On the Kindness Of Strangers

Today, I had a bad day.

Bad days, over the last few months, have been common for me. There are bad days and there are non-days which, to me, are bad days. But recently, as I’ve gained support and understanding from friends, family, and professionals, my bad days are few. But sometimes, they still creep up on you, and they can make you feel a whole lotta things that just aren’t true.

Today it was that I wasn’t good enough.

After being unemployed for a long amount of time and working on my health, going full force back into a job was never the plan unless it was the job of a lifetime. Working in my local bakery was an idea of my dad’s to slowly get me back into working life, and they only wanted me for 2 days a week.

But by day two, I was already struggling with the pace, the pressure, and my anxiety flared and I cried in front of my boss (my 21 year old boss who has her life far more together than I ever did at 21). We had a chat and she had a smoke and we shared a lot about each other in the space of a few minutes. It was nice and strange; I tend to be an oversharer but not about things so personal to someone I barely know…let alone someone who is my employer.

But it was important. We talked about mental health, and she told me that almost everyone that passed through the bakery had some sort of struggle when it came to their mental health. And while I haven’t found stigma or prejudice of having mental health issues affect me, it was very eye-opening to see how not alone I am.

I was left to take a breather, given an orange juice, and sat outside in our British heatwave until the door to the lot next door opened. Oh God, the hairdressers next door were going to see a blubbering 24 year old sat with a sad carton of Capri Sun.

I was bullied for exactly one week at school, and then sporadically when I found myself alone without a fight in me. But I remember the people that did it, I remembered what they looked like and how they acted and it contributed to I feel what a lot of girls experience during that difficult time in life; internal misogyny. While I’ve definitely unlearned so many drilled in prejudice and discrimination even of my own gender, all I could think of when I saw these hairdressers, caked in fake tan and lashes on their fag break was shit, they’re going to make me feel pathetic.

It started with them all subtly trying to get a glance at me while trying to make it look like they were just making sure not to blow smoke into each other’s faces, swapping seats occasionally so they all had a turn at sitting where they could get a good look at me and my blotchy red face. I’ve never stared at a Capri Sun so intently. Every time their laughs got loud, I shrivelled into myself. Not only had I fucked up at work, I was also getting judged for it. I didn’t need this.

“Ummm, are you ok?”

I didn’t even see which girl said it, only that a few had left and all that remained were two. I glanced over and smiled and waved them off.

“Yeah, just first day at work stuff.”

And instead of anything shitty, they moved their chairs so they could talk to me. They spoke of their experiences of anxiety and stories of their first days, cut throat practicals while studying for a qualification in hair and beauty, and how sometimes you just gotta cry and that’s OK. They told me they knew my new colleagues very well and that they were lovely and understanding, and so I had nothing to worry about. They made me laugh, and offered space in their air conditioned salon whenever it got a bit too much in the stifling bakery.

And I just got this overwhelming feeling of aren’t girls just great? It’s not a new concept that girls are always there for each other. I’ve experienced it in so many other places; nightclub toilets, queues, on the bus, but there was something so incredible about female solidarity in a non drunk, non forced situation. These girls could have ignored me, mocked me, but instead they just did so something simple that perked me up for the rest of the day. I felt shit for assuming they would be awful based on what they looked like, it’s still something I have to unlearn and not flinch at. I always try and make space for women, always assume they’re good (whereas I always *eye emoji* at men I don’t know) but even now I’ll have subconscious feelings of unease and pre-judge people.

It’s become very important to me to try and be there for strangers, to not judge and just give a little support when someone’s in need. I’ve always been that way, but when it happens to you it you make sure you are aware of it.

The kindness of strangers is mighty, and I aspire to be like the hairdressers on their cigarette break.

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Finding a Job in Retail: The List

Let’s face, you’ve had a job in retail. You might even be in a retail job right now, like me. Or, you might be looking for your first job, and it’s probably going to be in retail.

As someone who, in her 23 years of life, has been nothing but behind the counter, here’s a list of things to consider when going into retail.

  1. WHY RETAIL? You should ask this question when going into any new industry, but when it comes to retail, people tend forget to ask themselves this. Of course, you can pose Why not retailRetail is an extremely flexible and easy industry to get into. It’s fantastic if you’re only looking to work certain days due to prior commitments, like school or childcare. You don’t need specific degrees or higher education qualifications. Sometimes, you don’t even need retail experience! It’s a good first job, and there’s always room for promotion. However, talk to others in retail, go to websites that talk about working in retail, find out why they’re there. If there are other options best suited to you, make retail your last resort.
  2. RESEARCH. You should do this regardless of what industry/company you’re going into. But here, the research isn’t so you can answer interview questions with confidence. No, this research is for you. Pretend as if you are interviewing the company; How flexible can they be? What their staff turnover? The hourly rate? Incentives? What do they expect from you? I wish I had done this. Just because the company you are working for are staples on the high street, does NOT mean that they care about you and the workforce. You are a valuable employee, do not make a company think otherwise. Look for a company that respects and actually talks to their workforce. Smaller, independent companies are usually better at this.
  3. THE PUBLIC. Almost all jobs expect customer interaction, but in retail, it is one of the most important parts of the job. Like CEO’s, the public tend tWelcome To Retail life!. . lall' rlhu EIGHT Mit new was :' i' o It ran yin: Imam L. "Absolutely madam. Complaining about the outrageous prices to me will fix them right up"o forget that you are human. Staff (verbal) harassment is an unfortunately common thing, and you have to be prepared to endure it. People get angry and agitated at silly things that are out of your control. Usually, it’s not personal, it’s just you’re there and they need to let it out. This does not mean you need to take it. Some employers (like mine) are good with this and will always take your side and have your back. So, when defending yourself, think about whether or not you will get into trouble for it. Most customers are grateful for your help, and you’ll find regulars coming in just to say hello and chat. It’s not all ‘I want to speak to your manager’ or ‘I’m going to tweet about this’.
  4. THE WORK. Think about the type of person you are and think of the responsibilities you will be given. Depending on which store you work in, and depending on the time of year, most of the jobs can be mundane and monotonous. You will be doing this every day, all day, depending on your contracted hours. A lot of people working in retail do it because they have to; they can’t afford to window shop. If you can, would you be happy doing the same work every day? If you’re the type of person who likes variety or a fast paced environment, retail may not be the best place for you. Or, just become a Christmas temp. It’s the busiest time of the year!
  5. GET THE MOST OUT OF RETAIL. Retail can be fantastic for moving up the ladder. Managers and even their superiors all started off as store staff, before earning their place in HR, head office, operations, marketing etc. If you don’t want to work your way up, that’s fine too. Retail can be a great way to earn extra cash while you’re studying, or just so you can afford to do other things. You also can gain experience that you can use for other job interviews outside of retail, like organisation, time keeping, money management, and I.T skills. Make retail work for you, and hey, you might even be the manager some day.

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