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One Year Recap: Life Outside College and How to Truly Embrace Your First Job – PART ONE

2 Oct

A few days ago, I had my first pumpkin spice latte of the season. Only after that first warm, delicious sip did I truly celebrate the one year anniversary of me starting my first job out of college.

Last year at this time, I stopped by the local Dunkin Donuts and sipped that exact same drink as I made my very first one hour commute from my grandparents’ house, where I was living after graduating, to my new job. Though I’m not too slow to adapt to new surroundings, the first week of anything new is usually a huge shock to my system – so much so that my memory usually is completely wiped of that first week. I don’t think I remember more than five memories of my first full year of high school after moving, which was by far the worst mental shock I’d been through. I can’t tell you what I did that first week of my job, but I can tell you this: I was terrified and excited at the same time. I remember staring at my cubicle and having tears well up in my eyes as I thought to myself, “Is this my life for the next forty-some years? Waking up early, trudging to work and staring at grey cubicle walls? Am I cut out for this?”

I have been brutally honest to the several friends that I have who are still in their senior year of college: Graduating and having your first job is a very rude awakening. In fact, it’s best described as a serious of ruthless smacks on the face and shoves into concrete walls that continue for at least two months, maybe more. The beauty, however, is that each day as your brain and heart and body get pushed around, you are transforming into the best person you’re going to be. In a special two part series, I’m going to touch upon a few of the experiences I have had so far a year into my job and how I dealt with them. I truly hope this provides comfort and knowledge to others in similar situations.

pumpkin spice latte

The only time of the year when I’m totally okay spending money on coffee every day.

Making Office Friends

I am the kind of person who wants to be friends with everyone. When I jumped into my job, I was faced with a very tight-knit group of girls in my marketing department who all seemed to have their own inside jokes and interesting stories to talk about. I felt so alone and left out, and it was mostly because (here comes the tip, people!) I was comparing it to college. Only now have I put both things together, but it’s true: In college, it is pretty safe to say that everyone is there to make friends, and it’s pretty darn easy to do it. In the workforce, it’s a bit different. People come and go and there aren’t activities to really ease yourself into friendship like school does, so it’s a completely different approach. My best advice is to be cordial and nice and let the relationships with your co-workers develop slowly. Once you get really comfortable there (and for me it took about seven months), you will loosen up and talking to co-workers will come naturally.  I was pretty shy when I started, and now I joke around and waste time talking to people as much as the next person.

Expand Outside of Your Department

If you work in a medium to large-sized company, there’s a high possibility of you never really speaking to anyone outside of your own department. In your first year, make a mental effort to change that. You will come upon a time where you will have to call someone in another department for help or to assist you in a project, so use that time to your advantage and let yourself become a familiar face to them. Here’s an extra special tip: Befriend your IT department. They are usually full of the coolest, most laid back people and are super approachable. They also will give you extra special treatment when you are having computer issues or need access to top-secret things, such as the color printer or the privacy-protected mobile wifi access.

Don’t Date a Co-Worker

Don’t do this. Let me repeat: Don’t do this. Ever. Ever ever. Even if, like me, you think that it helps you to relate more the next time you read Bridget Jones’s Diary. Dating a co-worker makes the workplace awkward because you have to watch your every move. Word will spread faster than wildfire that you are involved in an office romance and it could potentially ruin your professional appearance and job. In my case, I didn’t start a relationship with a co-worker, but I did go on a date with one. During our (awful) date, I told him that I would “be the biggest bitch and make your life a living hell” if he ever told anyone, which he did. Pro tip: Threatening men isn’t as successful when you are drinking raspberry cider ale. It just doesn’t seem as hardcore. If you do decide to date someone in the workplace, which I hope you don’t, try to date someone in another department. And by another department, I mean one at least one floor down from yours. Preferably two.

Image

Oh hey, Bridget, who’s there? NOT YOUR CHEEKY (those Brits can get away with using that word so well) OFFICE ROMANCE. Nope.

