What Working In Retail Taught Me

@ Bridge and Burn

@ Bridge and Burn

By Carolyn Shields

Retail has had a negative connotation amongst college graduates (or their grandmothers at least), as being the default plan B job. Rarely do people believe someone is there by the register by choice, and there were countless times when customers would ask me in front of my boss, "So what do you want to do?" And I had to kindly put them in their place by saying, "This. I choose this."

I didn't initially. But every day while I was there I chose to. And before I knew it, I actually grew to greatly value small businesses, the heart and soul of local shop owners, local community and culture, and soon began to dream of owning my own boutique one day. (Hint: theStewardess)

Sure, the job market is tough and after being the over-achiever in college, it was humbling to send out one hundred resumes and cover letters and still be behind a counter (both as a barista and as a bookseller), but the lessons learned in retail helped prepare me for the dream job I would land nearly two years after graduation.

Looking back, working in retail taught me several invaluable lessons.

1. Smile, even when you cried during your half hour lunch break

No one likes working with a grumpy person. It can bring the atmosphere in the entire office and/or store crashing down. There's added pressure to keep that smile genuine in retail too because you are always before someone, but this isn't to say that you can't have a bad day. When you cross the threshold, try and leave your bad mood at the door.

2. You can't fake customer service

Retail taught me the power of brief interactions. You have countless interactions each day, and the challenge is always on to leave that brief lasting impression that will sit well with your customer, but every now and then that one person will come in who hates the world. Summon forth the kindness anyway, and in the words of Grandma, "Kill 'em with kindness." Jacques Philippe wrote in Interior Freedom, "In every encounter with someone else, however long or short, we should make him feel we're one hundred percent there for him at that moment."

3. Recognize priority

Showing a customer a product, checking someone out who's waiting at the register, gift wrapping, answering the phone, chasing after a neglected child who's wandering out the front door, all rolled itself into one valuable skill set: prioritizing.

4. Take initiative

Holy smokes! Some days in our little shop time seemed to slow considerably. #wednesdayafternoons But still, you were given time. Learning what to do with those slow hours ushered in a new sense of value for me. Reorganizing a display, brainstorming future events, promotional sales, potential partnerships with the local community, sweeping the floor...show what you've got and that you care.

5. Menial tasks aren't over rated

Unpacking new shipments, that damn price gun, folding a billion pamphlets...Jacques Philippe wrote, "Even when what we're doing is genuinely trifling, it's a mistake to rush through it as though we felt we were wasting our time. If something, no matter how ordinary, needs to be done and is part of our lives, it's worth doing for its own sake, and worth putting our hearts into."

6. Choose to be where you are

Some days it felt like I was stuck there, wedged between my three part time jobs. But I still sought to make the most of it even though I couldn't deny the fact that it wasn't my first choice. Once again Jacques Philippe comes to the rescue, writing, "The attitude to aim for [in situations that seem out of our control] is consent...We say yes to a reality we initially saw as negative, because we realize that something positive may arise from it...even though the objective reality remains the same, the attitude of our hearts is very different."

So it's okay! You've got this. Don't let your grandma or your imaginary "what they must think"s get the better of you. Keep that chin up, make the most of it, and keep going. 

I gotta run now...I'm off to my dream job.