3 Things I Learned Working In Retail | #GapYearChronicles

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I am of the opinion that every single young person should get an entry-level job at some point.

Now, whether that's during junior/senior year of high school, over the summer, in a gap year, or fresh out of college, I've noticed that it's the best and only way to establish a real appreciation for manual labor, and, consequentially, to build a respect that will carry you far in your adult life.

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But whether or not you agree with me on that point, it remains true in my own life that working in a minimum-wage job and working my way up over the past two years, and then adding a second gig at a clothing store has taught me so much that I could not possibly have learned from any class. It's a brand of forced maturing you can't find even at the best college; it's an amalgam of experiences, in short, that have been invaluable in making me who I am as a person.

So why do I advocate every peer of mine to get an entry-level job? Why waste time working in something dull like foodservice when, say, you could go to school and potentially work your dream job? These are my 3 reasons...

I've always known I was decent at time-management...until I got a second job and had to relearn a lot of bad habits. This goes both ways, actually: not only did I realize how much time I was wasting on unnecessary distractions (YouTube was my biggest one...oops!), I also discovered how many time-recourses were built into my schedule already, that I had previously not taken advantage of! For example, I used to wait until my one off-day to do all my laundry in one sitting...until a day when I needed something clean for the next day at work, and discovered that the 2 hr. between my morning and evening shifts was the perfect amount of time to run a load of laundry and hang it dry. Efficiency: you don't realize how much of it you have until you're forced to use it!

As for money management, the only way you'll ever be comfortable balancing your own checkbook, writing and depositing checks, filing taxes, etc, is through practice (as with anything). Learning this early on can save you both money and stress, as you won't have to struggle through it on your own later in life, or hire an accountant.

I never remember consciously thinking ill of waiters or waitresses, or sales associates, before I started working, but I certainly have a healthy amount of respect for anyone else working in service now! The reason for this is, quite simply, I know how it can be. And though maybe I'm never as stressed and overwhelmed during a busy shift as I was when I first started working, (at either job), I also work at two relatively small establishments (the Banana Republic I work at is one of the smaller ones; my other gig is at a cafe within a suburban gym). So I'm sure it can be much worse! I have so much respect for people who work in crowded restaurants on weekends, or department stores on Black Friday - and still wear a smile. Because that's epic patience and deserves appreciation.

{And as a caveat, tipping well doesn't always equate with respect: I've had to deal with people who's tips never outweigh their disdainful attitude; I've also become sincere friends with some of my regulars who have never tipped me once, because they are genuinely considerate people. That being said, a couple bucks on the receipt never made a server frown. ;) As far as retail goes, patience with sales associates goes a long way and is a good mechanism against being That Lady that everyone vents about in the break room.}

The biggest thing I've learned from manual labor has to be humility...and in saying that, I do realize I'm completely undoing the point, but bear with me here.

My first few weeks working at Banana Republic were a truly humbling experience. Instead of knowing everyone's name and every perk of the job like I did at the cafe, I knew nothing, and had to ask for help repeatedly. I made countless mistakes and was probably ridiculously awkward. And though I'm more comfortable and have found my "stride" now, I'm still constantly reminded of my inability,  and definitely make at least one mistake per day. That's real life: we're fallible human beings and we need help, and when we're not faced with that leveling regularly, it's easy to get confident in our own abilities. It's easy to think we're "doing pretty great", because we haven't been checked in a while. That's not to say I think you should work an entry-level job your whole life; that is to say that I hope I'm always working in an environment that challenges me to see my inabilities and to work on them, rather than simply complimenting my accomplishments. This isn't first grade science fair: everyone does not get a medal. This is real life, we have to work for success, and unfortunately, failure comes far more often.

But I think we should embrace this: we are surely better people for our struggle than those who think they've already got it figured out, because we are constantly being forced to try for something better, rather than settling for what's simply "good." 

So no, I wouldn't give up these lessons, even for all the free time I might have had without work. 


  1. Thank youuuu. I've had my entry-level customer service job for a while now, and while it's not the job I ever wanted, it's really turning out to be the best thing for me. I've learned so much about appreciating time and people, and how NOT to treat waitresses, and also that there are good and decent customers out there, too. I've learned about working with other people and asking for help and making mistakes. And, of course, it's made me more confident, more able to improvise.


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