I’ve learned a lot at the store

For seven months, I’ve been proud to pull on that red vest and talk to customers.

Working at the store has been interesting, every shift, every day.

My comfortable, sturdy work shoes.

My comfortable, sturdy work shoes.

Yes, even when I spilled paint on my favorite pair of work shoes.

Here’s the most important of what I’ve learned since October, when I started as a part-time cashier on the front end, and then moved full-time to the paint department four months later.

•Customers can make your day. A smile at the cash register always made me happy, whether it be for solving a problem with a price that somehow didn’t ring up right or for one of my product-related puns I liked to register. A chuckle and comment about that would be followed with You can see me four times a week at register 11. In paint, the smiles come from a customer agreeing with my advice on a color match in the chip section. Yes, what do you think goes with … is a challenge I’ve come to appreciate.

•Customers can spoil the moment. It’s only business, I know. But rude is rude. And to be yelled at with the F-bomb when you’re trying to locate a product is, well, uncalled for in any location. Worst moment, though: I’m on the top step of our very tall ladder, pulling down a four-can carton of water seal from the top stock. The heavy carton is in my arms, over air space, when a customer rams the bottom of the ladder with his shopping cart and shock waves travel up the steel. Now, the store has fantastic ladders. Once you lock those babies down bu stepping firmly on the bottom step, they’re as steady as they come. Nevertheless, as the collision shock wave wave travels up, ny legs wobble, my arms quake, my heart races, Whoa! escapes my lips. Fortunately, I steady all of the above, I secure the carton against my body and rail per regulations, and safely back down the ladder to put the four cans of water seal in their rightful place for another customer to purchase. Because this guy didn’t stop, or even look up.

•I can do more than I imagined. The 2013 layoff after 30 years at the big daily hit me hard in many ways. Shook me up as I freelanced in the writing business and searched for full-time gigs in my field and then took a job in, gulp, retail. And then this 57-year-old guy learned new tricks like opening shifts at 6 a.m. after closing shifts at 10 p.m. and turned 58 with a smile.

•Good, honest work feels rewarding. Physically demanding to the core, yes. But I sure have been sleeping now well.

•Retail draws interesting people. I respect and admire many of my colleagues. Great talks have been many.

If this sounds like a so-long story to you, you’re good.

I’m winding down my time at the store.

Which means, of course, that I’m leaving you with a cliffhanger.

What’s the best job you’ve ever had? What’s the hardest job you’ve ever had? What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had? And why to all three, of course.

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35 thoughts on “I’ve learned a lot at the store

  1. i love the lessons you’ve learned, on so many levels. both good and bad and i know that every experience teaches us something and leads us to another. i look forward to the next leg of your trip. some of my hardest jobs have been in the food industry – waitressing, bartending, catering. and yet, i look back on these days fondly and i learned so much from them.

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  2. You’re leaving the store? Are you OK? I mean, its not a health problem I hope – although you have given no indication that it is. I’ve done some unusual jobs over the years but most were assignments within an otherwise normal job. Many organizations have a few employees that they call on for troubleshooting and I seemed to end up on that list regularly. So when a tanker driver accidentally left around 3,000 gallons of fuel oil on a truck and we had to determine how much was there without unloading it or when a driver drove a loaded tanker into the woods by mistake and it sunk to the axles and had to be unloaded and winched out or when thousands of gallons of fuel went missing over multiple deliveries during a year’s time. Or when a load had to be moved and it could not be permitted. And so on. I rather enjoyed those challenges. So they were the hardest (most challenging), best and strangest, all rolled into one.

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  3. Worse job working at Daddy’s Restaurant at age 12 and peeling 50 pound sacks of potatoes-Terp-right remember?? Best Job being a Mom-why? Because I am just one of those educated women who can have a career and a large family (even if only part-time career and full-time Mommy)! Good enough for me! Happy Mother’s Day to Karen! Gatorette.

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    • You have the best job in the world, Cheryl, and it’s full-time, forever. Don’t you forget it. Happy Mother’s Day down there, my friend. Make the hubby and kids peel the potatoes for you tomorrow, Gatorette. ❤

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  4. I’m glad you were okay after the ram to your ladder. Scary. It’s true in retail that customers can make or break your day. Same with most jobs. The jobs are generally great. It’s th attitudes that may leave more to be desired.

