Tag Archives: life lessons

Graduating Again

25 Apr

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I’m walking back to my car after a night of seeing my friend who will be graduating from the college that I attended two years ago. It’s raining and I’m running through the tiled area near the business school, and I notice that the tiles I’m running on aren’t loose and moving around under my feet like they used to. I’m surprised at the sense of security I feel even though I know that one wrong step could probably leave me tripping. I stop and walk up to the shrine of the Virgin Mary illuminated by candles, protected somehow by the intense wind and rain, and I stare at her. I wonder, if I stay and stare long enough, if she’ll turn to me and start telling me where to go.

Not where to go in the sense of how to find my car. I know where that is, of course. No – what I want, what I’m asking out of this inanimate religious statue — is to tell me what it is that my college experience meant and whether I’m doing the right thing with my life. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a common event for melancholic recent graduates such as myself. Maybe.

An hour before my awkward staredown with Mary, my friend is walking me through the halls of the buildings pointing out the new additions that have come about since my graduation. “We have recycling centers everywhere now,” she told me, “and there’s even a new free trade, student-run smoothie café!” She took me to a photography exhibit – something that my school never had before – and she even mentioned that my former marketing professors still remember me when she brings me up. My friend is a social butterfly, and we are interrupted quite frequently on our journey from building to building. When I am introduced, each student vigorously shakes my hand and gives me a genuine smiled. I am in complete shock, not only regarding the changes to the buildings, but to the changes that I see within the students that now go to my former university. Has my mindset changed, I wondered, or has this place finally turned into a school that welcomes people other than rich snobs?

I had specifically asked my friend to walk around the campus with me because I feel that it is important to return to places that were once important in your life. It’s easy to point to an old school or place of employment from far away – you can spew out as many I remember when…’s from that distance because it is safe. It’s the same as looking at a photo of a distant relative and actually hugging them in real life: there has to be that physical aspect to truly bring all of the memories and emotions together. For me, I felt an urgency to walk through the halls of the business school and to smell the familiar smells of the cafeteria, old books and incense from outside the chapel in the student center. I wanted to go down the same flight of stairs that I went down so many times, knowing that I could never had predicted what my life would be like if I were to go down them again two years later. As I was doing all of this, I felt like I was visiting a very old friend; a friend who gave me shelter, gave me an education and taught me how to be the person that I am today.

College was, as it is for many, a time of stress, uncertainty and exhilaration. I associated my school with a lot of negative feelings simply because I never felt like I belonged that well. Going back and knowing what I know now, I feel differently. I think that the biggest lesson that I learned from all of this is that situations are never as bad as what they seem. I learned that the things that I took for granted and often was waiting to run away from were actually things that I deeply appreciate now. I realized that life is not worth living if you can’t do something like this – if you can’t measure the steps that you’ve taken in the giant circle that we all will walk in life. When we come back to those places and we realize the good that we never saw before, it is because we didn’t have the capacity to appreciate it at other points in our life before. By recognizing this, we learn to be more cognizant of our lives as we are living them.

Growing up a Catholic, one hears many stories of God or the Virgin Mary popping up out of nowhere to bring important messages to others. Although I don’t practice the religion much anymore, there’s still a small part of me that wonders if something extraordinary like that could happen to me. Staring at the statue that night, I think that a part of me wanted it to happen. When you’re in your mid-twenties, you’ll take any shred of hope that you have that someone, somewhere, will lead you and your heart down the right direction. I think that I finally got that from the statue last night. It was told directly to my heart, not out loud, and unlike the reverberant booms of a graduation speech against auditorium walls, I discovered that the most potent messages are always silent in their clarity.

Retail Therapy (Part Deux)

14 Aug

I’d like to spend some time in this entry reflecting on exactly what working part-time in retail means to me. Trust me, I am absolutely dying to write another post about how crazy my customers are, but I realized that customers complain just as much as employees do. With that being said, it would make me feel better if even one customer has the chance to read this entry and can understand why some people actually do enjoy working retail (for the most part).

Like I mentioned in my previous post, retail really has become a kind of therapy for me. I have, and probably always will be, a bit of a negative thinker. And trust me, I think a lot. Then, when I started working, I learned about putting on a “retail smile” and how cashiers were often expected to always be nice, chatty, and happy. Even if I was having a bad day, I would always walk into work and focus all of my energy on trying to be kind to customers. In a way, my mentality was that if I couldn’t have a good day, I could at least help someone else have a good one. After doing this for a while, I found that just pretending to be happy and positive actually had some effect on me! It was then that I realized that the power of thought is extremely strong, and that it is possible to feel happy if you set your mind to it. Now, if I am having a bad day or week, I actually look forward to going into work because I am forced to be in situation where I can’t cry, complain, or just stay in bed and sleep off any emotions that I might have. I find that even if I am only working four or five hours, I usually walk out of work feeling a lot better about life then when I walked in. That’s right, folks–my lame part-time job taught me all about the power of positive thinking, and I feel that learning such a thing at a young age is invaluable.

I’m sure a lot of my readers (I say “a lot” because I can only hope that my blog views will continue to multiply!) are wondering if I’m on crack because I find happiness in retail which, as we all know, can be one of the hardest fields to work in on a day to day basis. I believe that, because retail has such a negative and bad reputation, people walk into retail jobs automatically believing that every day of working there is going to be hell in a hand basket (or shopping cart, or whatever). And yes, some days I really do feel like crying or slapping customers because I am just so exhausted from the way that I am treated. At the same time, many fail to recognize that behind every unhappy person is a story.

About a year into working, I came across a woman in her mid-thirties who looked like she was a complete brat– I still remember looking up and seeing her in line with a completely sour look on her face. But, instead of just ringing her up as fast as I could and letting her be a sourpuss somewhere else, I decided to take a different approach that, in the end, would completely change my perspective on angry customers. When the lady finally came up to my register, she was very short with me and was giving me the whole “I don’t give a shit who you are” eyebrow raise that I’ve come to know and love. As I was ringing her up, I asked her how her day was in a very kind tone and gave her a smile. She let out a huff and said, “Fine, thanks.” And then, I heard her sniffling. This woman who seemed to have such a hard, heartless exterior was at my register shedding a few tears and wiping them away. She looked around and finally admitted that she was having an extremely bad day and she apologized for her behavior.

There are so many people out there who have lives that our imaginations can’t grasp. There are people who have gone through so much that they don’t feel like they owe anything—not even a smile–to the world. In the midst of all of this, I find myself staring past my register at a crowd of bustling people who have taught me that looks can be so deceiving. I have met beautiful girls who are complete alcoholics, customers with severe eating disorders, and customers who have just learned that they have cancer and have to immediately start chemotherapy. And yeah, some customers are just plain-old crazy or mean. But ultimately it is our responsibility as employees to understand that nothing should be taken personally and that, in the end, people just want to be happy, healthy, and loved. That is why I firmly believe that even a simple “retail smile” can do so much more than anyone will ever know.

I’d like to offer a little challenge to anyone reading this who usually would classify themselves as a rude, angry, or impatient customer: the next time that you buy something at your local drug store, be as kind as you possibly can to the cashier and know that we, too, need to feel happy and loved. As we all know, you can only get back what you give away.

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