Working retail pays a little more than I thought

By   |  July 9, 2008

Since this is my first blog, I should introduce myself and give a brief history of my current personal life before I begin talking about what I’m doing for cash.

I’m Jerry and I’m going to be a sophomore and I haven’t really figured out my major yet. I did a lot of journalism and photojouranlism in high school and it’s something I really like. Right now I’m a business econ major, but that’s more of a cop-out than a passion. Have to keep up appearances for the parents so they’ll have somebody nice to counter with the next time coworkers get chatty.

Anyways, before the beginning of this summer I pledged to take the equivalent of Math 2B at a local community college despite that it was an 8-12AM class Monday through Thursday. It was only a month of morning math, so the suffering would only be temporary — I hoped. Then the first day came around, went to class, withered, came home and decided it wasn’t going to work out unless I was being paid by the hour. My parents felt otherwise, we compromised, and I audited the class. Being the obedient kid that I am, I held up my end of the deal and stopped going to class.


I needed job experience and money more than calculus. Calculus was like everything I’d known until then — it was predictable, boring, and too concrete. I wanted to try something new even if it would seem like a step backwards rather than forwards.

So now I work at Big 5, looking as good a minimum wage worker can in a dress-shirt-and-tie. The biggest draw for working at this place is getting some type of job experience on my resume while coming into contact with the “working class” part of society that my upper middle-class Asian upbringing sheltered me from my entire life. Call me a crusader.

The riches so far have not been on paper. The pay sucks and the customers don’t always make the hourly pay worthwhile, but the people I work with more than make up for the shortcomings. They seem to have more practical experience with life than anyone I’ve ever met before. They might not have graduated at the top of their class (one guy didn’t graduate at all) but they have survived at a level of sacrifice that most people couldn’t last a day in.

One guy I work with who I’ve clicked pretty well with is Ken. He went to college but had to drop out to support his family through hard times which they are still experiencing. The biggest thing I’ve picked up from him is being true to everything you are and do. He makes minimum wage but he doesn’t mind too much because as a sales associate he gets to sell shoes being who he is — this funny, really approachable guy. I once asked him why he didn’t want to take classes on the side so that one day he could advance to corporate (he certainly could handle college) and his response was that he didn’t want to abandon who he was by speaking “proper” and being confined to doing exactly what the boss wanted. Out there on the sales floor, he could at least chat with customers and be the funny guy that he is.

Right or wrong, his attitude really struck where it matters: the issue of selling out for money or being true to your own person, even if it means getting financially shortchanged. For me, I couldn’t imagine working just for the money. Every day might as well be a daily death. On the flip side, pursuing what you like to do and suffering for it isn’t that appealing either. I don’t want to live for the weekends but then again I don’t want to suffer my entire week either. Is there a real compromise between the two, or can you really only surrender yourself to sterile professionalism or just say screw it all and go for broke?

That’s a question I’ll have to eventually answer before school starts. Until then, I’ll still be pondering the meaning of life in between shuffling inventory and mentally assassinating picky customers. If there’s any Forrest Gump moment of clarity here, I suppose it goes something like this: Life is like a box of shoes, there’s not many in size 7 or 13 but there are a lot of 10s and 11s and it’s damn hard to settle for something you aren’t comfortable in.

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