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What a Year Working in Retail Taught Me at 54

What a Year Working in Retail Taught Me at 54

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[Side Notes:]

  • I give a quick update on my Infringed non-fiction blog series at the bottom
  • I’ll update you on our chicken adventure next week


I could almost call this Part One of Two. Whereas what I really want to talk about is the last week and moving forward, I’ll save that for a couple of weeks from now. It’s been a fast six or seven weeks since my last blog post. Near the start of that, my wife and I went on our first cross-country trip in four years, to visit our dearest friends in Maryland. And taking a couple of weeks off physical labor plays into my decision to leave the part-time job just a bit. So let’s go back and refresh the history of me and this job for a moment.

As compared to before I left my cushy government job in April 2021, we live much more frugally. In July of 2022, I interviewed for (and landed) a job at Lowe’s for a couple of bucks over minimum wage. It seemed like they would want me to work four to five midday shifts per week. Despite needing a supplemental revenue stream, I still didn’t want too many hours to interfere with my author ambitions. More importantly, I got a weird vibe from the hiring manager, a man probably in his early to mid 40s. He was extremely skeptical I would not get hurt working in the lumber department. I get it. On the surface I looked like the overweight blob I was. But he didn't know me. Or more to the point—he assumed I would work to everyone else's work ethic, regardless of age or gender.

Between accepting that job and turning it down the next week right before I started, I’d interviewed at one of my favorite stores: Tractor Supply Company. I knew it was an interim manager who hired me, but I didn’t realize the turmoil the store had been through in the months just prior. (Firings, people quitting left and right...) But something felt right. I would be making just pennies over minimum, a good two-plus bucks under Lowe’s. But it was Tractor Supply! I wanted to learn about chickens and chicken feed and forage and goats and horses and yada yada yada! And I Really wanted that 15% employee discount! So that’s the job I took.

I decided that after a federal career in which over half of it was supervision and management, I would relish the chance to just be a grunt again. I made some determinations. I would go in with a great attitude and work as hard as I could. I would try to spread positivity, and avoid falling-in with the workplace tendency where employees group up and quietly gripe about their companies. [Embarrassingly, I did occasionally catch myself "joining the crowd" in that.] Overall, I just wanted to set an example. As a former boss, I know what it’s like to have the "barely successful" on your team—those “Office Spacers” who work just hard enough to keep out of trouble. [Go search for any article on Quiet Quitting: you’ll be disappointed in the modern American even more than you already are.] I wanted to be the man who shows the kids how to work, sans the arrogance.

And for the most part, based on feedback of my co-workers and bosses, I think that’s how it played out. But it wasn’t without some reminders of simple life lessons along the way.

  1. Quit assuming the other person is just lazy. When you drop your attitude and just talk to people, you figure out things. Some folks just don’t move and think as quickly. Some folks are dealing with injuries. Some are pacing themselves because they’ve hit middle age and figure they need to preserve their health. Some are young and have not yet figured out they won’t be stuck moving dog food for the rest of their lives.
  2. Be ready to learn at any moment. Man, did I hate the register! Mainly it was because standing in one spot kills my arthritic knees. But that modern gizmo is not nearly as push-button intuitive as it should be. Things like special discounts, promotions, returns, impatient customers—handling those are NOT my strong suit. My peers were always patient and great at bringing me up to speed. [Basically, the store accommodated my schedule and assignment preferences by mainly allowing me to work early morning freight. I wasn’t on register much after the first three months.] Props to the “kids.” They did great helping an old man keep from smashing a computer in frustration and storming out.
  3. Same goes for teaching. I enjoyed teaching the newer employees. Some of it was just passing on simple things like how and why we stocked the shelves a certain way. Usually it was more technical: forklift safety, how to use the cardboard baler…
  4. Be a gracious customer AND employee. Nothing drives home remembering to try and be a self-helping customer when you’re out shopping… like helping idiots. Oops, not supposed to say that. But seriously, it becomes very easy to get frustrated with customers. I think most of the time, that is simply employees displacing other frustrations. I’ve lost count of the number of times I was shown were an item was just to realize I’d already walked past it twice. But sometimes, just some times… the customer is an arrogant and trying a$$hole. So, no matter which role you’re playing in the moment, be gracious to the other person.
  5. There will always be things to gripe about at any job. And there will always be good things we overlook. Try to remember to appreciate. Having gratitude in life is a surefire way to attract mysterious forces of opportunity. Thirty years ago I worked at a Les Schwab tire center for one pre-winter season. I didn’t land that job because of experience—I landed it because I kept stopping in at a different Les Schwab on the way to a job I didn’t like and telling them they needed to hire me. One manager talked to another, and Boom! The thing I truly didn’t like at Tractor Supply was driven by corporate, not local managers. They really drive home the importance of getting people to sign-up for the “Jack the Ripper” 30+% credit card. I mean, it is painfully obvious that the manager’s bonus is reliant on this metric. As a former non-retail manager, I respect the clear expectations and goals. As a person who knows credit is evil and destructive, I felt this was the one true complaint I had. There were other petty gripes, but I chose and choose to remember the multitude of good things, too. Like the employees themselves.

I won't say I was BFFs with all of them. And in that year+, there were a couple I would've fired long ago if they were one of my old shipyard crew. But overall, the people there give me hope. They remind me not to believe all the hype that both sides of the political spectrum shove down our throats. They have quarterly meetings early on a Sunday morning, and it starts with a video of the national anthem. And our Freight Reciever, a black woman who I'm dearly fond of, was always the first to pop up for it! God bless America—and its diversity!

So, why did I quit? Well, the mental and physical aspects both play into my author business. In short, working there did wipe me out physically. Basically, I was spent in all aspects after working freight and feed two days a week, and I went home and napped and goofed off. After fourteen months, I realized I was just letting precious time slip by. And injuries didn’t help. Not from working there, to be clear. Last year, I started working on fitness. I tore a meniscus, gave myself a bulging disc at L5, have some other mysterious thing causing stenosis at L2-L3, and have a degeneration of both SI joints in the pelvis. Despite all of that, I was routinely praised by my peers and supervisors as one of the bar-setters.

Once, the boss even brought people back two at a time to literally discuss “hustle” while they watched me work. I reminded them that I don’t hustle for Tractor Supply—I hustle for me. And that is probably the one thing that most people can’t be taught. Work ethic is a choice. But my body is wearing out. I decided that the year-long reminder about what true, hard work is... was enough. It is time to apply that refreshed lesson to my true calling and business. I’ll discuss my new journey in finally treating my authorship like a business in two weeks. Thanks for taking the time, and feel free to leave me a comment!



Infringed Update: I am a volunteer Range Officer and Secretary for Kitsap Rifle & Revolver Club, which has been fighting two injunctions and frivolous lawsuits for years. One task I’ve undertaken is building a club website to help us get our story out. I will be re-posting the first two episodes of the Infringed expose series over there; and then continuing the series only on that site. The series timeline is quite extensive and requires a lot of research, so it is slow going. Whenever I post new articles in that series, I’ll put an announcement out on my FB pages and profiles and on the home page of this website.

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1 comment

  • Classic example of ‘spirit is willing but flesh is weak.’ You gave it your best, sir and hopefully inspired some others along the way. Best of success with the other projects and getting the word out about the range.

    DaveC on

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