Finding pride in the soles of shoes.
**The following is a piece of original writing I entered into an essay contest. It didn’t win, but I like it, and I thought you might, too. Happy Humpday, y’all!**
Each employee was to schedule a meeting with our new manager to discuss our job roles, challenges, and goals. My meeting was set for a Thursday afternoon, and I’d taken a few notes on my iPad before heading downstairs to her office.
But when I entered her mahogany kingdom, I was met with an employee from Human Resources. My new manager and I weren’t going to be discussing my job, but rather, the fact that my “services” were no longer needed.
For nearly seven years leading up to that day, I’d served as the Web Editor for a large, state university. I’d written stories for the website, reorganized departmental sites, led national advertising campaigns, and created social media strategies for the brand. I’d just received the largest raise in the office due to my hard work over the years.
That day, my previous work, all of my experience – it meant nothing.
“Any questions?” my boss asked.
There were papers to sign in front of me, and I was given strict instructions to pack up my office (do not touch your computer or any other university property, they said), and would be escorted out of the building and was never to return to campus.
“Yes,” I said, working to move my jaw. “Why is this happening?”
I was told that it was an “at-will” termination, which meant that according to state law, I could be terminated for any reason, at any time, without warning, and without being told of the reason.
So, I went to my office where there were empty boxes waiting to be filled. I was watched as I packed, and escorted to my car, walking past the offices of my former fellow employees.
I’d built my life around my job, which had become my career. I’d stayed in the city, 15 hours from where I grew up, for this job, and had little intent to leave. I lived in a coveted loft, a place I would soon come to resent given the high rent and my lack of funds.
The next day, I started applying for jobs. I applied for jobs like my life depended on it – because, in a way, it did. I applied all over the country, for all sorts of positions that sounded remotely interesting. When weeks passed without so much as a phone call, I started looking for short-term work as well.
The holidays were approaching, so I applied for retail positions that would at least get me out of the apartment and I could earn a paycheck.
Around Thanksgiving, I accepted a position as a part-time associate at a shore store near my apartment. My first shift was scheduled for five hours, but a few hours in, I was asked if I could stay until the store closed, making it a 14-hour shift. I said yes.
It was hard work; I was on my feet, and I only got a 30-minute break. The store was constantly busy, and I quickly learned shoe style numbers, sizing, and how to reasonably make a sale. The pay was only $8 an hour, so I’d packed a peanut butter sandwich in order to avoid the food court.
That night, I cried on my short drive home. I was fairly certain my feet had never hurt quite so bad, and I wondered how long this was going to be my life. My next shift at the store was scheduled to start in just eight hours.
I quickly missed the comfort of my desk, my office, and the luxury of simply knowing how to do my job. But I kept on, working as many shifts as I was allowed and picking up extras for fellow employees when they needed time off. I wasn’t going home for the holidays that year, so I could just keep working.
As the days passed, I sometimes saw friends or old coworkers in the store. It was awkward having to explain my situation. Even a few family members turned on me, making condescending comments about how I was “just a shoe salesman at the mall” now.
For a moment, I hung my head in shame. But, my friend who worked in Human Resources for an ad agency and often served as my workout partner, offered some wisdom.
“Head up,” he said. “Everyone has a job to do.”
He was right. There are all sorts of jobs that are less-then-glamorous, and they are held by employees doing what they need to do to get by in this life. It doesn’t really matter if it’s part of their passion or their intended journey, it was a job that needed to be filled in order for the ways of the world to keep going.
No, I didn’t go to college to work at a shoe store, but I was making an honest living, and I was applying for other jobs during my time off. I also accepted two additional retail jobs, and got a promotion at the shoe store, making my work week at least 60-hours.
I learned how to operate three different cash register systems, memorized the opening and closing procedures for each job, and started to find joy in the little things – greeting and helping customers, getting to know my coworkers (despite our 10-year age difference), and going to bed each night knowing I’d done everything I could that day.
That year, I spent Christmas alone. In fact, Christmas Day was my only day off in weeks, since it was the only day all of the stores were closed. I found comfort on my couch, with my heating pad, and my decorated tree that I’d reluctantly pulled from my closet in November.
It took me eight months to find a job that fit my career path and offered a salary with benefits. The job was in another state, and I worked my retail jobs until the day I moved.
There’s no doubt that it was the most difficult eight months of my life – there were very few days off, no health insurance, and a very tight budget I had to follow. But, I’d somehow made it work. I kept my loft until moving day, never missed a bill, and I learned how to juggle the schedules of three jobs.
I also learned a lot about pride and hard work. At most job interviews, they ask how you’d describe yourself. I’d said I was a hard worker before, but now I’ve truly lived it. I’ve worked when I thought I couldn’t even stand, I’ve done jobs that some people wouldn’t even consider, and I’ve smiled when people from my career-life would whisper, “What are you doing here?”
There are days when even my current salaried gig isn’t all I dreamt of during my long shifts in the retail stores. But no matter what job I have, at any point in my life, I know I’m going to do it with my head held high.
Take pride in the ability to get up each day, and do whatever it is you have to do to keep going. Find joy in the walk to the office, the people you see each shift, or the discovery of all the new things you’ve learned.
Almost two years after unexpectedly losing my job, I still carry fears that it will happen again, but then I remember that I made it work. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but I did it, and I found some good in that chapter of my journey.
Looking back, my job at the university had its perks, and it looked really good on my resume. But it wasn’t challenging, and there was no room for growth, meaning I would have had to leave eventually. How it happened wasn’t any sort of dream scenario, but it forced me out of my comfort zone, and into the reality of another person’s shoes.
Posted on March 22, 2017, in The Squeeze and tagged blog, blogger, career, essay, Holly A. Phillips, life, memoir, original, retail, The Bitter Lemon, work, writer. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.