When I was younger, I would do anything I could to make an extra buck. I ran many side hustles, from making greeting cards and selling them to relatives to doing odd jobs for my neighbor’s registrar office. Throughout high school, I always wanted to work, but the bureaucracy of getting a work permit combined with the lack of open positions made it hard. That was why, when my mom returned from the mall one day, the beginning of summer after my freshman year of college, saying that a women’s clothing store was hiring, I jumped on the opportunity. I showed up in my nicest pair of black pants and a sensible blouse. I went up to the counter, asked for the manager, and told her that my mom had spoken to her earlier that week. My hands were shaking slightly as I handed her my application, and I shifted awkwardly as she glanced over it. Then she took some tape out of the register and wrote something on it before handing it to me.
“This is what we can offer you,” she said, handing me the paper like they do in the movies. Unfortunately, the figure scribbled down did not contain copious zeroes, but it was a little higher than minimum wage, which was all I was really hoping for. Hoping my eagerness would not betray me, I agreed, shook her hand, and agreed to come in for my first shift a few days later.
The days before I went in for my first day, I agonized over what it would be like. I would even second guess whether I had a job offer at all or if I had dreamed it. I checked my purse—no, the receipt paper was still there. The closing shift was still intact.
When my debut to the work force finally rolled around, I showed up in my finest business casual. The manager took me on a quick tour of the place, then showed me the company video as I took copious mental notes. I don’t think anyone took something so clearly shot in the late 90s so seriously. When it was over, the manager took me to the front of the store where she said I could take post as a greeter, simply saying hi to customers as they walked in.
For the first few minutes, I was terrified that someone would ask me a question I couldn’t answer. When I realized that foot traffic was slow, I just started feeling awkward, not having something to keep me busy. I started looking around the store a little and just trying to pose in a way that looked natural. After a while, though, I started to smile more naturally. I said hello to people as they passed on their way into the store and enjoyed when they returned the greeting. I even told someone where the nearest bathroom was.
About an hour in, however, I suddenly started to feel a little hot. I fanned myself with my hand, but the prickly feeling was still creeping up my neck. Then the edges of my vision started to blur a bit, and I realized that I was starting to feel increasingly dizzy. I started to walk to the back of the store, looking for my manager but also a bathroom where I could splash some cold water on my face. As I got back to the dressing room, I saw my manager. “I don’t feel so well,” was all I was able to get out before I sank into her arms and everything went black.
I had fainted.
When I woke up, I was lying in a cold sweat on the floor of the dressing room with a cold compress on my forehead and my worried manager and a customer, who identified herself as a nurse, standing over me. They let me hang out there for a while, a beached whale on white tile under stylish lighting. Eventually, I made my way to the back office where, at the insistence of my manager, I called my parents to pick me up, knowing I wouldn’t have to return until my next shift the following week.
By the time I got home, my color was back to normal, but I still felt uneasy when I thought about my first day on the job. Of course that had to happen to me, in the first role where I felt like I needed to really be an adult. I replayed the whole thing over and over in my head, trying to figure out what I could have done differently. My coworkers theorized that being on my feet for so long without being used to it, especially if I locked my legs, was probably to blame. Regardless, there wasn’t much I could do.
The only thing I could do next was go back to the store, which I did. I worked a full shift without fainting, where I got to do more than just greeting and learned more about the merchandise and how to be a good salesperson. And the best part was, at the end of the night, I received my first paycheck for my few hours before I hit the floor during my first shift. It was small—but it was a start.
And it was the start of a lot of things. A couple of week later, I received a tip from a customer who thought my customer service was so good that it warranted giving me actual money. I also started making friends at the store and picking up extra shifts, and when I moved to California in the fall for school, I transferred stores and kept working for the company. There I made even more new friends, got a raise, and learned the store and the brand like the back of my hand. From there, I moved to New York where I continued to work retail and then eventually found full-time office jobs. That retail gig was the first of several jobs and many hustles, and as embarrassing as that first day was, it was important that I went back. While it may have been a memorable start to my time in the workforce, it hardly defined my career. If anything, by now it’s just a funny story to tell when talking about my work experience.
(Image via Comedy Central)