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  5. Mark – Whatever your next adventure is I wish you well. I admire that that you looked past the extensive time in your previous career to consider other areas of opportunity. So many people don’t realize that the skills that they have in one profession can be adapted to another. Obviously your people and communication skills will be assets at the next fork in the road.

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  6. Why are you leaving us with a cliffhanger (I am waving my hands up in the air in frustration)? I am glad you are okay after the ladder incident. Where are you going! Hmm.
    The hardest job I ever had was working Pediatric Oncology, the best job I ever had is the job I have been doing for the last 10 years. The weirdest job I ever had was being an Air Force officer for 18 years – how the military survived me and how I survived the military – I will never understand.

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  7. Mark – sounds like your job in the service industry was similar to my 13 months behind the wheel of a taxi. Thanks for sharing. And, it sounds like you’re off to a new, positive adventure. Absolutely best of luck!

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  8. While I want to say teaching was more rewarding, I actually LOVED working at the hardware store (for four years.) It was a great environment, a great company, and I felt adequately paid for my time.

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  9. What an experience! Every life needs light and shade and it sounds as though you have experienced both. I work in a Public Library, so I can commiserate with you on the joys and challenges of working with the public. The answer is the same to the following questions: What is the best part of your job? What is the worst part of your job? The People. But I have to say the interesting, funny, kind, and happy people outnumber the stinkers. Waiting to see what your next adventure is…

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  10. I admire you for taking whatever job you could get and making it yours, even if only temporarily. Too many people simply sit home and wait for that next big opportunity, which may or may not come. Can’t wait to hear your good news.

    As for me, my worst employment was working 3 jobs simultaneously in an effort to keep the bills paid. All that did is make me sick, and at the end of the year I got socked with taxes because 2 of the 3 jobs were too low-paying to have taxes taken out of the checks. Accumulated at the end of the year, it put me higher up on the tax tables. So, basically I worked the 2 part-time jobs all year for nothing and then wound up with a bunch of medical bills on top of it.

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  11. I’ve read through the comments and am so relieved that good news is coming – was quite concerned! I am so impressed that you did a job so different to your previous career and yet I guess the work was still with people and I get the impression that you are good with people. Sorry that customers swore at you and nearly knocked you off a ladder. The customer is not always right! Sending you lots of good wishes from this side of the pond 🙂

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  12. Well-done on the wrap-up, Mark! Have worked a bit of retail and totally agree with you about customers – they can make or break a moment, which ripples further to possibly an entire shift. Important to be a good customer! Good for you for making lemonade out of what could have been sour lemons. Now you are on to your lemon drop martini 🙂 Or maybe a whiskey sour.

    I didn’t much like being a food technologist at one of my first jobs, though that was more the environment and co-workers than the job itself. Not sure I’ve had any “strange” jobs. Strange projects, maybe. One client had me scooping ice cream for hours so they could measure an average-size scoop. Ha.

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    • That scooping project, Liz. Left giving not only the cold shoulder, but the frozen hand, wrist and forearm, all in the name of discovering average. We need a blog post on that one. 🙂

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  13. Oops. I read the end before the beginning, so I know where this leads.

    Mark, you have been an inspiration in dealing with difficult life turns. Should I find myself in difficult circumstances, I hope that I can keep my sense of who I am, my sense of humor and my good nature half as well as you did.

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  14. Best job – working in education promoting science, technology, engineering, & math (among other things) to K-12 students, as a journalist and project manager setting up online events.
    Worst job – working for the local parks dept at the age of 17. The guys got to paint dome posts and other cool stuff outside, while me & the only other girl spent the entire day sweeping & mopping this huge indoor pavilion. After the 1st day, with hands covered in blisters, I didn’t go back.
    Strangest job – I guess would be as a teenager working for my dad manning his computer portrait business at flea markets and department stores back in the late 1970s. I met a lot of interesting people at those flea markets, even charmed one vendor into agreeing to give me a free tattoo . . . didn’t get the tattoo though, because my dad said if I did, he’d take me to get it burned off. (I am now the only person in my family that does not have a tattoo.) Retail is definitely interesting 😉

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