About a year ago, one of the tax preparation offices ran a commercial where a plumber (or a retail worker) was giving tax advise to their customers. The customers were a little taken aback by their advise, but when the plumber/ retail associate identified themselves as their tax preparer, they are even more shocked and the company sponsoring this commercial then prompts the viewers to wonder about who is preparing their taxes.
I work two jobs–one at a local college and one at a local supermarket– and I often feel like the plumber or the retail associate when I run into college colleagues or students as I stock produce in my company-issued red polo.
It’s an interesting dynamic. Sometimes, I look up and call out a “How’s it going?” as they enter the produce department. Sometimes, I run to the cooler and find something to busy myself with until they have moved onto the bakery or deli. And, with the intention of full honesty, it is at this point that I realize my embarrassment for working such a job and my snob-attude rears its ugly head.
As I work two very different jobs, I find it an uncomfortable, yet necessary, juxtaposition. For one job, I need a skill set designed to explain the unforgiving nature of writing and study. My qualifications include a four year degree from a liberal arts college, something I do not often mention to my students for fear of seeming like an elitist. Yet, in the same day, I exhibit a different skill set necessary to distinguish quality and perhaps even give advice in food preparation. Here, it seems absolutely unnecessary for me to think about my degree, a proud accomplishment, as I lift 40 lbs cases of bananas and trim the ends off lettuce.
Now, I’m not saying that I do not enjoy my produce gig. Actually, I enjoy working as a team member to achieve sales goals. I know that, at the end of the day, my contributions help my coworkers in addition to the customers we serve. However, the fact that it is often pair with my other job makes me feel like the plumber from the commercial- someone with questionable qualifications if she must work a blue collar job.
I suppose my main concern lies in my appearance to others. At first, my college related coworkers and students often share the same shocked faces when they see me in produce section donning my red polo as those customers in that commercial I mentioned earlier. Some even don’t recognize me. People, who would have greeted me as I walked through the campus hallways, pretend to (or genuinely don’t) see me. It could be the assumptions made about people who work in retail or they want to avoid asking me why I work there.
There are those who approach me and wonder why I need to work a low wage job. At this moment, I have a number of opportunities and have to filter my reasons to fit those who want to know. The truth is that there are a number of reasons I choose to work in retail, from extra income to flexible hours, a different environment to proximity to my home. I have student loans in addition to rent and “life” bills evident in the so-called real world.
The hardest part is breaking the feeling that I am not meeting my potential– the plight of many twenty somethings.