Stay tuned for the second half where I’ll share some more of my wonderful nougat-centered nuggets of wisdom.

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One Blanket to Rule Them All

12 Aug

I will be the first to admit that I often intentionally prolong conversations with customers, while on the sales floor, because I really would rather avoid my work and gather material for this blog . Lucky for me, my lack of ambition seems to be paying off.

Halfway through putting up sales signs for the week, I was approached by what appeared to be a normal, slightly balding 40-something woman out shopping and avoiding the summer heat. She stopped me as I was entering the body care aisle and asked me about a particular body wash. Lucky for my customers, I am a shopaholic and have pretty much tried every product in my store (sans the Fleet Enemas and hemorrhoid cream) so I was able to give her an accurate description of a body wash that she was considering. She then decided to slowly stroll by the other body washes and ask my opinion of those. Looking for a way to avoid my work, I gladly volunteered my superb knowledge of overly-priced bath products.

She was everything I wanted in a customer: kind, soft spoken, a good listener, not overly demanding and not smelling of urine or that horrible bath powder stuff that elderly people use in place of real showers. Despite what appeared to be a perfect customer, I found myself once again being tricked by my failure to recognize crazy even if it’s right under my nose–a trait that allows me to become attracted to paranoid, neurotic or slightly mentally challenged men without fail. While I was talking to this woman, you see, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was delicately and subtly stroking something that was folded up and resting on her right arm. Was it a small dog? A baby? A rabbit foot for good luck? Nope. It was a blanket.

That’s right, a blanket. 

The sequal to this book is called "Hello, Snuggie!"

This woman, I realized, was standing next to me and talking very normally about body wash all while stroking a blanket (which was very neatly folded, I might add) with such an amazing amount of tenderness. After noticing that, it took everything in me to not mention what appeared to be a very serious Linus Complex. What would happen, I wondered, if I grabbed the blanket from her and started running? I could see it playing before my eyes: the remains of hair on her balding head would be swept away by a violent gust of wind as she dropped to the ground and began crawling, in Gollum fashion, towards me while hissing “My precioussss!”

In all honesty, the woman was very nice and most likely had an anxiety problem that I can only hope is lessened by her blanket-stroking technique. It went down, however, in the list of the craziest and most random things I have ever seen customers do. If anything, I bet she totally invented the first Invisibility Cloak and she’s been shoplifting in our store, snatching up every body wash, for years. We may never know–that is a secret to be kept between her and that special cotton/poly blend of fibers.

Employees get just as crazy as their customers!

20 Jun

After almost two months of being a college grad, I must admit that life has become more enjoyable. After four years of intense studying, club joining, and sorority dropping out-ing, I finally have had the time to do whatever I want to without worrying about working through a balance sheet from hell (fuck you, accounting) or speed-walking across the library in order to snag a spot at the coveted table in the library that is hidden away among ancient micro-fiches and yellowing copies of The New York Times. Now, I am spending time doing things that I thoroughly enjoy, including learning how to juggle, feeding the homeless downtown every Friday and blasting Beirut while walking around my neighborhood. Heck, I even baked brownies at midnight yesterday after sweating my ass off in yoga just because I could!

Check out my balls, yo

While my personal life has become simple and enjoyable, Retail Robot land has increased in sheer craziness. Our store has been spitting out 20-30% off coupons left and right, and it seems like for each coupon corporate sends out, one more batshit crazy customer appears out of nowhere. The most enjoyable part about working in such a hectic environment is the fact that the employees, myself included, start to get a little loopy when things get too busy.

Last weekend, for example, I barely survived my eight hour shift. I came to work only to discover that the air conditioning in our store wasn’t working. Combined with the fact that I was dizzy from the antibiotics I was on (gotta love sinus infections!), I was sweating, trying to keep my balance which is hard enough for me to normally do and ringing up customers who seriously had the weirdest questions I’d ever heard. Luckily I was working with my favorite co-worker, and we basically lost it after a particularly old lady strolled up to the counter and…

Old Lady: How far can I take this cart?

