My Crap Jobs Taught Me How To Function in My Career

Throughout high school and college, like a lot of people in high school and college, I held a number of what I call “crap jobs.” You know what I’m talking about – jobs that put spending money in your pocket, but that just basically suck. For some people, that’s working in fast food or other types of restaurants. My sister worked as a golf caddy for many, many summers.

 

For me, it was retail. I worked in a variety of retail settings and I hated every second of it. I hated rude customers, I hated folding a huge stack of T-shirts only to have some customer mess them up sixty seconds later, and I couldn’t stand my mangers who thought that working in pet food sales was the equivalent to developing a cure for cancer and took the job of managing my snotty teenage self way too seriously (or so I thought back then, ha!). But I liked not having to ask my parents for money and I liked being busy, so off to my crap jobs I went.

 

Actually, though, I probably shouldn’t call the jobs I had crappy. Working in retail taught me a lot about functioning in the workplace and instilled in me a set of social skills that I absolutely use every day as a high school teacher. It might seem crazy, but retail taught me how to:

 

1. Cope with very unreasonable people

In retail, you deal with a lot of unreasonable people. People who think it’s ok to return shoes that have been worn multiple times, people who think you should let them use coupons that aren’t for your store, people who think that you should keep the store open an extra hour or two just because they aren’t finished shopping. Little did I know that learning to cope with the unreasonable nature of others was very good training for my career as a teacher. Students can obviously say and do outrageous things, but parents can be very unreasonable, too. Luckily, I’ve been trained to diplomatically deal with ridiculous requests. If only others were trained to stop making them.

2. Fake a positive attitude when I feel totally not positive

I just don’t accept the idea that a teacher’s bad day should translate into a bad attitude towards her students. We’re all human, but I think I have the obligation to fake it if I’m in a terrible mood for the sake of having a productive, positive day with my students. My retail days allow me to do this very easily. When I was a store clerk, I was young and stupid and was often dating highly inappropriate boys who would have me crying in my car all the way to work (what a ninny I was). But once I was inside the store, I transformed into Positive Polly; it’s not an option to be a sour puss in retail – you won’t sell anything. Now it’s very easy for me to fake a good mood if I have to.

3. Solve my own problems

In retail, I worked with a couple of bosses who were frequently MIA. I quickly learned that raises would come more quickly if I learned to solve minor problems on my own instead of waiting for the boss to return. As a teacher, I’m much better off developing my own systems and procedures for dealing with classroom problems than dumping every little issue on my administrators. For example, if a student is using a cell phone in class, I lock it in my desk for the day instead of turning it in to the principal. Trust me, a day without a cell phone is pretty bad punishment for a high school kid. This way, the student learns a lesson and I don’t have to create paperwork for others. Win-win.

4. Say “have a good day!”

One of the cardinal rules of retail is to tell the customer to have a good day on their way out the door. I always do the same for my students on their way out my classroom. I’m sure this doesn’t make a difference for every student, but I know that some really appreciate it.

5. Be infinitely patient

This sort of relates back to #1, but when you’re working in a busy store and 10 different customers are demanding 10 different things all at the same time, you have to keep calm and do your best to help everyone – with a smile. The same goes for a classroom where one kid needs you to sign a note, another kid needs make-up work, another kid needs a pass to the nurse…you get the idea. Working retail gave me an infinite reserve of patience to draw on, which is very valuable to have as a teacher.

 

What kinds of “crap jobs” did you work? What did they teach you?


Comments

My Crap Jobs Taught Me How To Function in My Career — 19 Comments

  1. First, congrats on the new blog!!
    Second, I absolutely love this post and relate to it on every level. I worked retail from high school all the way until the end of undergrad. I was an assistant manager my last 2 years in it. There are so, SO many lessons I learned while working those retail jobs that I apply in teaching every single day. Dealing with co-workers who drive me absolutely crazy is one I would add. Thanks for this!

  2. Not sure if that went through??
    First, congrats on the new blog!!
    Second, I absolutely love this post and relate to it on every level. I worked retail from high school all the way until the end of undergrad. I was an assistant manager my last 2 years in it. There are so, SO many lessons I learned while working those retail jobs that I apply in teaching every single day. Dealing with co-workers who drive me absolutely crazy is one I would add. Thanks for this!

  3. Beautiful new layout! I love it. Andrea is amazing.

    Also, OMG. Retail was my enemy. I worked in retail for almost 6 years and also hated every second of it. I met some good friends working in retail, but the benefit stops there. Then there’s the customers. I hated the customers the most. Sometimes they were just too much for me to handle. But they definitely taught me some important lessons!

  4. What a great look!! I really, really need to get my new blog up soon…and get off of blogspot!

    I worked retail early in my first marriage…I loved it, but then again, I didn’t make a dime either because I spent everything in the store I worked in!

    The worst job I ever had was working in a restaurant. I didn’t like it at.all. Hmmm, what did it teach me? That I could not carry food to people I knew without getting flustered…I dropped my history teacher’s steaks right in front of him!

  5. I did my share of retail, and you are right on all points. That said, my retail gigs were a cake walk next to my brief stint in telemarketing. I did it for 3 months and what it taught me was to loathe telemarketing. The only way I can describe it was “soul sucking”. I suppose it also taught me to leave work at work, as I didn’t want to think about anything to do with work when I wasn’t there. This skill is helpful in my current profession, when thinking about work too much can lead to burn out. I also learned that I can put up with a lot to make ends meet, for a short time, but that I should keep plugging away at my education (I was in grad school at the time) so I could avoid doing a job like this ever again!

  6. Oh boy, I worked my fair share of “crap jobs”. I’ve bartended, was a summer camp counselor, and worked as a nanny and lifeguard etc. One of the best lessons I learned was while working as a pool manager at a fancy private yacht club. There I learned that rich people have the same problems as poor people, and nobody has the right to treat you poorly just because you’re from a lower socio-economic status. I loved the job, but there were a few times I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying something that would probably have gotten me fired.

    • I meant to also add that I worked in clothing retail for 5 years. It was horrible. I think everyone should work in retail or food so that they know how to correctly treat people and learn good manners.

      Lord, the people I have dealt with. It makes me hate to go into a mall.

  7. I worked at my neighbors firm, we went out to oil spills and cleaned them up. Not as glamorous as one would hope, but it paid pretty decent. It taught me seeing some of the adults in this job who hated coming to work, to work very hard in college so I won’t have to do this!

  8. I was talking with another teacher once about how experience working retail really was an asset to being a teacher! I think if I hadn’t of had my crazy retail experience, student teaching would have killed me ;)

  9. I worked at an amusement park off and on for several years, in games (out in the park) and inventory control (mainly in an office). I learned a lot from these jobs, including how to work with upset customers and how to effectively complete administrative office tasks. I now work at a university and the skills I cultivated have served me well.

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