This is a topic that I've been wanting to get to for awhile now because it's something I think about nearly every day. For the past two and a half years of my life, I've been employed at a Bakery. While this may not seem like it hold an impact, or even necessary to talk about, it holds more weight because I'm 28 years old and have no real plan of switching up the game.
Here's how it went; I moved to the city (Chicago) 3 years ago. My transfer with a job that I loved fell through. I ended up having to hit the pavement and look for something I could do, yet enjoy in the meantime to make money. I didn't want a "suburb" job, meaning I didn't want to work at a major chain, or something that I could have done staying in my same location back home. I had worked at a slew of jobs where I had a nice supply of experience in management, customer service, and other elements of retail work. I had a real knack for it, and found that if I truly believed in the product at hand, I could sell it with ease.
So here I was, in the city and on the job hunt. I applied at a local bakery. I had experience in that department before, though limited to certain products such as cupcakes or cookies, however, this was much more extensive, an institution if you will. It's been one of the best bakeries in Chicago since 1922 and it's still owned by the same family. It's a tourist hot spot and a local favorite. Since I've been employed there, I've come across some of the most fantastic people and really have served people from all walks of life, from Tom Skilling to Tim Meadows, to the folks that have been going there since 1949 who have made it a part of their family tradition. The opportunities to grow here personally have been astounding. It's rounded out my customer service in a fantastic way; I've made the regular customers (or any customer) a part of my life, learning their name, and calling it out as they roll through the door. I have learned to take so much pride in my position there and try to make a difference in not only my co-workers lives, but my customer's lives as well. Getting to know the people who support the business is always rewarding. It's extremely valuable for everyone involved. Every job is going to have it's downsides now and then. While retail is retail, and at times you find yourself beating your head against the wall questioning why you're there, more often than not, it's extremely obvious why you're there, for me at least.
Last summer, for 6 months, I took a position as an assistant to a Real Estate Broker. I thought that this would be a great growing experience, a much needed change of pace, and a nice increase in my bank account. For the most part, it did entail those very things, but with some serious downfalls. I had scaled back to one day a week in the bakery, that was limited to decorating cookies for the store, a task that I love, but one that separates me from the rest of the staff. I missed my team, hell, I missed my customers. I was working in a home office, at times alone, or at other times in situations that were less than ideal, making me miss those vital connections that I had made each day at the bakery. While certain circumstances lead to others, I ended up leaving my position as an assistant, and kind of took some time to float. In that period of 6 months, I had enrolled in a Real Estate class and completed that course with ability to sit for the state and national exam. No, I still haven't done that yet. Yes, I've still been studying and have retained a great deal (and yes, I do want to get licensed). Anyway, I needed some time to figure it out, what I wanted and what made me happy, but in the mean time, I decided to ball up some pride, walk over to the bakery, and see if they were be able to give me a few days a week. I was pleasantly surprised when they when they gave me more than just a few. I headed back in for the full-time haul, and it fit like a glove.
Before I had taken the assistant position, I had always actively avoided that "office-y" environment, (or any environment than involved sitting), but couldn't deny that job route seemed to pay more and have some benefits in the mix. I hadn't really considered what I was doing at the bakery a "real job", in the sense that it wasn't a career. Of course, I cared about my work, my customers, and my co-workers a great deal, but there wasn't the same level of pride. I suppose that my time away taught me a surprising amount, as time always does. I had to enhance certain skills as an assistant that hadn't necessarily been required of me at my other job, therefore, when I came back, I made sure those strong points transitioned over and became part of my renewed position. Just because it didn't feel like an "important" job, doesn't mean that it wasn't. It only grew from there, my desire was to create an environment where people loved to come to work, a place where customers can come in and it feels like home. I talk to so many people each day; it is such a magnificent opportunity to get to chat to those who have vastly different careers from one another, a valuable insight and marvelous way to grow communication skills. Making connections has always been vital to me, I suppose it's because my dad always "knew a guy" and I've always found that to be extremely cool. The more you talk to people, especially ones that differ so much from one another, the more opportunities you'll have, the more you'll find.
But it wasn't just that; it was the ability to have a staff that is impressionable, the ones who are just starting their interactions with customers. You can make a huge impact on how they deal with people not only at their place of work, but how they treat people in their daily lives. Likely, if you give great customer service, you're a pleasant person outside of your work environment, because you know how to work with people. When I was 18, I was lucky enough to have a fantastic boss who saw my strength in customer service and really pushed it and made me grow even more. A woman who taught me how important it was to be enthusiastic about your job and truly care about your not only your work, but your staff. My brother was another huge way I modeled my teamwork; create an atmosphere where it feels like you're working whilst hanging out, where everyone gets along, a true "team". No one gets left out, everyone has a good time, and we all work our asses off. We can shoot the shit, talk about absolutely anything, get a little dancing in, but if we're not working hard, we can't play hard.
That's another aspect of importance is the physical labor. I love being on my feet; constantly moving, cleaning, organizing, working on production, or lifting something. I like to feel like things are getting done. It's not like I'm just slingin' doughnuts here, folks (I mean, well, I AM), I dabble in a lot of different tasks within that establishment. It's huge. It's an actual production. We crank out so much product it's crazy. There's never a dull moment, there's endless amounts to do, and there's always someone to share a laugh with, and frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm happy.
Money is definitely important, don't get me wrong. However, I'm not about to put myself in a position that I disdain at a company I don't believe in, to have a larger bank account. The ideal would be feeling absolutely secure enough to pay my bills and have a nice lump sum to sit on for safety, but what fun is that? I take the money I earn pretty seriously, because it's not like I have a ton to go around (like, if we could accept tips, I could put a down payment on a house), but because I work hard for it and because if I am going to have a job I love, I may have to pay for that in the long run, but that's okay. It's not my only source of income (hey, hey) and the benefit of not taking my work home with me is remarkable. There's a reason why people stay in their retail positions for the length of their lives. Some of us actually love it. I have other pursuits, I have things I want to accomplish, Hell, I'm working towards them now, and I'm lucky enough to have enough time outside of work to pursue them on the side. How awesome.
What actually sparked this post (and it's length), was this article I came across just a couple hours ago. I look at this list and think, really?! Those jobs seem pretty damn essential to me, and while they may be the "worst", they all hold a pretty important factor of how we get shit done in this country. So why are they such low paying wages? To me, those jobs aren't the "worst", they are some act of selflessness. all of those jobs directly help someone else in a different way; a DJ delivering music to a large base of people and sharing valuable insights to music (what's up, WXRT?!), a firefighter saving lives whilst risking their own, pest control making our environments livable and helping the city's food establishments stay clean, military protecting, fighting, and serving for our country and it's citizens, retail associate helping you place an order or purchase an item, and newspaper journalists reporting on local news that impacts the lives of those in the area. Jobs and careers where the pay not be high, yet the value is astounding. THAT'S why people work these jobs. A firefighter is a firefighter because that's what they've wanted to do their whole lives, Wages aren't going to deter dreams, you just find a way to work around it. If the passion is there, you may simply find a way to make the money you need, but if you're lucky, you'll find a way to make what you need and beyond.
All in all, I've given up the mindset that I don't have a "real job". I damn well do and it's a pretty great one too. Service jobs of any kind can be extremely rewarding. If you're good at something, find a way to become better. If you're great at something, teach someone else how to be great at it too. You can choose the level of pride you choose to take in a job and you can indeed change your mindset and how you approach your position, ANY position. It doesn't matter what the hell you do, as long as you're doing it the best you can, as long as you believe in what you're doing, because if you don't, than what's the point?