I’m grateful for the new year, for a chance to start anew and decide where I want to go next in life. I have a big feeling that January will be a month of discernment for what’s meant to happen as my next career step.
I don’t know for sure what the future holds for me, but even though I’m a bit nervous, I’m far more excited than anything else! I feel like I can have complete autonomy now, that I can honestly decide for myself which direction things will go.
‘Twas a Hefty Piece of Work
The last couple of weeks have been an uncomfortable time of coming to terms with what sure as heck didn’t work for me at my previous job and what I need to avoid in the future. Whenever I see “thrives in a fast-paced environment” on job applications, I immediately turn away.
That store was undoubtedly a “fast-paced environment”, and it was so bad that I started getting chest pains because the stress was out of control towards the last month of my employment there.
Well, being constantly yanked between pricing clothing in the back and to my register at the front of the store will do that to ya. It got so obnoxious at one point that there were customers openly saying “Poor Connor!” because they kept hearing me getting called on the intercom. Like I was on a leash. I could be stuck on my register with a long line of patient customers, and they would still be calling me to the backroom.
This was one of the biggest reasons I quit in December 2021, alongside others. After spending the last couple of weeks praying, meditating, and processing, I think I’ve been dealing with symptoms of PTSD because of this place.
Micromanagement to the T!
Who would’ve thought that in a thrift store where your only merchandise is donated goods, you’d end up being micromanaged over the smallest of things?
Even the bathroom.
Yes, it was like we were preschoolers…or less than. Because I certainly don’t recall having a bathroom log in preschool.
At several points in 2021, the higher-ups made us employees write down our in-and-out times in the employee restroom on a whiteboard in our backroom. This meant that if you were a person with issues such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) such as myself, the whole crew would end up knowing about it per that stupid log.
Oh, and we had a higher-up who took to locking the door that gave access to the employee restrooms, making us ask for the key. All because they were under the impression that people were “abusing the restroom”.
How the heck does somebody “abuse the restroom”?!
There was a disturbing amount of mercilessness at this store, especially regarding employees calling off sick during a global pandemic.
Sometime in May 2021, when our team was making the rounds of getting our vaccine shots, there was an unforgettable morning meeting where this mercilessness was made apparent. We had a sweet, hardworking coworker who got sick after her vaccines and had to call off sick a few times in 30 days.
Her mother made her come in sick one Wednesday morning, even though our coworker had woken up vomiting. I begged her when she confided in me to go home and rest. After all, you can’t pour from an empty kettle.
Well, the following day, our coworker came back, feeling pressured to return despite telling us that she had a fever of at least 101 degrees. A higher-up was there was well, and gave a hateful speech about…”morale”.
“Yesterday proved who’s in it to win it, and who’s lingering,” the higher-up told us.
They took our coworker into the office and ripped into her about her attendance. There’s a high chance that they gave her a write-up, all for calling off sick amid the pandemic. Our coworker came out of the office weeping.
Oh, and here’s the killer part: months later, the same higher-up came in and told us that with COVID cases on the rise, to “Call off sick and stay home if you aren’t feeling well.”
Uh, so, what was our coworker then? A “fluke”?
“Raise” it Up!…Or Not…
For most of my three years at this store, the starting pay for everybody, regardless of any prior experience in retail/customer service, was a measly $9 per hour. The company had numerous chances to give a company-wide raise during the pandemic but kept putting it off.
It wasn’t until early October 2021 that they finally got on it and gave us all a $2 raise. Our team was relieved because many of us were worried that our job couldn’t sustain us throughout the rising inflation.
Moreover, one of the higher-ups was present during the morning meeting when we opened our letters informing us of our raise. They told us that we’re a “family”. They sounded genuine.
The company blew the chance to create a stable future for us, however, by simultaneously acting like they had to “justify” giving us this raise. The same week we received the raise, we had to sign “competency forms” outlining the duties of our specific position. Mind you, many of us had been here for a few years, and nobody had been told to sign these when we were hired.
Oh, and about that whole “family” thing…
That ultimately means nothing to us at this point and is tantamount to “false adoration”, a phrase that entered my mind during my morning prayers today. The same higher-up who referred to us as a “family” is the same person who:
- Demonized our coworker for calling off sick
- Told me that they believe depression is the “work of the devil” when I decided to confide in them about my mental health struggles
- Scorned me after they found out about me asking my boss for two days off in October for mental health days
- Referred to me as their “boy”, “one of mine”, and other terms of endearment, all while continuously micromanaging my pricing to the point it was clear that they didn’t trust my capabilities
Here’s a clip from Steven Universe that helped me process my anger over all of this:
Steven: “But I know what it’s like to have a loving family, and we don’t do stuff like this to each other!”
(Blue Diamond lashes out at him using her tear-inducing ability, an analogy for emotional abuse)
Steven: “This isn’t normal.”Steven to Blue Diamond, “Change Your Mind”
Boy, does this scene sing to me after the nonsense our team endured this year. What sort of “family” vilifies each other for calling off sick, wanting to take care of yourself, and tarnishing much-needed support with unfair demands?
That Friday, we were told that we would be “fine-tuned” for the new store they were renovating next door. As such, ridiculous new demands were thrust onto our shoulders. This included our hangers having to tolerate somebody using a clunky old kitchen timer to time them, to see whether or not they were hitting the new mark of “80 pieces of clothing in 10 minutes or less”. They also occasionally had to deal with one of the higher-ups standing right next to them and counting out loud, “One, two, three…”
As my roommate pointed out, they had no right to act like they needed justification for giving us this raise when it was long overdue. The White Castle near us bumped their starting pay to $15 per hour several months before us. They had no excuses.
