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Girl Talk: Everyone Should Have A Retail Job At Least Once

I’ve never known how to properly fold a shirt. My dressers have always been an orgy of unorganized clothes—sweaters and socks spilling out of drawers—because my approach has always been to ball everything up, which is not really a great way to organize or prevent wrinkles. That all changed after my first day working in retail, a job, I have found, that revolves around a perfectly folded shirt. See, along with interning at The Frisky, I also have one of those typical college student I-need-to-make-rent jobs. For the past two weeks, I have been a sales associate at my university’s bookstore, which features a surprising amount of apparel. Already, I’ve gained enough knowledge from this job to endorse the idea that everyone should take a turn working in retail. If this type of position can teach you anything, it’s patience—something I’ve always seriously lacked. My first day on the job, I was given the challenge of folding hundreds of shirts. Yes, I say challenge because sometimes one shirt would take me five minutes due to my lack of experience. The next day, I scuttled around the store watching woefully as my army of perfectly compacted shirts were carelessly unraveled and dropped on the floor, stuffed into unimaginable small crannies, or slyly hid under other stacks of clothes. It wasn’t until then that I realized I am just as guilty of this behavior. Before the bookstore, I would routinely toss aside clothes that didn’t end up pleasing me, figuring the employees of the store were paid to pick it up. And it’s true. I get paid $8.50 an hour to continually cycle through the store, stocking, straightening, replacing and, of course, refolding inventory, knowing that in 20 minutes I will probably be back fussing with the same pair of banana yellow workout shorts.

Now when I go shopping—say in the jungle of Forever 21—I straighten up the pile of leggings I tore through looking for my size. Because now I understand. Retail is a thankless job that gets little respect or praise from consumers. I mean, I have yet to be complimented on how orderly that sale table looks, and I don’t expect to. I know that even though I spent two hours re-stocking, customers won’t be wowed by the selection. They will be angered by the item that we don’t have in their size, or the fact that I am unable to tell them how much a certain shirt will shrink.

This experience is important for me: It has taught me how to be proud and diligent in my work, even though it will probably go unnoticed. It may sound corny or unrealistic, but in retail I am learning to be more persistent than in any other job I’ve had. In the store I don’t get feedback from customers, like I do from our wonderful Frisky readers. I have to depend on and reassure myself. I know the fact that everything is folded and presentable has an effect on someone’s shopping experience. I know that my smile and pleasantness with customers makes them have a better opinion of my workplace, even if they don’t tell me that. I am responsible for making myself confident that I am awesome at folding shirts — which I totally am now.

Not to say that there aren’t customers who brighten my day. For every dozen grouchy glares, there is one beaming consumer who makes up for it all. Or one individual who is supremely difficult to deal with but, in turn, gives me an entertaining anecdote to tell at a party.

Overall, my brief time in retail has given me more patience with people than I could ever expect; I now know how to motivate myself and keep an upbeat perspective, even if I am the only one clapping for myself; and maybe most importantly, I have gained respect for anyone who does this full-time.

Oh, and thanks to my new set of skills, my dresser drawers now fully shut. That is a big accomplishment.

Photo: iStockphoto

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