Lemons. 4053. Limes. 4048. Oranges. 4012.
These numbers run through my head as I carefully stack Fuji apples on top of each other in the produce section at Trader Joe’s. The words “This isn’t your real job” run through my mind, over and over, like a mantra. They soothe my doubts and fears. They soften the confusion on customers’ faces when I tell them “Oh no, I already graduated from college.” They listen to my story about moving across the country. “Why would you EVER leave California?” They smile when I tell them “…but I have an internship in D.C.” and then they respond, politely, “Oh, that’s wonderful, hon! Just be patient. You’ll find your ‘real’ job soon enough”
My real job.
Why isn’t this a real job? Because I don’t sit in an office pretending to work while I really read Cracked articles for eight hours a day? Because I have to serve people? Because I clock in and out each day? Because I don’t hate it?
To be fair, I don’t love it, either. But a part of me feels that my grocery store job gets shit on too much by public opinion. And, being perfectly honest, I’m guilty of it, too. There’s a part of me that cringes every time an old man decides to bag his own groceries and says “I used to be a professional bagger once!” and then smiles at me as if to say “You won’t be here forever. Don’t worry. I used to be you.” I judge myself for not getting the dream job right out of college. I tell myself the same thing I imagine that old man to be saying — that this is temporary, that it will get better, that I will find something right for me. But this is my “not my real job” job, and I’m the only one who can talk shit about it.
One customer came through my line and told me about her nephew who applied for a job at Trader Joe’s in Spokane. Apparently there were over 1,000 applicants for jobs when the store first opened. They could only take about 75 of those people. People wanted that job. They wanted my “not my real job” job to be their real job. And more than wanting, they actually needed it — something I hadn’t imagined possible That’s when I started to count myself lucky for even having a job at all. I started appreciating my co-workers and my managers. I started saying hello to the regulars and asking for their names.
I started overachieving.
I want my managers to like me. I want customers to remember me. I read the information about new products. I know the difference between a Gala and a Pink Lady. (They’re apples, okay!) I don’t check the codes for produce anymore. Bananas. 4011. Sweet Onions. 4166. Beefsteak Tomatoes. 4799. I comment to a co-worker that I never imagined knowing all this when I was sitting in a cap and gown at graduation 7 months ago.
He says to me: “It’s okay. This isn’t your real job.”
But it is my real job. For now. When people look at me and tell me I have to be patient about the job hunt, I understand. The job market is different now. College degrees will get you a great job at a grocery store. Maybe if I’m lucky, this internship will take me somewhere. Maybe it will get me that higher paying, career-oriented dream job I have been searching for, but then again, maybe it won’t. I didn’t imagine working at a grocery store right out of college, after all.
Maybe when I get that dream job, it will be boring. Maybe it will be what I’ve always hoped for. Maybe it won’t be hard, and I won’t have to struggle like I am now. I will be complacent and earn a decent salary, a decent amount of respect. Maybe I’ll think to myself, as I stare out the window of my dream office, “This isn’t a real job. I used to have a real job.”
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