Job title: It’s funny you should ask that cause I’m kind of in between things right now…
Why is it that this section of a form makes me feel just a bit inadequate? I want to write journalist in big bold letters, highlight it, sing it out loud as I jot it down so that everyone in the room knows I have done it – I have secured a full-time job in something that I am truly passionate about. But the truth is: I’m not quite there yet. I split my work life between a supermarket and working for STV (Scottish Television) while trying to get myself more firmly on the ladder, free of the worry of calculating if I’ve done enough overtime to cover rent this month and warrant the purchase of a new scented candle ( turns out I am obsessed).
They say your job shouldn’t define you or that you should not let it define you but I wonder if that’s all much easier said than done. One of the first questions we ask a person when we meet them is what they ‘do’, of course we mean only what job they do but if you think about the way that question is phrased, it’s like a person’s every actions and motivations can be surmised solely by their occupation. I’ll admit that when I’ve spoken to people I don’t know very well and I tell them that I work in a supermarket, I have felt embarrassed that I seem to be back at the point I was when I was 18. I know that things are far different from that but on the surface of it all, when they don’t know my story, it’s hard not to feel some kind of judgement, imagined or otherwise.
Last week I had the displeasure of being met face to face with the uglier side of my fellow humans as I was working some extra shifts in my store. A guy roughly in his mid to late 60’s in an eclectic mix of rainbow coloured and shiny blue clothing, poncho included began to tell me how he hates ‘the world of commerce’ because Tesco had decided to put the price of their mulled wine up by a pound. That’s fine, I’d be miffed too. Then he targeted his speech a bit more towards myself by saying: ‘This is the most meaningless job anyone could ever do. Seriously, I think people should do this job for a maximum of 3 years before moving on. It’s just so pointless.” To which I replied, ‘well no it’s not pointless because at the end of the day I need money and this actually pays more than minimum wage which many employers don’t.’ He continued to aggravate me by saying “yes but you need to grow, you need to expand your horizon and develop as a person.” Well I’d bloody had enough by this point and I think I was partially addressing my own previous feelings regarding my job.
‘I told him You don’t know me. You have no idea what I have done or what I am doing but trust me, I’m doing just fine.’
He quickly realised that I was not going to stand there and agree with what he said & join him in bitching and whining about my ‘predicament’, then left. In a separate incident a drunk chap told me ‘not to get ideas about my station’ when I asked him to clarify what cigarettes he wanted because he had slurred his request and consequently combined the names of three different brands. I eventually had to ban him from the store as he continued to be abusive by telling me I had no authority and should ‘Fuck off.’
So, after a bit of a tough week in one of my part-time jobs and as the search continues to find employment in an industry more competitive than the Kardashian/Jenner’s bids for attention, some self-reflection was necessary.
How dare someone judge me or anyone negatively based on a JOB. I pay taxes and I contribute to society, I try to save where I can and am working towards my own ambitions. Beyond that, I have regular customers who come in and update me on their lives and I about mine. One customer in his 80’s, Ben* who suffers from prostate cancer, comes in almost every day and we chat about whether he is having a good day or a bad day, he tells me how much he loves visiting his step-daughter and her son for sunday dinner & that she is a fabulous cook ( I’ll need to try to score an invitation!). I tell him about the struggles of job hunting and he encourages me to keep going. My manager lets me chat away to Ben uninterrupted and if a que begins to build, he steps in to serve them so that Ben doesn’t feel rushed or that our conversation has to come to an abrupt end. It’s one of the things I genuinely enjoy about what I do and have always done since I started working in customer service at the age of 14 – the people.
It’s also one of the reasons that make the job difficult because as I’ve mentioned, you get the bad along with the good. There are even those customers who don’t say anything to me at all, or even look at me for that matter, while I serve them. They approach my till while they chat on the phone, tap their card on the machine, take their stuff & go. It brings a whole new meaning to ‘contactless payments‘. For anyone who has been guilty of this in the past, please understand – we are not a self-service machine so please give us the acknowledgement we deserve.
So, in this new year… I’m thinking beyond ‘what I do’ in terms of my current occupation and considering my actions as a friend, daughter, sister, granddaughter & girlfriend and just human being in general. It’s great to love what you do and to be proud of your work but don’t let it consume you or restrict what you feel you can achieve. Everyone has their own story and the job you do is only one part of that.
The next time someone asks ‘what do you do?’ – try listing your hobbies, your passions, the things that truly excite you first. Those are the things that more accurately depict who you are as a person rather than responding with sales-rep, dentist, cleaner, journalist etc. Maybe you’ll be met with a confused look and the ‘No, I mean for work’ follow up statement so just be prepared for that!
Job title: On the road to figuring it out but in the mean time let me tell you about ME …
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*Ben’s name has been changed, just in case.