Me: Oh, you can take it outside as long as you–

Co-worker: Twenty-five feet. You can only take it twenty-five feet.

Me: Yep, after that it–

In unison: EXPLODES.

As we gripped the counter in order to keep ourselves from rolling around the floor and crying with laughter, the old lady simply looked at us, stroked her fully-whiskered chin, and walked away. Yes, we were that loopy.

Other exciting highlights included a man walking around with what appeared to be either very short patterned shorts or just boxers, an entire family who walked into a window thinking that there was an automatic door there, and me doing the yearly employee satisfaction survey for my old store number without realizing it until a few days later.

In the midst of all the craziness, both from employees and customers, life seems a lot better lately. Heck, even the amount of shoplifted items seems to have gone down!

The only shoplifted thing I found this week. It was most likely hidden in between the fat folds of a larger customer. I know.. I'm mean.

After two weeks, I return to retail. Chaos ensues.

14 Mar

Oh crazy customers, how I missed you

In the past two weeks, I had a temporary vacation from the world of retail. And, while I did enjoy experiencing what not working during the weekend felt like, I also felt terribly bored. All I could really think about during my weekends was what I was missing. How could I live a week without the drama of crazy customers? How was I going to function without witnessing a shoplifter or getting yelled at by super rich women who get kicks out of using coupons even though they probably cut them up with kitchen shears from Williams-Sonoma? I realized that after working in retail for almost six years, I have been somewhat conditioned to expect a certain percentage of drama and craziness in my life. And without it, well, life just seems so boring.

Last weekend, I was finally called into work. As I walked into the store, I breathed a sigh of relief: employees were standing off to the side bitching out customers under their breath, my boss was walking around and emmiting the typical American Psycho aura that he always seems to give off, and customers were setting off security alarms. In the words of J.K. Rowling‘s oh-so-profound last sentence in the Harry Potter series, all was well.

For like ten minutes, at least.

After that, it was as if our store had been punished for letting me back in. In a matter of an hour, the paper in our digital photo kiosk ran out, two people were caught shoplifting (one of which was a particularly gutsy customer who power-walked out of our store with a gift bag full of items), there was a consistent line of at least six customers at any given minute, and as I was running to the back of the store to grab a can of tuna for an elderly customer, I was asked by two different people to let them into the restroom. After I came back to the register and dealt with the line of customers, I turned to my co-worker and said, “Jeez, why is it so busy?” He gave me a weird look and replied, “Um, it’s always busy on Sundays. Remember?”

It seems that I really had forgotten what working in the store was like. After having a wealthy customer throw money at me and then ask me if I had counted it correctly, I realized that customers weren’t as kind and kooky as I had remembered them to be. At the end of that Sunday, my forgetfulness also caused me to scan in the magazine credits and seal them up into the envelope without putting the shipping label on. After telling my co-worker that I needed to open up the sealed package in order to get the shipping label still in there, she began cutting it open. As I was ringing up a customer, I heard her laughing. Not only had I managed to seal up the envelope with the shipping label still inside, but I had also managed to put fifty sheets of price adjustments in the envelope as well. I wonder what the magazine company would have thought if they had received those in the mail! My co-worker then turned to the customer I was ringing up and said, “Better count your money when you get it back. She’s not all here tonight.” She then proceeded to run off, still laughing, to tell our shift supervisor. I was not taken seriously for the rest of the night.

All in all, being back at work after the two-week respite allowed me to sink my teeth back into the healthy dose of chaos and craziness that I had been missing–even if a portion of it was entirely my fault.

