When you are a child, People always ask the same question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. As you grow up the question seems to be oddly familiar. It goes something along the line of “So what have you been doing?”. It just kind of hits you, you are “older”. This is it. And by the way – what exactly are you doing? Here’s my story of how I got from a very angry teenager but ends with hope for what I believe is success in my future.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This question has been somewhat shameful for me to answer for the past five years because I have never taken pride in what I do. I never finished college. I was overwhelmed with the amount of choices, none which were ever good enough. I ended up enrolling in the first that would take me – Humboldt State, which had an early acceptance day. So I went to the campus, toured it, applied, and got accepted. The colleges I could get into were never something “worth” anything – It wasn’t Cal or Cornell or Stanford like everyone else. I never had the grades my friends did, I didn’t have a lot of things my friends did.
Since I was little, I was kind of placed in a group of friends that I, myself, never really chose. And honestly, they never really chose me either. But here I was, with them for over ten years constantly never on their level. I wasn’t smart enough, or pretty enough, or naturally talented at dance as they were. Even if we were all in honors classes and AP classes, teachers were always like “Alexa really does not live up to her potential – she has so much.” In general, I was awkward and an introvert. My lack of effort stemmed in the fact that I just wanted to make it through the day – doing schoolwork wasn’t the priority. But then I would fall behind, which in turn, just made me feel even more like a failure.
After deciding to not pursue college, I decided to move back home. I felt overwhelmed at the lack of direction and guilty that it was costing my mom so much money. It felt it was as if she was funding my indecisiveness. Since college started I also developed a grudge against everyone I went to high school with. I saw pictures of them drinking and doing drugs, partying every day – what was the point to college anyways? It seemed like a total lack of responsibility that cost their parents thousands of dollars. I was so bitter. It stemmed from not being able to do what everyone else does – fitting in and having fun and get labeled as “successful” by every parent and job-provider.
When I started my job at Gap I was so lost, bitter, angry, and felt out of control. With that attitude I was basically on track to also failing my job, but instead working actually motivated me. I reveled in the fact that I was bringing home more money than I had ever had before. Even though I didn’t know anyone that I worked with, we all shared the same experiences. “Wow, that customer was really demanding!” “Omg I tried those jeans on too, they are super tight!” Somehow I was finding my way to developing genuine relationships with people because profit was involved, my hard work was not unnoticed. Satisfaction came so much faster than it did in school. When I came up with new and more efficient procedures, I was recognized. If I went above and beyond the expectations for customer service, my managers would be sure to praise me.
In 2012, I left my job at Gap due to a complete emotional breakdown. While working full time (over 40 hours a week), I was spending around two hours a day commuting, and on top of that, I was also back enrolled in school with a full course load. You could say it was tress and exhaustion that caused it all, but you would only be half right. I couldn’t live with the embarrassment of working a “lowly” retail job and failing out of community college. The shame was unbearable.
I couldn’t live with the embarrassment…The shame was unbearable.”
Life is complicated. How can you feel so so proud of yourself at work but so ashamed at the same time? For a few months, after quitting Gap, I stayed home trying to make sense of it all.
Eventually I got another job, this time with Crossroads Trading Company. There no more was any long commute and no more attempts at school. As I settled into my new job, I also settled into the idea that “this is now my worth”. For awhile I was ok with that – I wasn’t excited or angry, but I was ok.
I worked hard at my company. This resulted in a promotion every year, which was not common. Once three years had passed, I has the second highest position in the store. I had trained a whole new round of “buyers”, I pushed for high standards in merchandising and organization, and I had help build and hire a whole new team.
I began my teens as a stubborn, impulsive, and angry and now in my twenties, I can calmly make quick and effective decisions under pressure, lead a store, support a functioning team, network, multitask with ease, and that’s just a taste of what I can do. I am a better me. I might have not have a degree from the best college, instead I have the experience and skills and also a track record for success.
My high school classmates are now graduated and slowly finding their careers. Up until recently I’d joke that all the money spent on their degrees sand they still don’t know what they are going to do in the real world. These were the times where I let my insecurities talk for me. When my classmates came back home, they didn’t flaunt their experiences. What I had done all those years when they were in college was dehumanize them, in my head I had made them all the same – the became the idea of college. Now, standing before me plain as day, they were so human – unapologetic flaws and all, naive to my harsh judgement It finally was so clear, we were the same.
“They were so human…”
Making this realization is what finally made me feel deserving. I was finally ready to see that I was worth more than my retail job. It was not because retail was some lowly job that I made it out to be in my head. How could I even think that! Retail was the sanctuary that developed me into the successful person I am today. No, I am worth enough to do what I find passion in. That just so happens to not be retail.
Once I felt deserving, I immediately made the decision to quit my job. Every day I revisit my feelings about the choice I made, but for once, I fell like I made the choice. I am no longer acting on behalf of a store, nor working in retail to just pay the bills, and I’m definitely not sitting in a classroom confused and lost. I am in control.