When I was seventeen, just a few months shy of high school graduation, my parents approached me about getting a part-time job. They never wanted my brother or I to work while we were in high school, but in their minds, seventeen was the ideal age to officially enter the world of W-4s, W-2s and W-9s.
While this seems easy enough, I was admittedly prideful and picky and wouldn’t take any job at the mall or a restaurant. The search was complicated all the more by a tricky post-graduation summer schedule where I would be gone more than I was in town. I took my unrealistic criteria and entered the job market optimistic nonetheless.
There were no takers.
One day, I was walking down the hall of my high school and an English teacher, Mrs. Rawl, stopped me. “My husband’s office is hiring administrative help. Would you be interested? And can you tell me right now if you will take the job.”
So I found myself in a land of cubicles and leather bound tax code books working for a lobbyist. When I answered the phone for the first time, it was the Governor’s Office. Deep end it was.
All through college, I never waited a table or restocked a retail store. I often wondered how the college experience would be different if I had. I knew office politics and Outlook. I knew copy machines and multi-line phones, but I think I missed some things too. What those things were, I wasn’t sure, but I knew the hybrid college/business professional life was a bit of an enigma. Still, I steadily worked that job and another through my twenties, high heels, hemmed slacks and all.
This year, a career ended unexpectedly and after taking a few months to heal and rest, I brushed off an incredibly dusty resume and began searching. The process was long and hard and more emotional than expected. I submitted hundreds of applications, went on dozens of interviews and spent hours on the phone. As the months inched on, emails came back that began with “We regret to inform you….” and ended with “Good luck in your endeavors….,” if I heard back at all. Exhausted and nearly out of options, I turned my attention to the retail work I’d avoided so many years ago.
One lone retailer called me back, explained I was their target demographic, and wanted me to come in to chat. I dug through my closet and pulled together an outfit that looked like it would sell in the store which was more anxiety inducing than I thought it would be. Even as I walked up to the store, I wanted to keep walking. I wanted pridefully to simply be a customer. I didn’t want to be on the other side of the register. I wanted a steady salary that allow me to simply be a customer. They hired me, and since nothing else was even remotely on the horizon, I got to work, a thirty-ish year old working retail for the first time in my life.
My feet and back ached for a few solid weeks. I ate meals at off times around my shifts, and learned how to carry on conversations while listening to chatter over a radio in my ear. But my co-workers and managers were extremely nice and, I can honestly say, so were the customers.
I imagined what it would be like the first time someone I knew came in the well-trafficked store. “Didn’t you used to work….?” “What are you doing here on a Wednesday morning?” Or worse, no one would speak and pretend they didn’t see me at all. My plan was to hide in the fitting rooms, or if I couldn’t make it in time pull my hair over my radio and pretend I was shopping.
There is a term that floats around retail. Loss prevention is simply the measures a store takes to deter theft. Every place is a little different, but the goal is to net out in the positive with as little loss as possible, to be profitable with spotless records.
Profitable, spotless, netting out on the good side, are unspoken life goals. No one writes “come out on the good side of life” as a New Year resolution. It just IS. We default to beautiful and easy. No one chooses to take the bumpy way.
I wanted to prevent loss. I wanted to look like the story was bright and shiny like the wares in the store. I wanted perfectly curated and flawlessly styled. But then it gets messy and imperfect, and I want to run and save face in the fitting room.
A funny thing happened, though. It wasn’t hard to tell the story. I wasn’t hard to say, “This has been a tough season, this is where I am, and it’s beautiful, don’t you think? There are certainly worse places to be.” The imperfect, unfinished story is prettier. Loss prevention, saving face as it were, never made sense. The more compelling story, the most relatable story, is hard, long, and unexpected. I think we are all walking around in these imperfect lives just waiting for someone to come out of hiding and declare that it’s alright for us all to do the same.
I’m done preventing loss. If loss must come, it is because something needed to be taken away in order for more a more beautiful story to be written. May we all be less afraid of what may leave us. Full of faith and less afraid.