The Corporate World, the Retail World, and Why I’m Turning into Liz Lemon

6 Feb

When I told my retail co-workers that I was going to have to severely cut down my hours in order to work at a company temporarily to gain some field experience for my major, I received a mixture of shock and praise. One of my co-workers, a 40 year-old surfer dude who has sympathized with me in the fact that I sometimes want to run away to Vancouver and just become a waitress and people-watch for the rest of my life, seemed to be the most shocked. “I just can’t picture you going over to the dark side,” he said while shaking his long hair, which has more highlights in it than my own, from side to side. Another co-worker told me that she admired the fact that I was trying to get out into the real world and away from constantly juggling twenty things at once, helping customers “shop” (in other words, going to fetch items for them while they stand there), and dealing with women who are obsessed with gingerbread houses.

The thing is, the corporate world is vastly different from retail. You certainly have less crazy people to deal with, you don’t have to worry about overexerting yourself physically because you sit at a desk all day, and you don’t have to wear a polyester-blend shirt in unattractive colors (well, unless you have bad fashion sense…then it’s your own damn fault).  Most importantly, it isn’t as newsworthy–coming home from a day at a retail job, for example, might invoke more interesting stories than coming home from a normal job. I can list at least ten crazy things that happened the last time I worked at my store off the top of my head (one involving a dog chilling out in our stock room), and the only thing I can think of that’s even slightly crazy about my “big girl” job is that I discovered that Mac computers don’t have a “print screen” button. I guess Steve Jobs is just too good for that. I also find that I have more to talk about with my retail co-workers: they share my love for Watchmen, Xbox 360, and obscure alternative folk music. I realized, therefore, that a good happy medium would be to apply for a job that embraces my inner geek, which is why I applied to the associate brand manager job listed for the card game Dungeons & Dragons. I think that I will probably always be involved in retail or some way or the other, but my heart is set on finding a nerdy company to work for who will welcome me with open arms.

Speaking of nerdy, I’ve recently realized, after discovering the amazing show 30 Rock, that I am slowly turning into Tina Fey‘s character of Liz Lemon and I actually don’t mind. As I approach the age of 22 being single, constantly slaving away to either school or work, and binging on unhealthy junk food, I see that my future of becoming a Liz Lemon is imminent: living alone in an apartment, putting credit card collectors on speaker phone while eating dinner just to pretend I have company over, and trying to tape together a bra because I am too busy fighting off people to get the last hot dog at the hot dog stand to go out and buy a new one. I will have gone through five short-lived relationships with men who don’t understand my quirks, sarcasm, or preference for nachos and beer over a five-course meal. And you know what? I’m okay with that. The thing is, Liz is kind of stuck between the personalities of the retail and corporate world too: she has to do her job and act responsible, but at the end of the day all she wants to really do is make fun of people and talk about Star Wars (or in my case, Battlestar Galatica). Either way, as I begin my slow approach towards a new  career, I can only hope that I am able to balance the constant tug-of-war between my inner nerd and the stuffy corporate world as much as Liz Lemon does.

Some Customers Should be Actors

16 Oct
Finger couple

A happy finger couple

I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again: this blog just writes itself. Every single time I start worrying about what my next entry is going to be, something absolutely crazy and story-worthy happens at my store. Today, of course, was one of those days.

An hour before I had to leave work, I had a woman come up to my register to ring some items up. She was probably in her fifties and looked like she was going out somewhere. A man came through the door as I was ringing her up, and he started walking past her, and this is the conversation that I witnessed (thankfully they were the only two people in the store at the time):

Woman, grabbing the man’s arm as he walks past: Hey, do I know you?

Man: Wait, yeah! Ten years ago on–

Woman: West 9th?

Man: West 9th, yes!

Woman: Haha yes! I think we slept together! That was…a good night. I’m Mary.

Man: Oh yeah, that was a good night. Patrick. Never got your name that night…

Woman: So what are you in here for?

Man: Ice cream. Hey, do you want to come over?

Woman: Well…yeah of course I do!

 

You know the look that cartoon characters get when something shocking happens and their jaw drops by like five feet? Yep, that was me.

I was standing there pretty much mid-scan just staring at both of them and wondering how two people could be so, well, open in public about having a one-night stand and possibly planning another one right in front of me. The man walked off, and the woman, seeing the complete look of shock on my face, laughed and said, “That’s my husband!” I just turned bright red and started laughing like a loon because I had no other way of covering up the complete relief that I was experiencing. I told them that they both needed to take up acting because they completely had me fooled!

