This Is How Working Retail Makes You Existential

You spend thirty minutes folding a stack of yoga leggings that are destined to be destroyed within the hour by a customer who responds to your cheery “How can I help you today?” with averted eye contact. And then you will fold the stack again— within the hour. Folding can be therapeutic if you just focus on the task at hand.

You can’t think beyond the stack in front of you. You can’t think about that stack of yoga leggings in context to the other five stacks. Or in context to all of the stacks in the store. Or in context to all of the stacks in the entire retail industry. If you let yourself think too meta, you realize it is a futile effort that you are doomed to repeat day after day, hour after hour—kind of like life.

I’m going to level with you, it’s not a great time to be a college graduate. The unemployment rate for those under 25 is almost double the national unemployment rate. Many college graduates have to put their degrees on the back burner. Those college loans aren’t going to pay themselves. Retail, like any other service job can seem mundane. But, if you go about it with the right attitude, working a retail job just might prepare you for a different job (one that involves less folding) in the future.

A huge part of finding a job is learning how to sell yourself. If you can sell a pair of overpriced yoga leggings, you can definitely sell something as awesome as you. The skills are the same: finding what makes this pair of leggings different than one’s in another store (what sets you apart from other applicants), seeing how the legging’s fit the costumer’s needs (what makes you best fit for this job), etc.

If there is one thing that I learned from my stint as a cashier, it’s keeping calm under pressure. When you’re working the cashier and the line is wrapping around the store. Customers are complaining about the length of the line. You’ve said, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” probably fifty times in the past thirty minutes. Most of the time you’re answered with a grunt. Though it may seem like the line will never end and everyone is trying to return a clearly used item without a receipt, you learn how to say, “this too shall pass.” If a customer is treating you badly, the interaction will be over soon enough. And that knowledge gives you the power to stay sane.

If a customer is treating you unfairly, you soon learn another lesson: you can’t take everything personally. Customers might act like you purposely threw out everything in their size just to mess with them. Or that you’re lying when you say, “no really, there aren’t anymore in the back. The back is not a magical place you seem to think it is.” They will treat you like it, talk to your manager, and pin things on you that are completely out of your control.

And that’s okay, because you know that it’s not your fault and that they will get their lacey bralette elsewhere. You’ll deal with this type of customer, just like you’ll deal with all types of people. Being able to navigate all different types of personalities is an invaluable skill. So keep calm and fold on. You’re learning more than you think you are. TC mark

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