Retail. Why oh why did I ever think I that was a good idea?
To be far to Past Me, I got the first job accidentally after five days of work experience when I was barely 15. It was at a book shop. I’d applied to work there because, being young and a little vague on what the ‘real-world’ was like, I’d assumed that it would consist primarily of me lazing about on luxurious lounges all day, reading novels, expanding my mind and generally doing what I did in my spare time but being paid for it (where by ‘being paid’ I mean ‘making seven dollars an hour’, but since I was only going to spend it in the lolly aisle at Coles it got me by). What the job actually involved was repetitive invoice-entry computer tasks, cleaning, and, most terrifyingly of all, dealing with people.
If someone kind were to make a list of my top personality traits, it’s likely that number one would be ‘shy’. If someone honest were to do the same, they’d probably run with ‘cripplingly socially awkward and afraid of people’. If we were to continue with the list, ‘incapable’ would probably make the top five. Now, I don’t think I need to point this out to you, but – not a stellar combination for a job involving customer service.
AND YET SEVEN YEARS LATER I’M STILL WORKING IN RETAIL. Nothing else spreads a sense of horror through your body as quickly as realising that you have been working in retail for a third of your lifetime. The very word “retail” is enough to make me feel slightly ill. The combination of dealing with people and needing to use basic mathematics on a daily basis is possibly the most unpleasant concept I’ve come across. And yet, here I am.
The ultimate goal in life, I suppose, is to be living in such a way that you would not prefer to be dead, or, if you’re not if the grips of a hard-core existential crisis, at least asleep. I’ve always been certain that eventually I’d get there; not necessarily to an eternal state of nirvana or ultimate happiness but at least to a point where I’m doing something I like at least 20% of the time. However, I’ve found myself getting a bit sick of waiting. I’ve been alive for more than two decades and so far the most memorable events in my life are the multiple incidences of me accidentally throwing my drink at a bartender. This feels like a mid-life crisis, and if I’m going to be dead by age 40 there’s no chance I’m going to keep doing things this way.
I’d apologise for whining this much but to be honest I’m rather enjoying it, so I’m going to keep going for just a little while longer. It’s cheaper than therapy, and frankly after the year I spent studying psychology I think I might be better off talking to you than any of those people who choose to become a therapist.
I had a brief hiatus from retail, of course. (Well, I say brief. It was a year. It wasn’t long enough, though. I don’t think a lifetime free of retail would be enough.) Looking back at photos and videos of myself from then, I realize just how unhappy I am now. My smile went to my eyes. My smile just generally looked a lot nicer at that point because I had not yet begun grinding my teeth to the point where I could hear them crack.
When I am at work, I can literally feel my face rebel when I attempt to smile at customers, as if it’s telling me that it will not be partner to my deception. “You may wish to keep up this ridiculous illusion of pleasantness, but you’re on your own. I’ve got better things to do. Like save all my energy for when I need to go red and puffy from your crying later.” I’ve started ‘forgetting’ to remove security tags when I have particularly heinous customers in the hope that they’ll be mildly inconvenienced.
It’s definitely time for a change.
This post is part of my ‘Two Weeks of Retail Hell’ series, celebrating the fact that I will soon be leaving forever! Have you ever worked in retail? Any of this sound familiar? Let me know in the comments so we can all suffer together!