This incident certainly reminded me that 1)  Marriage really does make you insane, and 2)I have learned so much through retail. When I was younger, I used to be a hopeless romantic and I lost a good majority of that when I got older and realized that being the clumsy, offbeat person that I am would not guarantee me my very own Bridget Jones moment. But, and I know this sounds completely mushy, working in retail actually helped to make me more hopeful and positive about finding a soul mate simply because I have witnessed so many couples who you can tell are still completely crazy about each other. It especially melts my heart when I ring up elderly customers who still hold hands, make each other laugh, or poke fun at one another. As I’ve said to others, I realized through watching some very happy couples that having a good sense of humor is the main ingredient in a happy and long-lasting relationship. And usually, when I find myself thinking of these cute couples and how they have taught me so much and given me so much hope, I get a customer out of nowhere who is screaming and crying to their significant other via the world’s largest and most obnoxious Bluetooth headset. But that is just another life lesson that retail has taught me: life really is just a random jumble of emotionally-charged strangers. Except, of course, when the strangers actually know each other and partake in evil plots to completely bamboozle certain retail employees.

 

 

 

Love is Blind, and So is Retail

4 Oct

Has it been a long month or what? Despite my best efforts, I have been so busy going to school, studying and reading for all my classes, going to group project meetings, and working that I haven’t been able to do much at all. After having a conversation with my boss, my hours have dropped significantly, which means that I have more free time to write on here, get more sleep, and possibly not go insane.

So, my manager hired a new guy at work whom I was finally able to meet yesterday. He seems to have a good sense of humor and likes to joke around, so I think he will fit in with our team of complete crazies perfectly! While he was ringing up my stuff, (I saved around $10 thanks to coupons and employee discounts. Working in retail has made me an awesome shopper!) he complained and told me that he was sick of working already. I said, “Well you only work until ten, so it shouldn’t be that bad.” And he rolled his eyes and replied, “Yeah but if you’ve been working five…consensual….err…days in  a row, it’s different.” And I said, “Consecutive?” and I heard the two customers behind me in line cracking up. Being a smart-ass has always earned me brownie points! Welcome to the jungle, new kid!

In retail land, it is already Halloween and Thanksgiving. Right after Halloween is done, it will be Christmas. In retail, special holiday items (such as candy, decorations, toys) are sent to stores at least a month or two in advance, and these shipments are immediately put out on the sales floor. Why, you may ask? Because even if Halloween candy is put out a month and a half before the actual event, people will buy it. Working in retail and experiencing so many holidays early can sometimes make me feel like I’m in a constant time warp.

The thing I hate most about experiencing holidays in retail is having to decorate the store. Since I have recently moved to a new store and am amongst a very large group of veteran employees, I think that this may be the first year where I am not asked to decorate the store and, let me tell you, it feels great! Apparently I give off an artsy (as well as hippie…I don’t know where people come up with these things) vibe, and at my old store I’d always have one of my managers come up to me and say “You seem artistic…you are going to decorate the store!” I would then explain to them that I struggle to even cut a straight line with scissors. They always seemed to think I was just having fun putting myself down until they saw the actual results of my “decorating”: uneven streamers, gift-wrapped boxes that a blind amputee could probably do a better job on, and various mishaps which involved me standing on the counter to hang something up and almost falling off or hitting someone else. Due to several bad incidents with box cutters, I am officially banned from even using them anymore. Yes, I am that clumsy. With that being said, if you ever walk into a store that looks as if it was decorated by a toddler, it was probably done by me.

Speaking of clumsiness, I had to do something that I have never done in my entire life before yesterday: I had to assist our loyal blind customer around the store. And let me tell you, the experience was most unpleasant.

