The Box of a Retail Job

Recently I started a new job in the world of retail on a busy street in Austin. It’s at a store that sells handmade gifts from around the world, and I’m happy that I finally found one.

That being said, most of my readers will know that my story-driven and sometimes overly sensitive brain will easily have a heyday with this type of situation.

For one thing, this is the first time in several years that I’ve had a job that demanded I be at a certain place at certain times all throughout the week. Even my last job that payed great and put me in a leadership role only demanded me to be in a specific spot two days out of the week- the rest was just over the phone, which made getting a few hours off impossible to count on.

One of the things I am most struck by is how nice it is to have a job that I can actually leave at the job. When I come home, I get to spend my time however the heck I want to without having to give a second thought to what happened at work. It’s the first time in many many years that that is the case for me- usually my work comes home with me or is home-based.

But I must say that delving back into the world of retail has my head spinning with critiques and questions about the way we run things in this world.

Right now, when I think of heading to work, it feels like I am heading into a box. A box where they can tell me how long I have to stand and when I get to stop and eat. A box where they tell me what to do and how to do it, and where I have to smile and be a blank slate of joy and service for whoever chooses to walk through the doors to buy things they don’t need in a city where they are trying to pack as much joy and excitement and consumerism into as short of a time as possible. If I didn’t know better, I would assume that all tourists choose Saturday for these endeavors.

I want to make that box into more of a home. Not really a home, but a small room in a home. A room that has a certain purpose that does not have to affect the rest of it. Like a utility closet, or my dad’s wood room in the basement. He would go there to load up wood into the stove and heat the house. It is hard work to do that, but the house stays warm in winter and wood doesn’t have to be burned all over the place.

I can go to this job and put on a smile and make money while also getting to talk to people and find genuine joy inside of me because that is much easier than faking it. I can learn the systems and the cash register and the stories about all of the merchandise. But I have to remember and remind myself that the box of that job does not define me as a person and does not need to impact my opinion of myself even if I do a less than decent job some days.

This new situation also reminds me how little I am able to actually empathize with the people I encounter each day. All throughout the day we are interacting with people who are currently at work. Whether we have to call the telephone company or go to the gas station, we are talking to folks who are at their jobs doing what they do in that small room of their mental house. Sometimes as obvious as it is, I forget this. I forget there are things I can’t empathize with because I have never worked at a telephone company call center or at a gas station. I know what it means to go “to work” but the specific demands on each person in those roles is going to be unique. I don’t know how long they have been standing or sitting or how badly they want to go get a snack.

That’s all I’ve got for now, folks. There are stories and blog posts brewing in my brain but those will have to just wait. Right now, I just want to share my process about this box and how I want to choose to relate to it so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

Do you like your job? Do you remember the last time you changed into a new type of job from the one you previously had and how that affected your mental state?



11 thoughts on “The Box of a Retail Job

  1. I was in a flower shop yesterday buying a rose for my Rose. I actually do this frequently in this same shop, but I’m still seeing new faces behind that counter. It was an older woman I don’t remember helping me before. After doing this wonderous job arranging this rose, we then stood there for what seemed like a short eternity waiting for the debit charge to go through. She apologized and then mentioned a previous customer who grew irritated at such a delay and began raising his voice, using a few obscenities, etc. I smiled and told her we are all going just a bit too fast, aren’t we; that we should be thanking her for giving us an excuse to stop for just a few moments, no matter what earth shattering appointment is demanding us to move move move and instead breathe breathe breathe. And then I thanked her. She smiled, and went back to work, and I stepped out into a warm sunlit morning. We have so many intersections of grace and beauty (the religious word I believe is “sacrament”) in such boxes, in this case, a flower of a moment in a flower shop. But we do miss them, mostly, don’t we? Thank you for taking the time to share about your days in your box and giving me the chance to remember this one…and breathe.

    • You are always amazing with your comments. Actually, a few days ago our machine was going slowly because someone was sending a fax, and me and my trainer and the customer all had to wait. I made some comment about how it was good to have an excuse to slow down. Luckily the customer was of the same belief 🙂 I’ll probably never forget the joy of that shared sacred understanding- it’s so cool that you can offer that to others, as you seem to always do to me on this blog 🙂 yay for the pure slow unadulterated moment! 🙂

  2. I am working for the first time in 4 years. I really like my job, doing food demo’s at Sam’s Club. People are always nice as you are giving them food. I tried a telemarketing job for a week, I hated it. But this job is easy and not stressful and pays pretty good. Today I had to push a product that I think is poison, fortunately most everyone else thinks so too.

  3. Nice post Ms. Stuart. I agree with your logic. At the moment I am working two part time jobs that involve me not having to leave my computer. What I find frustrating about this is that I sometimes wonder what I am contributing. I know I am doing something, but it is not the same as physically leaving the house one minute, working at another establishment, and returning home several hours later. I was working a job exactly like this at the end of last year, and although on one hand I do not miss having to travel and such, I do miss the feeling of my physical contribution, where I needed to be somewhere to help an organization. Not having to leave my home in order to help an organization or someone is, well, it is different…

    • That is super interesting! I was trying like hell to find a computer job, and one of my friends pointed out that it may be good for me to have to travel because otherwise it ends up feeling harder to get on the bus and leave the house, whereas when I am doing it at least a few times a week, it breaks the inertia for the other times. I feel like there are so many important things that get contributed online- it’s like a whole other world that not everyone is able to navigate or contribute to. Your organization is lucky to have someone that can do that, because for some folks it’s just too confusing! 🙂

  4. I enjoy my job, which takes place in a box of its own sort, but you’re absolutely right: you can learn to carve out a niche (like your dad’s wood room) and keep it cozy and home-like. After all, you and the atmosphere around you are part of your home. The more of yourself you take to your job, the better it will feel.

    • Aw Vicki that feels so true! I think the more I get familiar with the contours and the basic things I have to do there, the more I can bring myself instead of being in a constant learning mode. That’s an exhausting mode to be in for many hours straight- always something new to take in, remember, and figure out. I am excited to keep bringing more of my natural funness to the situation 🙂

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