For those of you who knew that you wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a CPA since the time you started kindergarten, I envy you. Even now, well into my mid-twenties, I still don’t think I can pinpoint what exactly I want to do when I grow up; it is for this reason that I am simply terrified when I am asked the question “what do you do?”
You can do and be anything you set your mind to; growing up my mom was sure to always instill confidence in me and urged to pursue my interests and always set goals for myself. No matter what your interests might be, having faith in your abilities is one way to encourage your ambition, self-confidence, and your drive. With this knowledge instilled in me, I developed some major chutzpah and a deeply rooted competitive spirit. Having a collection of titles and accolades was one way that I tried to prove I was not only good enough, but honestly, also a little bit better than someone else. Yes, it is silly, I am now aware. However, these achievements served as a way of covering up my insecurities and doubts. I have always known that I wanted to be a writer, but not being able to pinpoint in what capacity I wanted to write made me feel like others were judging me for it.
Eventually my ambition — and my tendency to be a squeaky wheel — landed me an internship at a magazine, which seemed like a dream come true for a writer without much direction. Rung by rung I planned on climbing the social ladder to bigger paychecks, better titles, and what I perceived to be more success.
Now, I work in retail. A turn of events lead me from feeling on top of the world and in control of my life, to doing something I felt completely beneath me: working at the mall. However, like any true go-getter, I made the best of my situation and aimed my sights at getting a management position (but only until I found a “real” job, I told myself). Once again, that social ladder enticed me to seek promotion after promotion and title after title, until I finally reached the management position I coveted. Despite this success, I still found it hard to be happy because I didn’t feel that I should be working in retail at all. It didn’t matter to me that I was making more money at the mall than I had previously, or that I had been entrusted with responsibilities, or even that I was working along side some of the hardest working women I’d ever met. I still felt inadequate.
Only now do I realize that this “hierarchy” — with its accompanying stereotypes — is incredibly off-base.
I have never met a child who would say that they want to work in retail when they grow up, yet, so many post-grads find themselves in exactly that position. At least for me, I figured that putting in four years at a university would enable me to bypass such work and spit me out somewhere slightly higher on the job hierarchy. Only now do I realize that this “hierarchy” — with its accompanying stereotypes — is incredibly off-base.
So many, including myself, have assumed that there is a fundamental difference between workers and career types when in actuality, both categories are comprised of smart, hard-working and driven people. Ultimately it was my own stereotype against the work I had been doing at the mall that kept me from being happy. I didn’t think that anyone valued what I did, therefore, I didn’t value myself. I didn’t think I could be happy until I “improved.”
My perceived position on the job totem-poll and how that made me feel blinded me from the things that should bring me happiness: my loyal friendships, the privilege I had to go to school, my health, and even having a job at the mall. Working in retail has opened my eyes in many ways, including helping me personally look past stereotypes that I had created. I now know, first hand, that they are not true. I work with educated, strong, creative women. They share the ambition that I have and working together helps us all to become better problem solvers.
Every day I remind myself that I am the only person who can make myself feel inadequate or not ambitious for working in retail. To breakdown stereotypes, I no longer ask people “what they do,” because it doesn’t really matter in the long run. Competing with the people around me hasn’t made me any better and it surely hasn’t made me any happier, either. Instead, I now ask “what is your passion?” or “who do you want to become?” None of my circumstances have changed, but my perspective has. When I started asking the people around me the right questions, the answers I received became more inspiring and complex. These answers have helped me realize that there are more important things than your bank account, your job, and what preconceived ideas accompany your title.
I’m not ashamed to say that I work in retail. I wake up each day knowing a little more about myself than I did the day before, and little by little I’m learning to redefine myself based on personality and character rather than resume.
Have you had a job that taught you more than you were expecting? What was it?
Image via Melissa Barrett