Working in retail wasn’t my dream. To be honest, it’s still not. My life just unfolded that way. Sometimes, though, things happen a certain way and you don’t realize their impact on your life until years later.
When I started working in retail nearly nine years ago, I didn’t intend on staying in the industry for this long. At that time, it seemed like a logical job choice for a then college student. I was attending a community college and was definitely undecided in terms of a major. Working a retail job allowed me the flexibility to work around my classes, while still gaining work experience. Plus, I had something to “fall back on” if I didn’t end up choosing a major before graduation. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.
Coincidentally (or maybe not), my first retail job was at my school’s bookstore. It was as a temporary sales associate during ‘rush‘, which are the first few weeks of the semester when all the students are buying their textbooks. I worked crazy long hours for minimum wage doing a job that I thought I was good at…and I loved it! It’s funny to think so fondly of that experience now; it sounds like a job I would absolutely hate working today, but things change I guess. Like anything else in life, though, it wasn’t always great. More times than I could count, I let my own anxieties get in the way. However, the things I learned from that job and the several I have worked since, are things that have actually helped my anxiety and are skills I will take with me throughout my life.
If you know anything about retail, you know that there are two types of stores that people shop at: stores that people want to shop at and stores that people need to shop at. A college bookstore is one of those latter places. I would get yelled at because the books were too expensive, we didn’t have their book in stock, the lines were too long, etc. Obviously, these were things I could not control but, more times than not, retail workers are the first in the line of fire. I didn’t handle the combativeness well. I took the customers’ rudeness and, sometimes, downright cruelty towards me very personally. There were even a few times when I needed to excuse myself and go cry in the back room. It took me years (and I mean YEARS) to get to the point where I didn’t let my own anxieties take over in those kinds of situations. Confrontation with a customer is still my least favorite part of the job, however, I’ve dealt with this enough times to not let it phase me much anymore.
One of the more challenging parts of working a job, or just being an adult really, is knowing your worth and respecting yourself. It’s also knowing when to step away from a toxic work environment, which I have unfortunately had to do more than once. I have struggled with the worth bit for awhile because time and time again I let people walk all over me. At my current job, I am overworked and underpaid for the work I do. However, I feel like I am somewhat backed into a corner because the pay is slightly better than most retail jobs. Of course, I’m not just going to take this; I’m going to leave once I find a new job but I’m probably not going to express my frustrations to the powers that be (remember, I hate confrontation). But that’s the anxiety for you! I would obviously love it if I was more assertive but I do realize that it’s all a process and I’m just not mentally there yet. On a more positive note, I have become less emotionally invested in my job and that has actually helped a lot. I’ve noticed that by caring less, I’m not as angered or let down when something bad happens. This may seem like a cop out but if you live with anxiety, than you know it’s all about taking baby steps.
Finally, I would say the most important way working in retail has helped my anxiety is by boosting my confidence. As I mentioned before, I got better at communicating with difficult customers overtime but it took awhile to get there. I tend to overthink things and my lack of confidence often came across in how I was interacting with a customer. This gave them the permission to walk all over me and break me down, so to speak. Once I realized that by just changing my body language or the way I was speaking, I now had control. I could literally tell them lies but as long as I said it with confidence, I was good (Don’t worry, I don’t actually lie to customers…I’m just making a point lol). By forcing myself to face my anxiety head on, on a day to day basis, I’ve not only become a less anxious person but also a better worker.
Thank you so much for reading this long winded post. It’s something that I’ve wanted to share for awhile…I hope that my mental health posts have resonated with some of you. Has your line of work helped you grow as a person? Let me know in the comment section below! Be sure to follow my blog and socials if you aren’t already!