Saturday, January 24, 2015

Working, or: Leaving Retail and Getting that Professional Job People Have Been Asking About Since College

So since I'm getting back into the habit of writing here, it's only fair that I give a throughout explanation of where I've been for the last few months. It looks a little something like this:

For those of you who work forty hours a week, you already know this, but having a forty hour a week schedule is... well, a lot of work. Especially the schedule I had, working price change at a retail store, going in at 6am until 2:30pm most days. I could write a saga on the merits and pitfalls of working retail, but I'll save you. However, I'm not doing it anymore. I spent nearly a year and a half working in the store and now I've left, having been offered a full-time job at the theatre I worked in part time before now.

I'm elated. Retail is a job, but it's not the sort of job I could have forever. While my store was a pretty good place to work, it also had its flaws, especially in terms of technology and communication. I was also growing exhausted from my early hours. It's not easy to get up at 4:15 in the morning, especially in the dead of winter, and go to bed around eight at night to try and get enough sleep to repeat the whole process over again. I'd grown weary of the issues and emotional stress retail brings with it and I'd rather do something my heart is more drawn to. Also, having benefits and vacation days is sure going to be a nice change.

However, I am going to miss all the people I work with at the store and I feel a bit bad about leaving them, especially because the departure was pretty sudden (I'd been thinking about leaving for a while, but I didn't expect an opportunity to come along anytime soon). My coworkers talk about "getting out" and wanting me to take them with me. And I feel really guilty that I, who've only been there less than two years, am leaving with those who have been then for many are still going to be there for a while longer.

Now, I want to make something clear: I am pretty good worker. I work really hard. I have a college degree and decent job experience thanks to the retail work and a college job. But I wouldn't be anywhere that I am if it weren't for the people around me. I'm in theatre because of some really lucky connections, some major miracles, and being in the right place at the right time. If I hadn't sent a bunch of query emails about internships last summer, if I hadn't gotten a reply from one at just the right time, if I hadn't done well at the internship, been offered the part time house managing job and been convinced by my roommate at the time to say yes, and if one of the guys from the theatre hadn't put in his notice for the end of the year, none of this would have happened. Everything lined up perfectly and I am astounded by it all. Since I graduated from college, I'd applied to so many full-time professional jobs and none of them so much as sent me a rejection email. But now I've landed one in an area I've dreamed of working in. And I honestly don't know how entirely it happened.

That's the problem with the job market. There are jobs available, but submitting a resume and interviewing for them doesn't seem to be landing people jobs. Having a college degree puts some people at an advantage, but it doesn't guarantee anything. Being a good worker isn't always enough. Sometimes, it comes down to who you know and where you are. And it's not always fair.

I'm not feeling guilty - for once -  about landing this job. I feel I'm just being honest. Getting into certain fields can be difficult and, being new to theatre, I can't help but want to make a good impression to keep things in my favor and to stay in the field. I like people and I want people to get along with me to make life easier. Maybe this is some secret in job performance, but I don't really know. It's what I've always tried to do after realizing that being the ansty person I was in high school was unbearable to myself. And things have gotten a lot better since then.

There's a lot of mental changes I went through in moving from one job to the next. I'd never put in two weeks notice like that and knowing my time was limited at the store felt a bit weird and sad. However, I'm elated about not having to wear my work uniform anymore and am rebuilding my wardrobe, finally having an excuse to choose out some nice work attire. But the part that seems the hardest for me to accept are my hours - 10am to 6pm, not 6am to 2:30ish - and my salary. When I found out what I'd be projected to be making, I nearly died. Going from just above minimum wage to quite a bit above minimum wage is something I had only been dreaming of just a couple of months ago.

Here's an honest fact about retail - you make very little doing some of the hardest, most thankless work in the world. For my early hours, my limited ability to take time off, and fast-paced heavy workload, I made $8.75. And that was after three pay raises; my starting wages at the store were $8. Minimum wage in Minnesota has gone up, so my pay did too at one point. But it's still not much. Hence the need for another part time job and the freelance gig since at least half of one month's pay check was going to rent alone. Which made me think of this post I saw ages ago on Tumblr:

This most rings so true with me. My idea of wealth is maybe being able to rent a house some where in Minneapolis and having a cat. That's it. Nothing larger. It used to be a lot different - pent house, trendy condo somewhere, having a summer home - though I think I projected those ideas on other people, perhaps never sincerely believing I'd have them for myself. But now my salary increase makes it seem a little more feasible to get a cat and maybe in a year or two move out of my studio into something larger. What makes me happiest is that I no longer have to work three jobs.

If you're a Millennial, I have a feeling this all sounds very familiar to you. People tell us that we're a privileged generation because we have all this access to technology, and we can go to college, and we don't have to work for anything. You probably already know it, but those people are delusional liars. I've been incredibly privileged in my life - so privileged - and I'm still working my butt off to pay rent and not have to feel guilty every time I want to buy lunch instead of bringing one from home. I don't even have college loans and I'm still worried about finances. The economy is in a very different place than it was twenty years ago, the job market is different, society itself is different. Being really good at something and caring a lot and interviewing well isn't enough anymore. So many jobs ask for technical expertise you can only get working the job, but they won't hire you without prior experience on a job like it, but you can't get the experience without getting the job. It's a convoluted vicious cycle. Meanwhile, there are retail and service jobs open, but people don't want them because they don't pay well and companies keep threatening to replaced such positions with robots (check-out lanes I understand because cashiering is kind of the worst, but seriously, what the hell is this, Lowe's?). And then there's my area of work, non-profit groups and theaters and such, which survive on donations and ticket sales and aren't the most stable of places. While I love that I've ended up here, I know it's not going to be without its own problems.

