It wasn’t meant to be a career. It started out as a part-time job to earn a little money and ease myself back into the workforce after staying home with my son. But then something surprising happened:
I fell in love with working retail.
As a “gifted” but iffy student with undiagnosed ADHD who opted for a theatre conservatory after high school over a traditional university, my professional path was never simple. There aren’t any full-time jobs with benefits for professional actors in south Louisiana (or anywhere if we’re being honest) and without a 4-year degree teaching wasn’t even on the table (nor was it something I had a particular aptitude for.) I spent years searching for a calling, a “reasonable” grown up career path that worked for me. I performed for a children’s theater (lots of fun but not enough hours to pay the bills) and several cruise lines (a fabulous adventure but not sustainable for someone with a family). I even tried my hand at office work and, while I wasn’t bad at it, I found myself anxious and burnt out without being able to pinpoint why.
When I had my son and couldn’t afford the cost of childcare on my salary, I jumped at the opportunity to become a stay-at-home mom. Surely this will be my purpose, I thought.
Nope. That wasn’t it either.
I recognize staying home during those early years as the massive privilege and blessing that it was. But my purpose it was not. When we moved to Lafayette I finally had the support I needed to go back to work, but… what work? I took a chance and applied for a part-time position at a store I passed every day. For whatever reason, every time I drove by I thought, Boy I bet I’d love working there. When they called me for an interview I had already secured a job that allowed me to work from home, but still I thought, What have I got to lose? and went to the interview anyway.
I got the job.
Even though I didn’t need it, something in me told me not to let this opportunity pass me by. I am so glad I didn’t. From the nerve-wracking steps through the front doors on my first day of training to the tears shed in my car after my final shift almost exactly one year later, I loved that job with all my heart. Every morning I woke up excited to go to work, and at the end of each shift, I felt sad to leave. I’ve since moved on to a full-time position at another store, but I will always be grateful for that first opportunity.
The thing is, I know some people think of service industry jobs as “stepping stones” on the path to a “real job.” I even notice I’m judging myself when I occasionally tell people I work “in sales” rather than telling them I am a retail associate. I let them imagine I carry a briefcase and give presentations and have my own desk. But truthfully, I have a great job, I enjoy it, and I am damn good at it. I love that every day I get to meet someone new and hear their story. I love that it works to my advantage and how motivated I am by the success of those around me. I love that I get to run around all day (I know this would not be in the “pro” column for everybody, but as someone who used to get disciplined for practicing tap dances under her desk in junior high, sitting still has never been part of my success story.) And most of all, I love that at the end of every shift, I clock out, go home, and live my own life.
Working retail isn’t for everybody, but for me, it has genuinely been a dream come true.