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Listening at the Speed of Life

– by C. J. Wade –

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retail

#bloglikecrazy: Open Letter #25

To Wanda Dear,

Once upon a time, I left my house with a prayer. I was a fresh out of grad school with boots on the ground trying to secure a teaching job. My phone had just been stolen as I was using pay phones to call schools and possible leads. I had gone to the library to print out directions because GPS was not an option. The summer heat was not my friend and I was beyond hot — inside and out. So on a day in June, I said “Lord, I need to work somewhere. Just tell me where to go.”

I drove straight to that store and took a deep breath before walking inside. It had been a couple of years since I had worked retail and frankly, I was not looking forward to it. “You’re allergies are going to freak out,” I muttered to myself as I walked through the store, “but you gotta do something.” Your frankness and your warmth sold me from the jump. I knew you were the real deal, but I didn’t imagine that you would become family.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

When my sweet friend Nancy passed away, you showed me empathy by letting me work in the backroom so my tears could flow at will. When my former husband’s diabetic skin needed suggestions, you always made sure to keep me updated on the best products to soothe its agitations. I appreciated your humanity. And while I appreciate every supervisor I’ve worked for, I have comprehensively learned more from you than any corporate experience I ever had. I learned more than how to run a store. I learned how to use discernment during the hiring process, how to mix grace with facts, how to manage personalities, how to work that calculator and know your products like you know your name, how to provide a positive customer experience, and how not to be pissed off everyday. I would tell myself after a long day or a hard shift, “If Wanda can do it, I can do it.” We made it through holiday rushes, limited staffing, late night inventories, and ridiculous floor sets. Every time, I would tell myself that same sentence.

You know my family because you’re woven into our tapestry. My mother respects you and when my father and former husband were alive, so did they. Your heart is bigger than most people I’ve met and I am so grateful you’re in my world. Like I tell anyone that acts sideways – “I’ll fight you over that red-head. She’s family.”

Wanda, I pray that every single seed you have sown in the lives of others will come back to you 100-fold. I have no worries about your future because you’ve planted so richly. You know I have your back no matter what and you know I’m not the only one that will say the same thing. All of us are so much better because of your awesomeness.

I love you big,

CJW

#bloglikecrazy: Open Letter #22

To my Fellow Retail Slayers:

First of all, you rock. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You’re probably gearing up for the holiday weekend right now and while this year looks a little different, it is still projected to be busy nonetheless. Around this season, for some reason, the public seems to lose its wits. Rudeness flies freely like the wicked witch’s monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. It’s repulsive and I don’t condone it one bit.

Whether you had to take a retail job to secure your family or you’re just trying to make some extra cash, you deserve to be treated with dignity. I wish I knew why people toss their money at cashiers, don’t read their coupons, or insult your intelligence, but after 17 years of retail experience, I can’t say that I’ve found the master key to that one yet. Even when I was in leadership and managed a high-volume store, I still had people question my ability to assist them. I am convinced — when some customers cross the threshold of your store, something happens to their neurons and they are draped in a disgusting cloak of indignation and entitlement. It can make you angry if you let it.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

May we all show each other some grace this retail season and thereafter, but truthfully, there’s a lot of stress in the world. So, gear up. Someone will probably try to degrade you today or yell at you over something beyond your control. I’m sorry about that. When you put on that uniform or that nametag, remember that you are simply fulfilling a role. You are not what you do. You are not a peon. You have exceptional skills and you are valuable to all who enter. You are still the fantastic phenom you were when you got out of bed this morning and you will be when you lie down tonight.

I don’t care who comes into your establishment, remember that you are the heartbeat of the company. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise, OK? Don’t let it stick.

Work that shift. Make that money. Help those people. Go home proud.

Sincerely,

CJW

#bloglikecrazy: Day 22 – Roles

I think everyone should work retail during a holiday season one time in life. Just one time. That’s all it would take to digest humility, camaraderie, and self-control.

My first taste of retail was in college at a bible bookstore. I loved it. I worked with great people and it was normal to see an associate praying with a customer. My kind of environment. Whether I was on the sales floor or behind the register, I was comfortable.

saleFast forward a bit to working in the retail world after college. I wanted to make extra money to minimize my debt. Needless to say, my patience was shorter and my tolerance level had dropped dramatically. I couldn’t understand either side of the tomfoolery. Why wake up, get dressed, and drive through traffic to be lazy or cause havoc as an employee or a customer? Don’t get me wrong – quality service is important to me. I’ve worked retail on the management level as well, and I understand the value of meeting the needs of every customer and providing solutions that benefit both the company and the consumer. In those leadership positions, I also believed in protecting employees from abusive behavior and I did not tolerate the degradation of anyone on my team. Nevertheless, when the roles are reversed from humans-on-equal-terms to employee-consumer, something changed.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t an intelligent professional working to make extra cash to reach a financial goal. I was “she,” “her,” or “that girl over there.” Apparently, I was someone who didn’t warrant a “Hello, how are you?” before being thrown money on the counter at the end of the transaction. I was looked upon as inferior enough to hold bags of perfectly capable people shopped around the store and fetch items they didn’t want in the first place. I had an idea of what I was getting into, but I wasn’t prepared for it. Then, to take the cake, if the customer found out about my other titles (educator, choreographer, former caregiver, etc.) or that I’ve traveled extensively, then their eyes light up as if to say “Oh, you’re more than what I thought.”

The truth is I was an equal before they decided to see me as one. If the setting was a business mixer or at a concert, the interaction would potentially be positive and enriching. We would converse about psychological constructs, civic issues, and professional development. Since the stage was a retail store and I was playing the role of an employee, many people assumed they were superior.

It made me think of how many times we judge people based upon the role we see them in at a specific time – the janitor, the doctor, the restaurant server, the hair stylist, the single parent, the athlete… who often do we size up a person’s intelligence or capability based upon the role? Let’s try to do less of that during this holiday season and beyond.

Peace & Thanks for listening!

Photo via youbabyandi.com

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