Working A “Not A Real Job” Job

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.” TC mark

All information provided in this article is for reference purposes only.

image – Shutterstock


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  • STG

    I want to work at a grocery store now. 

  • fp

    “Why isn’t this is a real job?”

    Because you’re probably not going to make a career out of it. That’s what people mean by that. It’s quite simple.

  • electricboogaloo

    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?”

    You and I have different conceptions of what one does in an office for 10 (not 8) hours a day…

  • Anonymous

    Oh it’s a real job honey. Heck, pulling heists is a job. If it pays the bills, it’s a real job.

    • Gregory Costa

      How about if it just barely pays the bills…  Writing for Thought Catalog?

      • Jake

        Writing will never be a real job!

  • ghost

    It’s not a real job because Trader Joe’s doesn’t have produce, it’s just shrinkwrapped bags of fruit and vegetable impersonators shipped across the world and covered in barcodes.  Fake fake fake fake, you’re lying to everyone and we call see right through you.  Go work at a grocery co-op like an adult.

    • Emil Caillaux

      Does your comment need a “THIS IS SATIRE” tag?

      • ghost

        i dunt know what’s satire and what’s serious anymore ;[

    • a.

       You completely missed the point, didn’t you?

      • ghost

        no, the author missed the point, which is that trader joe’s produce is gross and immoral, and they should be ashamed to support it for a living

      • Anonymous

        Seriously? Taking down Trader Joe’s of all stores for being “gross and immoral” is kind of a fucking joke. Go pick on places like Walmart if you’re that into it.

      • ghost

        huh?  trader joe’s is a “place like wal-mart”, except that wal-mart actually sources a tiny bit of their produce locally, and doesn’t wrap 2 limes in a pound of plastic packaging.

        seriously – nobody will tell you to get a “real job” if you work at a CSA or produce co-op, because those jobs have some meaning that isn’t destructive.  nobody will tell you to get a “real job” if you work at a boutique organic restaurant, or a local artisinal bakery, or an indie documentary house.  

        unless you have no other options (ie, you’re not an able-bodied high school graduate, let alone a college graduate), nobody will consider you having a “real job” if you work at trader joe’s, or taco bell, or applebee’s, or loew’s, because those jobs are both bad for you and bad for society.

      • Jeremy Ryan Smallwood

        You sound like you would be a blast at parties.

  • Guest

    I thought it was the other way around? That people doing physical tasks have “real” jobs, but people sitting in offices don’t. Different strokes, I guess.

  • Alexander Cohen

    Is it weird that I understand this on a deeper level?

  • Mo

    I feel this so hard right now, why cant my little job be my real job??

  • Alec

    I appreciate this article a great deal. Our capitalistic mind set of always wanted more warps our conception of whats truly valuable. Is the dream of achieving something greater overemphasized, even negligible? Not necessarily. But we shouldn’t allow this idea shift us into putting people into hierarchies, and over or undervalue the output of hardworking people everyday. 

  • Caitlin Vernon

    It’s so much better for your sanity to view your “not my real job” in a positive light. If you’re friendly towards customers and coworkers and try to make the best of it, your “temporary” job will seem a lot less like a prison and it will make those days/weeks/months/years until you get your “real” job go by a lot faster. 

    Having said that, I’m in grad school and I’ve had customers ask me if I’m still in high school. Hoping that just means I have a youthful look about me…

  • ariel

    I’ve thought about this a lot lately. I had a “real?” job when I finished school and then I quit to travel and now I work two service jobs. A lot of people work service jobs for their entire life and it’s insulting to anyone, whether they plan to stay there or not, to assume or act as if it is not a “real” job. That being said, I’ve caught myself saying “oh yea, it’s not my REAL job,” a number of times as a way to justify working this job even though I have a degree. And it’s not a good way of thinking. It is my real job. It pays my bills and supports me. I have to treat it like a real job. But it gets hard/frustrating when people assume either a) you are still in college and b) say something to the effect of “oh don’t worry, you won’t be here forever,” which belittles anyone who works for a living.

  • Anonymous

    I put 100% effort in every job I hold, because I know how many people who kill to even make my 7.25 an hour. 
    So when people comment that both my jobs are not my, “real jobs” I just laugh and let it slide. 
    I’m lucky. Most of us our. We can’t take that for granted. 

    • Jenny

      you rock. don’t ever change. 

  • Paul S

    As has been mentioned, a “real” job is one that you can make a career out of (as in advancement opportunities) and more importantly, one that pays you enough to sustain a  family, ideally above poverty levels.

  • 10-8

    The conflict undertaken by the author is more of an issue of having a profession versus working other types of jobs. If you are working and getting paid, by all means you’re working a real job. 

  • Guestropod

    man, I don’t have a college degree and I’m pretty sick of seeing ‘degree preferred’ on listings for retail and food service jobs

  • phil potato

    Oh my, 7 months out of university.

  • Natalie

    I get this all the time from my friends, family, everyone because I’m a nanny.

  • ex and probable future cashier

    i worked at a grocery store for over a year with a degree under my belt.  i’ve had “real jobs” since then but sometimes miss flexible scheduling, comradery with coworkers,  and the certain freedom that comes with knowing you’re not locked into this, because this isn’t your “career”, you have something to still dream about and strive toward (if you want to).  enjoy it for what it is and don’t let anyone get you down, they’re not paying your bills.

  • Zeba

    A silent prayer of still being in Uni. Sigh.

  • Age

    *Sigh* I’ve read this type article  before from (Chelsea Fagan maybe?) this site. I don’t understand the need for repetitiveness.

    • GUEST

      If it was written by Fagan, it probably sucked.

      • Guest

        So don’t read her articles…geez, why be such a jerk? 

      • Anonymous

        Someone’s flexing pretty hard on anon today.

  • Anonymous

    This is quite possibly the “realest” article on this website. 

  • jenny

    this is fantastic.

  • Fenestella

    I’m glad someone else feels this way. Thanks & good article.

  • Andrew

    It’s very easy to be unfulfilled with a real job after the, “phew, I did what I was supposed to do and now my family/friends/enemies don’t judge me quite as much anymore”, wears off.  In many ways, having a job you don’t hate going to in the morning, regardless of what it is or what the social stigma is, gives you a serious advantage.  This is not to say that some career-oriented jobs aren’t enjoyable to some people who have them, but the value of not being stressed out every day just because it’s what you “should” be doing, is priceless.  As long as you’re able to afford what you need to, take your time.  It’s a good humbling experience to realize that nobody is above the next person because of what their source of income may happen to be.  The rat race is irrelevant at the end of the day.

  • Anonymous

    2 graduate degrees and i am in restaurant management.  3/4s of my staff has a b.a.’s or better.  this article makes me feel so much better. you go laura!  count those fuji apples!

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