You see, I am not really a touchy-feely sort of person. If I don’t know someone well and they even pat me on the back, I feel uncomfortable. Occasionally I have had certain senile elderly lady customers go all lezzy on me by touching/holding my hand while I am trying to help them or patting my cheeks and telling me how I am lucky to have such “young skin”. On the outside I try to just laugh it off, but on the inside I’m simultaneously screaming, crying, and running in circles.

When our loyal blind customer–we’ll call him Eddy–comes in, one of us usually stops, walks out from behind the register, and he holds on to the person’s arm and shops around the store with them. Eddy actually lives right next to our store, so he usually walks (with his cane) all alone. Yes, sometimes he falls outside. It’s okay, though, because he’s usually drunk twenty-four seven (I don’t blame him), so he doesn’t feel much.

Yesterday, Eddy came in and I was working with a shift supervisor and Mr. Consensual (the new guy). My shift turned to me and said that I would have to help him shop. I started shaking my head and mouthing “NOOO!” at her, but since she needed to supervise the new kid, I had no choice. Since I am not comfortable with strangers touching me, I had always managed to avoid helping Eddy shop in the past, but for once in my life I was left with no other choice.

I walked out from behind the register and tried to pretend like I had helped a blind man shop a million times before. “Eddy!” I said as I tapped his shoulder, “How ya doin’?” He told me he was doing fine and dandy, and he told me to take him to the “adult section”, which, of course, is the booze aisle. So he held onto my arm and I started walking in my usual fast pace until I realize that, duh, blind people kind of need to take it slow. So I slowed it down and, about ten minutes later, we finally made it to the alcohol aisle. He had me pick up a large jug of that nasty vodka that comes in the plastic containers, and we set off to the front of the store to have him get rung out.

I was actually pretty proud of myself for handling the whole “assisting a blind man” ordeal. Well look at me! I thought, I’m being like the most awesome employee ever because I am helping a handicapped person to shop. Where’s the local news photographers? This is totally a Kodak moment! So there I was with a grin on my face, ignoring the tight grip of Eddy’s hand on my arm, and as we were traipsing to the front of the store, I must have turned at an odd angle, because I heard a crashing noise. Guess what? I had walked Eddy right into a watch display because I wasn’t paying attention.

The watch display, luckily, did not come crashing down, but it did violently swing from side to side. Eddy, being the jolly drunkard that he is, laughed it off and said, “Oh haha! I must have taken a wrong turn!” I looked up to see my shift and Mr. Consensual hysterically laughing at me. Feeling completely mortified, I was tempted to ask Eddy if he could let me have a shot of his cheap vodka.

And that is why, my friends, clumsy people should not be allowed to do anything out of the ordinary when it comes to retail. Whether it is wrapping boxes or assisting blind men, there are just some things some things that I will never, ever, be able to do.

Good Vibrations

10 Sep

While I was at work today, I started thinking of something that I could put as a new post in this blog. Then, out of nowhere, one of my favorite co-workers came running up to me holding something above his head. He said, “What is our store coming to? Look at what we are carrying now!” Say hello to one of the most recent editions to the “Family Planning” section of our store:

You’ve got to be kidding me! I think we stood there hysterically laughing for about ten minutes because we came up with this elaborate plan to have our store make this item the new “upsell” for the month. Hah!

But seriously, if I have to ring this up to an old lady with some personal lubricant it is going to be very hard for me to just not start laughing out loud. A few years ago, I read in a Cosmo magazine that it was completely frowned upon to even buy such things in public. Now, when walking around the Family Planning section at our store, there are enough sex accessories to open a small adult store. All we need is some furry handcuffs, some whips, and some pleather eight inch hooker heels.  My bet is that this is quickly going to become the item in our store with the most shrinkage.

I’d love to know: What do YOU think about the plethora of sex items in the family planning aisles these days? As a customer/employee, does it make you feel uncomfortable or does it give you that same kind of uncontrollable laughter that most of us experience as kids while in church?

I know this is a short entry…but I should be doing work. I just couldn’t help but post this! Either way, I think our store certainly has a new “vibe” to it.

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