My former roommate always used to quote her father and say, "If work was fun, it wouldn't be called work." But I've always wondered why work can't be more fun. It doesn't help that what I've learned from my short time in the work world is unless you're a computer programer or have a business degree, life might be kind of rough for you. Which made me quite a bit bitter, then just kind of morose about it all. I've always been skeptical of people who gave doctors and lawyers more respect as people than teachers and plumbers and baristas. Working in retails has made me even more skeptical. Yes, certain jobs take a lot more training but all work has its importance. Maybe this is why I like Studs Terkels' Working so much.

The issues I have with work is hard for me to articulate. But this quote from yet another Tumblr blogger (again, seen ages ago) helps point it out.
the question, really, is ‘when did it become acceptable and even normal to constantly overlook your current present in favour of some non-knowable and never certain to even exist future?’
Having a job that isn't entirely inspiring and fulfilling causes a lot of dreaming for a future of something else. It's easier to cope with reality when you're dreaming of a different reality entirely. I spent a lot of time doing this at the end of my college career and post-college. I don't want to say that this sort of thing is entirely bad, because we all do it, but I was getting to the point where it might have been a bit unhealthy. I was focused so much more on the future than the present that I wasn't entirely aware of what was going on around me, but often this was the only way to get through bad days at the store. There was a point where I stopped doing this and settled into the present, but it caused me to change my relationship with fandom and with what I was planning to do in the future. I'm not going to lie - it hurt a little bit, and I had to give up a little bit of the dreamer I was and accept a bit more realism. It also caused me to change how I viewed my current job - not a temporary thing, but long-term until I found something more full-time than retail. It worked for a while, but I got burned out on it fast. It was hard for me to find a way in which I could do a job with minimal creativity and high stress long term. And the worry never went away, especially as to how long I'd be able to work three jobs until it became a problem.

I don't want to say that moving into theatre full-time will completely avoid the dreaming of the future. No job is perfect and I'm one hell of a daydreamer, after all, but it will definitely help me enjoy and focus on the present far more. But I'm left wondering how in the hell I'm able to move on to something like this and others never have this opportunity. I don't like the idea of pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps - aside from being an entirely physically impossible action, it makes it sound like the person did it entirely on their own. Which I most certainly did not do. I avoid thinking about climbing a ladder to something greater - ladders have destinations and aside from my vague career goals, I have no idea where I'm going to end up. I cringe at the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants, worrying about those who might be getting crushed under the giant's feet. I'm deeply skeptical of consumerism and, while working retail, I worried constantly that I'm not actually good at work because I'm critical and self-depreciating and don't always respond well to authoritarianism. Yet somehow at my store I managed to put most of that aside and make a good impression. It isn't relevant any longer, but it sure confused the hell out of me. I'd go from the store to the theater on Friday evenings and realize what a different I was performing the two jobs. I felt far more comfortable in the theater and felt much more sincere and honest with patrons than I ever did with guests at the store. Even though there's a huge part of retail work coming into play with how I work with patrons, there's something at least more genuine for me. Eventually I think it was the discordance I felt working the two jobs that made me realize something had to change.

But my mind is still stuck at the "how did I get here?" stage. I did work hard to get here, but how in the world did it all work out when nothing else has before? I honestly owe a lot to the theatre I work at and a lot to the people around me there. I'm deeply in the honeymoon phase of all this and once I settle into my job, maybe I'll feel a bit differently. But right now, I'm right where I want to be. I also have a whole lot more creativity streaming through my mind, which means a whole lot of strange, rambling posts like the one you just witnessed. So brace yourselves. :)


  1. Don't argue with the magic that happened (and don't feel guilty). Glad to hear that all's well so far!

  2. Hardest, most thankless work in the world? Did you actually say the *world*?

    1. An exaggeration on my part. Of course I don't mean the entire world - there are far more thankless jobs out there. But retail comes with its own problems in my tiny sphere of existence.

  3. Congratulations on your job, you very much deserve it! I agree with your point above about needing to know people to get jobs, that's titally been the truth for me... If only I weren't so lousy at networking..,

  4. Congratulations Gina!! It is always hard and difficult for accepting things, even good ones, but all things, good and bad, happen for a reason. Your hard work and luck clearly got you to where you are - and I'm sure I don't have to say this, but keep working hard and I'm sure your daydreaming days will come true!

    You're right - many people don't factor in luck, networking, etc. But many people also think only luck, networking, etc. get others to where they want to be. But I don't believe that's the only way. Just pure hard work and passion still brings some good outcome. Maybe less these days, but it still can get you somewhere... More people need to realize this, and I'm not surprised that you did realize that. You're so compassionate and empathetic, and so it is important for others to realize what they have and not take it for granted.

    Congrats again! And only best wishes to you this year!

    1. Thanks, anon, and thank you for your kind words!