Requiem for a retail career

Blog photoLet’s start with a plug for the West Chester Therapy Group, whose Instagram wisdom (as illustrated here) is the source of at least one daily “F*CK YES!” — and of much-needed reassurance that what I’m going through is normal, maybe even universal, and it’s all gonna work out in the end.

Follow them @wctherapygroup. You won’t be sorry.

So, I chose to attach this particular post because I’m about to enter yet another “level” in my life, and attempt yet another personal re-invention. I just accepted a job as a content writer at a digital marketing agency, and although I don’t start until Jan. 2, it definitely feels like I’ve already begun a completely new phase of existence.

The last phase still looms large in the rearview mirror. It was memorable, to say the least.

I worked as a cashier at Shady Brook Farm for about 35-ish hours per week, from early October until this past Monday, when I cleaned my last toilet and walked out the door with a definite appreciation for everyone working in retail during the holiday season.

You wouldn’t think it, but people are especially surly at Christmastime. I mean, maybe they aren’t too keen on crowded places full of kids and chaos and Mariah Carey on a constant loop, and they’re saving all their holiday spirit for when they get home with their families, in which case, I actually can understand.

I tend to get stressed out in chaotic situations, too.

In that sense, working in retail absolutely required a different version of me. I’m not sure I fully met the requirement. If I had to grade myself as a customer service professional, I’d probably go with a hard C — maybe a C+, because that day I was tasked with putting out free food samples in the market, customers not only gobbled everything up in less than an hour, but people actually BOUGHT some of the products I used in the sample.

Yeah, that was ALL me.

And not for nothing, the couple of days I had a chance to work in the Stone’s Throw pub, I am positive that I achieved at least a handful of perfect beer pours. (I still have an envelope stuffed with about $200 in tips to memorialize that beautiful blink of opportunity. I might spend it on a lavish dinner/ice skating excursion with my sisters and their hubbies when I go home to Chicago next week.)

By no means was my transition from Local Sports Reporter (RIP, Journalism Career, 2002-2018) to Shady Brook Cashier (RIP, Retail Career, at least for the time being) a silky-smooth one. But I’m pretty sure I get an “A” for Effort when it comes to making cash register conversation. Harnessing my reporter’s ability to relate to/find common ground with random people every day really helped me connect with the customers I had the pleasure of serving in the Farm Market and, even though I have no knowledge of or interest in gardening, whatsoever, the Garden Center.

If there’s one thing I truly enjoyed about the job, it was connecting with customers. I’ll never forget the folks who came to my register, or even folks in the bar, who commented on my array of Chicago sports headwear, and it sparked a conversation about baseball, football, or even our shared love of the Cubs or Bears or Northwestern University. There are plenty of Midwestern transplants and sports fans passing through Bucks County, Pa., believe it or not!

Not everyone was patient or nice, or interested in a chat, but the vast majority of Shady Brook shoppers brought sunshine into those long days spent indoors punching buttons and sweeping floors.

I’ll also never forget connecting with coworkers, the people who made me laugh far too loudly, who asked about my job hunt, who shot me a smile or a wave or offered a high-five or fist bump in passing, or any number of little things that made me feel less like a frazzled fish-out-of-water with an uncertain future, and more like a regular human being who was part of something bigger than herself. Camaraderie is a powerful thing.

I took the job for exactly this reason: I wanted to be around people. To get my head out of my a**, and my laptop/phone, during a grueling search for a new profession, and in that sense, the Great Shady Brook Experiment of 2018 was a success.

There were times, I’m not gonna lie, when I asked myself why the heck I didn’t just sit back with my severance package and take an “Eat Pray Love” approach to the final months of the year. That might’ve been enjoyable, in a way, and while I don’t leave Shady Brook with anything really tangible to show for my time there — other than the couple grand in my savings account, and maybe a little extra liver damage (nervous chuckle…) from hanging at the in-house bar — I know the experience changed me for the better.

The next level of my life is, without a doubt, going to require a new version of myself. I look at it the same way as I did the last level: another opportunity to keep improving that person.

If nothing else, I remain unafraid of growth and change.









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