, and it seemed like a really strange thing for us to be praying about.
I was once called into the office over the fact that my front window Easter display included stuffed bunnies. The argument that “they were ordered especially for the Easter season so I thought it was okay” didn’t go over well. I vaguely remember being really angry about that meeting, but I don’t know what I expected. I just took the bunnies down and replaced them with devotional books and coffee mugs. The bunnies were banished to their own special display in the back of the store by the Veggie Tales. And I suppose that did make more sense. They were cheap bunnies, anyway.
I liked the Testamints, though. They were clever and delicious. My mother-in-law used to put them in all of our Easter baskets.
But it was a scavenger hunt that finally brought my employment there to an end.
The evening staff was pretty fun, and the daytime workers always got holidays off. I was working the Saturday night before Memorial Day, and my good friend would be coming in for the holiday shift on Monday (obviously we were not open on Sundays). Since everyone was required to leave the store together at night, a group of us had some time to kill while we waited. So we started to work on a scavenger hunt for my friend to enjoy when she came in Monday morning.
The clues were created especially by (and for) the “rebels” of the store. You know, the ones who talked to each other while on the clock, who kept our eyes open during Beanie Baby prayer time, and who complained about having to get written permission from the owner in order to wear pants on the days that required us to be on ladders. Questioning the business was like questioning God.
(But was it, really?)
So anyway, as you can imagine, some of these clues were hilarious- and would not be appreciated by management, who had no sense of humor. Ever. Not to worry, though. Management wouldn’t be in until Tuesday. Besides, the clues were very well hidden, and would not be found without reading the initial clue- which I placed in a sealed envelope, with my coworker’s name on it, on the desk that only we two shared.
When I called the store Monday morning, I thought my friend was kidding when she told me she had no idea what I was talking about.
I even came into the store (on a holiday AND my wedding anniversary) to see it for myself. It was devastating to think that she wouldn’t get to experience the game we had worked so hard on. She would have loved it. As I mentioned, we were hilarious. But what happened?
Was Jesus really watching?
Believe it or not, upper management came in on Sunday…. to pray for the store. I mean, they owned several locations; did they travel around and pray for all of them, or just this one? Did they do this every Sunday? And even so, how did it lead to that sealed envelope with my coworker’s name on it being found and opened?
It turns out that after everyone else had left the Sunday store prayer session, our Store Manager had something incredible happen to her. God spoke to her. As she was leaving, God told her that she should go back inside and open that letter. He told her to do it.
That’s her version of the events, anyway.
I’m not going to lie. Over fourteen years later, I still laugh out loud when I think about that woman, alone in the store, following our little scavenger hunt. It covered every complaint any of us ever had, and it did so with brilliant comedy. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
It was at this time that I decided this might not be the job for me, after all. Luckily I had been offered a new job at a bridal shop, so things were looking up. The Christian bookstore owner called me personally to ask if I would meet with him and discuss my concerns and reason for leaving. In the end, his only advice for me was to recognize that leaving my job was sinful, and that it was up to me to repent for that sin.
I am sure most of us have some employment stories buried in our history that are worth bringing out and taking a look at again. If not to make you feel better about how far you have come, then maybe just to have a good laugh. Of course, some of you are still living out this phase of your life. Don’t despair- cherish it.
I am pretty thrilled about the year and a half I gave to that store.
And even more thrilled that I am never going back.