Career Talk 21.07.21 (Updated)

Why I had to leave the world of retail for good

Yes, working in the world of retail can be character-building. But at what point does character-building become toxic for your mental health?

Business consultant


This post is written by a member of the Debut Student Publisher Network. Read on for Char’s look-back on her time in the world of retail:

Working in retail is very much a double-edged sword. On one hand, it provides you with a plethora of essential life-skills: patience, assertiveness, people skills, multi-tasking, networking, and the ability to do slightly harder than average maths in your head. On the other, it frequently saddles you with unpleasant experiences. Some examples:

  • Dealing with someone so awful I wanted to claw their face off
  • Working horrendous hours and losing my social life
  • Becoming enveloped in an all-encompassing sense of dread that I was wasting my life.

Since the end of last year, I started to feel the negative aspects affecting me more and more. I got to the point where I was having anxiety attacks over the mere thought of going into work. Ultimately I had to make the decision to leave the world of retail without any sort of back-up, for the sake of my mental health.

Let me be clear; in no way do I believe that I’m ‘too good’ to work in retail.

Nobody is above retail.

If you consume any form of customer service – if you eat fast food, go clothes shopping, or basically participate in any form of transaction – then you have no right to snub those who work there. In fact, I’m a staunch believer in the concept of everybody working in retail at least once in their life. Why? Because it teaches you how to be a decent human being and customer.

The millennial dilemma

world of retail

I’ve been working in retail since I was seventeen. From supermarkets to cosmetic stores – it’s always been something just to provide a little extra allowance. When I graduated and started living back home saving up to move out, it suddenly transformed into a means to an end. Being at work felt suffocating. Sometimes, the only way I could get through the day was by reminding myself that it was only temporary.

Shifting into full-time employment after graduation threw into sharpness the idea that, actually, I could end up here forever. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with doing that if that’s what you genuinely want to do. Retail is amazing in terms of being able to climb up the corporate ladder and explore a variety of different career paths. It’s just not the career path I want.

This is something a lot of twenty-somethings go through, I’m sure. My inner monologue was constantly yelling at me to ‘get a real job’, if not to provide some sort of career satisfaction, then to stop me from living paycheck-to-paycheck and subsisting off Pot Noodles. Working in the particular area I did wasn’t all that great, either. I won’t name names, but it was an incredibly upper-class London borough, and without exaggeration roughly 90% of the people I dealt with there were the worst human beings I’d ever met in my life. I know you shouldn’t take things customers say to heart, but you get treated like dirt on a daily basis, it’s kind of hard to turn the other cheek.

Optimism is a limited resource

world of retail

I tried spinning my frustrations into positive energy, I really did. There were hours spent on days off filling out job applications. Job interviews I attended with a fiery sense of determination to get a fresh start. For so long, I heard absolutely nothing back. Of course, rejection is something you have to be able to deal with in the working world. But it got increasingly harder to maintain an optimistic outlook.

When we weren’t catastrophically busy at work, we were absolutely empty. On those empty days I found myself dwelling on negative thoughts. I hated not knowing what I wanted to be. I hated not having the time to find out. I hated having no social life. I hated myself for just existing.

On and on it went, until one day I just burst into tears in the stockroom, submerged in all of those horrible feelings of inadequacy that really drove home how desperately unhappy I was. On the sad tube ride home I realised that I couldn’t do this any more. I didn’t want to get up in the morning and force myself to go somewhere that made me so miserable. It was a shock to everyone else but myself when I handed my notice in a few days later. Instantly, I felt happier and more liberated. The prospect of being unemployed and having no income finally outweighed that of having some income but being constantly depressed.

Onwards and upwards

world of retail

My final day came and went in a flurry of emotions. I’d made a lot of amazing friends there, friends I think I’ve made for life. Leaving what was hopefully my last ever shift in retail was one of intense relief, and I wasn’t even swayed by the torrential downpour marking my exit like some sort of terrible rom-com. Finding a new job would be my new full-time job, I resolved.

Exactly a month after my final shift in retail, I started at my New ‘Proper Job’, the first 9 to 5, salaried position I’d ever had. Now, I work in a university doing a clerical position that provides stability and appeals to my meticulously organised side, keeping my brain engaged and like I’m actually doing something I could build a career in. I put everything I had into the application and interview. With a pinch of luck on top, I managed to find something I genuinely enjoy. It’s not an experience I would particularly recommend, packing everything in when you have absolutely no back-up plan, but it’s something I’ll always remember and carry with me. If I can get through everything that led up to that decision, I can get through anything.

Feature Image В© Fox Searchlight

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