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When I try to think of something that someone has told me about myself that I’ll never forget, it’s surprising that it isn’t a positive (or even accurate) comment that springs to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I have had many memorable things said to me that have made me feel loved, appreciated and recognised for my strengths (or gently for my weaknesses). However, sometimes it takes that very ‘special’ someone (I don’t know if I’m being sarcastic or not) to reeeeally get under your skin.
When I was in my early 20s I was feeling a bit lost. I had realised that the teaching degree I’d been working for wasn’t working out and I had to make a choice. Get out and figure out what I really wanted to do or keep going and feel that discontentment every day that you feel when you know you’ve made the wrong choice for yourself.
I got out.
I figured I’d stop and earn some money, while I decided what I really wanted. I’d get some life experience. Maybe have the gap year I’d never had. It sounded wonderful, but I really was floundering. It wasn’t so glamourous. I had little confidence in myself and went for jobs below my abilities. After the most bizarre exchange during a job interview for a second hand jewellery sales position (the employer used a not so subtle but still legal way of telling me that because I was Asian I was likely to be shy and incompetent at selling just like the previous salesperson who WENT BACK TO SINGAPORE WITH HER BOYFRIEND), I decided that I should maybe just settle for a cashier’s job at a local supermarket. Now, I’m no snob. It seemed good enough. It was a job that I could leave at work when I came home and I just had to be friendly, scan the food and pack it nicely. I’d make some money and it would be easy. I could still have fun and be young during my self imposed, delayed, gap year.
Problem was I dealt with racial discrimination (from customers). Several Chinese customers (not all) thought I was Chinese and tried to take advantage of me (expecting special treatment). A portion of the “white” customers thought of me as a walking Asian stereotype (some being very rude about it). My manager at one point, when querying why I didn’t recognise a particularly exotic Chinese vegetable, told me that she thought I had lots of stir fries at home. WTF? I enjoyed the company of my check out colleagues immensely though, and they really did get me through it (most of them students looking to make a bit of money while they studied). Because I wasn’t studying at the time, I felt like people looked down on me. This didn’t help my confidence at all. I also had a FIFO de facto partner (now known as my non FIFO husband) at the time. I was lonely without him and it was a confusing time. I hated working when he was home and I admit there was a crazy co-dependency thing going on (we were young and had a lot to learn). This got me down and I felt unmotivated and lacked the ability to stand up for myself.
I was selected for what I call a “sideways” promotion. I would do a more highly regarded job (with more responsibility) but for the same pay. I was finally going to be in an office again (where a lot of my previous work experience lay). I would count the day’s takings (no small task) and I would handle the invoices for the bakery orders etc. At the time a lady arrived from another store. She was there to help our store because a recent audit had proved us to be struggling. She was basically there to get us back on track. She was the lady who was supposed to train me…
I had NO idea what was going on. She was spread thin all over the place trying to be the fixer of all things. I was starting a new position and didn’t fully understand what the job entailed. One day I made a small mistake in recording the day’s takings and she stormed in, looked at what I’d done and said, “What the hell is this? Didn’t you listen during your training?? UGH. WHO TRAINED YOU??”
It was awkward when I squeaked out, “Um…you are my trainer… and you haven’t trained me…”
On the daily, she would yell at me. One time I cried. I had reached my limits. She was mental and it was making me mental. I was not strong enough to deal with it (don’t worry – I got strong later in this story). She saw me cry, said I was silly, gave me a hug (!) and took me to the bottle store and bought me a can of bourbon. She sent me home with it as if she was my best friend. It was a confusing time!
I decided it was best if I returned to the shop floor before my trial period was up (well within both my rights and those of my employers). I wasn’t there to deal with everyone’s problems – certainly not this lady’s. There were other staff members who preferred the check outs – why couldn’t I? I didn’t want to climb the ladder. I knew I would end up back at uni – I had a future bigger than this. The management didn’t like this. They thought I was a slacker. They didn’t realise my ambitions. They thought I had no other prospects and treated me as such.
Eventually I realised that I needed to get moving on my bigger future. I signed up to become a volunteer phone counsellor and the training clashed with all of my work hours. With my husband’s support, I decided to resign. I could look for work later that would suit me better.
The last work related thing I was to turn up to was the Christmas party. I had made good friends working there and I felt that it was the right thing to do. I asked my husband to come (partners were welcome) because I might need moral support. He had heard all about my boss by now.
We were talking (the boss zeroed in on me like we were BFFs) about my future plans – beyond the phone counselling (a stepping stone that would count in my favour later) I was planning on studying counselling at university the next year. And do you know what she said? Of course you don’t…
She said in a smug voice, “Kez will never get to uni. She’ll just chat away on the check outs forever.”
TO MY PARTNER.
Who does that???
Her ignorant and insulting comments stuck with me. They motivated me like never before. I was going to live my dreams (even if I had become confused along the way) and people like her would just stay bitter and angry in the same place forever. She was talking to herself more than she was to me – I’m sure of it.
When I walked onto campus for the first time, upon being accepted to a highly regarded university, I remembered her words and smiled. When I attended my first classes and started to understand what I was learning, I remembered and smiled. When I worked harder than ever before, with more confidence and maturity (giving me the ability to apply myself because I didn’t take my further education for granted – having experienced life away from my passions) I remembered and smiled. When I graduated, I remembered and smiled. I went on to work in a fantastic place – accepted straight off the back of a successful internship as part of my studies. I was promoted and treated well. That was a short lived position unfortunately, but it was on my terms (good terms) that I needed to leave (long sad story). I am now living in a gorgeous place (my home town), with a beautiful son and an even bigger future in front of me – family and career wise. I still look back and smile.
It is my self belief and my ambition that has got me to where I am. Where I plan to go.
Of course I was told so many beautiful, wise and encouraging things by my lecturers, tutors, fellow students, my loved ones and my friends. Those positive things spurred me along, and I will never forget those either. I’ll be forever grateful for my support networks in life. It just stuck with me that a very sad lady was so very wrong about me. That those who get you wrong, try to put you down or knock your confidence, are worth NOT listening to. A very valuable life lesson. All of my biggest detractors (I believe “playas” call them “haters”?) have created their own beds to lie in and I have been blessed with a better life, moving forwards.
So often you hear of these stories. The kid who was told they couldn’t sing a note becoming a successful singer, the one who was supposed to struggle with writing becoming a journalist or an author. The kid who had a tough start, put down from day one by their own loved ones, becoming a successful career person. There’s nothing sweeter than proving you’re more than you once appeared.
I wonder where my old boss is today. I feel genuine compassion for her. I hope she found a way to be happy so that she can make those around her happy.
Do you have a similar story? Please do share.
*Disclaimer* I have an immense respect for those who work in our supermarkets and other such retail jobs as cashiers. They are the thankless jobs and for some it is a fantastic career opportunity (even a passion or maybe much needed food on the table), while for others it is a stepping stone. I do not begrudge anyone who is doing their best or who is made happy in these career paths. My individual experience was just not so fantastic, but I recognise that for others it is just what they need, and I am not speaking for anyone else but myself. Much love.
This post is a part of the Blog Every Day in May challenge.