6 Ways To Survive Retail Hell

After getting laid off my last stint in the corporate underworld, I bit the bullet and started to apply for retail gigs. I looked at it as something that I needed to pay the bills with and all the while applying for other things in my field. This is only temporary, is a mantra I would chant everyday when I got up to get ready for another mundane shift. Taking deep breathes in the bathroom and trying to not hyperventilate over another customer issue was a routine I’d grown too accustomed to and I was beginning to wonder whether this was more than just temporary. So how do you battle your constant feelings of inadequacy and self doubt? How do you stay present, live in the moment and be grateful for the days that you aren’t homeless or starving? It’s taken me a while but I think I’ve finally figured it out and, surprise, there isn’t a magical formula for it. There are a few different ways to stay relatively positive and of course, this isn’t consistent and it changes all the time, but it’s been working so far.

1. Choose a place that you don’t hate.

The first job I had was working at a cell phone kiosk. I know, I know and trust me I thought those things too, but after about 4 months of struggling and trying to understand the shitty POS, I learned that I really enjoyed the mobile sector. I liked working with gadgets and figuring out how to talk about them to people that made them just as excited as I was. So I decided that, while the company I was working for wasn’t my ideal, I wanted to keep in this sector. I went home and did some research, which wasn’t an easy task either. I looked through a bunch of companies and decided which company I’d want to move up in and aligned with the values and ideals I would want in a company. I now work for a great company that I am really happy to be in and excited about moving on up!

2. Choose an industry that you love.

Whether that be fashion, make up, technology or music, animals or furniture, there is a store for EVERYTHING. Choose something that gets you passionate and work for the best place there is that represents that thing! If you’re obsessed with make up and face art, work for a place like Sephora or MAC that offers tons of cool products (and a great discount!). I know that they also regularly have networking events and special cosmetic launches that all the employees are invited too. Take those opportunities to network, mingle and meet people that could be your potential boss in the future.

3. Don’t like how the place is run, you do it!

I once had a pretty shitty manager that did nothing and threw all of his responsibilities on me. He would come in late (if at all), do nothing and leave at least 2 hours before he was scheduled to leave. So not only did I have to sell and meet targets, but also make sure the store/kiosk was running properly. This included ordering inventory, staff coaching and keeping on top of promotions sent by head office. It was a pill at first but I got used to it and found a rhythm that really allowed me to take control of my working environment. It was a blessing in disguise and I learned A LOT, which brings me to my next point…


We are an entitled generation and think that we know everything after spending some time in school and that one temp job at some fancy place. We think we are beyond a retail job that pays minimum wage and that there is nothing to be learned when forced to work in this ‘wasteland’. Not true. There is always something we can learn that is most definitely transferrable to when we do get those jobs of our dreams. Whatever that means. So pay attention to when your manager asks you to clean up or make that coffee again or do those online modules. You’ll be surprised how amazingly accomplished you feel when you’ve mastered something. It’ll just motivate you to keep going. So keep going :)

5. You are enough.

Please keep this in mind. Just because you are getting a host of rejection emails in your inbox from the places you’ve applied to doesn’t mean you’re a shitty person. This is something I had to really conquer and to be honest, some days are worse than others, but I do know that I am talented and I am enough. I know that I need to stay on top of my industry if I want to move forward but I also know that in order for me to keep my house, groceries in my fridge and my lights on, I need a job that I can not only get paid at but I need to like it. I need to just suck it up and like it because I won’t last 2 hours if I’m miserable. So learn what you can, do well and always know that you are okay and things might seem dismal now, but you can get through it. Just keep swimming and know that you are enough and you WILL get through it.

6. Find other things besides your job.

Yes you wish you were somewhere else but when you get home from what seems like an eternity, find something you can really dive right into. Whether it’s a hobby or a passion, family and/or friends, keep the rest of your life well rounded and exciting. I try to write every single day and make sure I am an active member in my family and I’m working on being a better friend. I try to catch up on tv shows and watch a movie that would normally ‘not have time for’. The cool thing about shift work in retail is that you don’t bring work home with you. There are no late night decks to put together or client conference calls to be on. You are free for however many hours, so make them count :) 

Whew! That was a bit of an emotional piece. I’m still in retail but this time I’m working for a company that is innovative, has great learning tools, a pretty clear path for me to move up and most importantly, I’m not miserable anymore. I’ve hit a lot of road blocks and never imagined my life to take such a turn. Some mornings I have to re-iterate that I am doing this for my future, but I do now take notice and appreciate the little things. Be present, be humble, put your head down but don’t forget to be grateful for all that you do have. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Featured image – Mean Girls

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