Employment Chronicles: This is Jen; how may I help you?

I saw this on Twitter while I was stopped at a red light on my way home from my first official shift as a cashier at the Shady Brook Farm Market, and I laughed out loud. I mean, of course I did; I honed the keen sense of humor you see here (well, maybe not yet...) on Classic “Simpsons” episodes like the one referenced below:


Source: @SimpsonsQOTD on Twitter

I also kind of feel a little like Homer during my job search. One of the big reasons I decided to throw my hat in the ring for an entry-level job at the farm market, when I haven’t worked in retail since college, is that after two weeks of sitting in my living room, hunting for “white-collar” work on the internet, applying for “white-collar” work on the internet, and having ZERO contact with human beings other than folks at the gym or friends I invite to lunch…I was starting to get pretty discouraged. I remain quite disappointed in this process, and no, I’m not sure I trust it.

But what’s a better cure for any kind of malaise than to take the fish and just chuck it out of the water? Or, maybe, take the person who can’t swim and throw her INTO the water?

You get the point. That fish/bad swimmer is me, showing up at Shady Brook to work a cash register. (Please note: I did not sink. I’m going back there next week when I return from visiting my sister in Boston.)

I won’t bore you with my past retail details (ha, I rhymed…) because there just aren’t many. I was a clerk at GNC when I was 21 years old, for one summer, and we rarely had more than 4 customers in the store at a time.

Shady Brook is a hustling, bustling, multi-faceted farm market — and much more, but today we just stayed in the market — with more going on than the newbie brain can process. My newbie brain was definitely on overload today, trying to make sure I absorbed every detail of the cash register and phone system that I was taught, trying to make sure I was following protocol, as read in the handbook they sent me, trying to get to know my coworkers and feel out the various personalities, and most of all, do everything with a smile on my face.

Yo, dude, I was only there four hours, and there were some great moments, but of course, nothing went smoothly for me. I went out to the employee walk-in cooler to get a water – for my fellow cashier! – and I couldn’t figure out how to open the damn door. I apologized a lot to customers for making them wait, while my eyes frantically scanned the register options for the right type of produce to punch in. Or I answered the phone and had no clue how to answer the customer’s question — I didn’t even think my voice sounded natural when I said, “This is Jen, how may I help you?” Or I asked the Manager On Duty a million questions that seemed very basic — yeah, let’s go ahead and say “stupid,” for argument’s sake.

That’s probably one way that being a reporter for 20 years has prepared me for this. I mean, other than, it forced me to talk to different people every day, until I finally achieved a comfort level conversing randomly with strangers. But in terms of asking stupid questions? You’re covering a story, you do all the preparation you can, but when you’re out there in the moment, you are there to find out information. You are there to learn all the necessary details, and make sure you’re clear on them, so you can in turn tell a solid, factual, entertaining story that will satisfy your audience.

I long ago stopped caring if a question I asked seemed obvious, or caring what the other party/parties thought of my question, because if you need to know it for the story, or you need to know it to do your job well, you just ask it. Case closed.

Reporter life also, over time, helped me gain perspective on a lot of situations that I used to only see MY WAY. This retail job will force that out of me, because I can tell you right now, after one day, I will never again get impatient and huffy if I have to wait in line at a busy cashier station. I’m ashamed I ever did. You never know what folks are dealing with. Maybe it’s their first day! Wherever you are, before getting upset, it’s always better to just breathe, and smile, and realize there is a whole big world full of people like you, just trying to do their best.

I learned a lot in those four hours today, and while there is much left to learn — sorry, much much MUCH left to learn — I’m ready for it. I don’t just DO things, I throw myself into them (see analogy above with fish and swimming, etc.) Throwing yourself into the job search when you are trying to change careers at age 40 takes some…well, in the spirit of Shady Brook Farm, let’s say, gourds…and honestly, I’m pumped to flail around here in this deep end for a while and learn how to swim.

1 thought on “Employment Chronicles: This is Jen; how may I help you?”

  1. I like this perspective. Does this mean you will go to the store more often? I hope to see you swimming at PR speeds once again.


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