And oh, ever since they gave us that double-edged raise, things went rapidly downhill.
Because our clothing is all donations, we rarely price anything high (unless it was something exquisite such as brand-new stuff or even fur coats). Typically, we priced clothing on a scale of $1.99, $2.99, and $3.99. This was the range used for most shirts and pants, excluding men’s jeans which are a more uncommon donation.
I was always on the lookout for trash clothing, which we received a great deal of. You had to look to be sure that you weren’t pricing a shirt with armpit stains, or worse, pants with holes down there. And even more disgusting, underwear (which was trifling).
Sometime around the beginning of November, one of the higher-ups randomly came in and price-checked my clothing racks. They told one of my shift leaders to say to me that I was no longer allowed to use the “$1.99” price unless it was for kids’ or baby clothing.
To me, it came out of nowhere. And it was alarming! The intense way they told my shift leader to deliver the message made it seem like I was in big trouble or would receive disciplinary action.
The next day, after walking away from the backroom to speak with one of her higher-ups, my boss returned and suddenly shouted, “Connor, your pricing range today is $2.99, $3.99, and $4.99.” Everybody in the backroom heard her, and frankly, it was humiliating.
For some reason, she repeated the message roughly 10 minutes afterward, shouting again. It was evident to me that whoever she’d spoken to that morning had ordered her to handle the situation like this. This should’ve been handled privately, not by blurting it out so that our whole team could hear.
About a month later, the same higher-up told my boss to do this again in a morning meeting we had in the back. Granted, our boss was discussing different pricing changes across the board, but still, she shouldn’t have been told to handle it like this.
“Connor knows to not use the $1.99 price anymore, and if he thinks that’s what it’s worth, he needs to throw it away.”
Uh, nobody, not my boss, her higher-ups, or any of my shift leaders, told me this before that morning meeting. Another bit of information that should’ve been handled privately but wasn’t.
Not to mention, I saw when helping them finish pricing racks of clothing that they’d been working on that I was the only employee told to not price things at $1.99. That’s not their fault, but it confirmed my suspicion that I’d been singled out.
And I will never understand why my boss was told to handle it like this, especially when for almost three months in a row, we’d been killing our daily sale budgets, sometimes by even $3,000 over our projected goal. It was beyond nitpicky of them to come at me like this, and by refusing to stop, they guaranteed that I’d eventually choose to quit.
I didn’t earn my English degree, leave college with roughly $28,000 owed in student loans, and hope for a better future, only to let myself waste away getting belittled over how I price donated clothing. This whole thing was degrading to the utmost degree and destroyed any chance of me caring about my “performance”.
Why bother caring when my best would never be good enough, for whatever childish reason there was?
It’s All “Mental”!
Between this over-the-top obsession over how “low” I priced clothing to constantly being yanked back and forth from the backroom and my register, my mental health plummeted.
It got so bad that I started hearing myself think, “I’d rather be dead than keep waking up for this place.”
While thankfully I was not dealing with suicidal ideation, that could’ve been my reality if I had tried to ignore my situation. After doing some intensive prayer and careful thinking, I decided to quit in mid-December 2021.
I gave them a 4-day notice so that my last day would align with our team’s last scheduled day before our paid Christmas vacation period. I saw no point in making myself stay around for a full two weeks when I was so wiped out.
One of the higher-ups pulled me into the office for a brief exit interview, offering me a vacation as an incentive to stay. I didn’t say anything at the time, but it drove home the reality that it took me quitting for my mental wellbeing to be taken seriously.
This higher-up was the one who opted to take care of my overdue annual review, alongside some of my coworkers’ reviews as well. Ironically, I received this review on my last day, read to me by my boss. While the author of my review did take note of my “flexibility” (my new red-flag word), they chose to criticize me for several purely subjective things, such as:
- I “spent too much time talking with my coworkers on the sale floor” (untrue, and rubbish)
- My pricing flow was “uneven on some days” (hello depression, how ya doin’?)
- It was “clear” when I “wasn’t focused on what I was pricing” (I was stuck constantly keeping an eye out for trash that nobody else was allowed time to look at)
- If I’m overwhelmed, I should “speak up” (why would I “speak up” to the higher-up who never showed genuine sympathy towards anybody around them actually being overwhelmed?)
I had no regrets about quitting, and by handling my review like this, they unwittingly guaranteed that I will never consider returning.
Writing all of this out helped me rid myself of the anger and resentment I’ve kept bottled up over this place. This healing process feels akin to this beautiful scene from The Legend of Korra, where the titular character succeeds in removing the last traces of a crippling poison, a wholesome analogy for fighting against PTSD:
Earlier this week, while working on an online proofreading course I purchased to help prepare me to try freelance proofreading, I could hear anxious, angry thoughts flying around in my head:
- “Leave me alone!”
- “Why can’t you just believe in me?!”
- “I’m doing the best I can!”
- “Why isn’t this good enough for you?!”
These were the angry things I wish that I’d said to them when they put me through that pricing nonsense. After praying and pouring out everything into this blog post, those thoughts have finally gone silent, a wholesome indicator that I’ve made healing progress.
I will always cherish my coworkers, who truly were and still are family to me. They’ve been nothing but supportive of my choices and have continued to wish me the best of luck in my future endeavors.
I’m grateful that God gave me the courage to say “enough is enough” and leave this place behind. The future is looking quite bright, and there’s no looking back!
"Step away, walk away! (All I want is the real thing...) Step away, walk away! Step away, walk away! (All I want is the real thing...) Step away, walk away! Let's just close our eyes... (I just forget myself...)" -"The Walk" by Eurythmics