It’s likely, at least if you’re around the same age as myself or older, that you had a part-time job when you were a teenager. You flipped burgers or sold movie tickets or wrangled shopping carts from a parking lot or did something else that you felt was well below how brilliant you were at 17 and were paid somewhere around minimum wage for doing so. Hopefully, your career has progressed since then and it’s been years, if not decades since you’ve had to do anything so seemingly menial.
However, it’s likely, if not a mortal lock, that at some point since you stopped working those kinds of jobs you’ve interacted with someone who still is. You’ve driven through to get fast food, you’ve gone in and ordered coffee, you’ve left your cart in a stall, you’ve asked for help at the hardware store, you’ve had your ticket torn and been told which direction your theater is in. If you’re anything like me you’ve minimally engaged with these kids – or adults – who are rendering these services for you. You’ve thanked them for whatever it is they’ve just handed you and moved on, not giving them a second thought.
After five months of working retail for the first time in a decade, I can tell you you’re not alone. The percentage of customers who come in and engage in anything more meaningful than “I want…” is so small as to be barely measurable. Most people just want to explain their order, hand over their money and move on with their lives. Those of us behind the counter are merely cogs in the machine that is their daily routine. If they ever worked a part-time retail job, the memory of doing so and how it felt to be a faceless set of arms and legs is distant. That’s not surprising. These things fade over time just like everything else as we accumulate kids, housework and other adult responsibilities. We don’t remember what it felt like to be on the other side of the cash register.
I wonder how many people would have their perspective changed by coming back to the retail world for six months every few years. I don’t want to bemoan anyone’s success or make them feel guilty for achieving some measure of comfort and success, enough that they can pay a premium for conveniences and luxuries. This isn’t about pulling anyone down.
Instead, I think spending six months every five years or so working a retail job would help remind them of the humanity of those who serve them. All those people, the ones who hand you your value meal or large skinny latte, have a story. They’re doing that job for a reason. They may be putting themselves through college. They may be doing it while a book deal works itself out. They may be stringing together two jobs to put their kids in a private high school. They may be someone who’s looking for full-time work but who’s having trouble doing so, adding that job’s income while they get a freelance/consulting practice off the ground.
It’s important to remember that the people who are serving you are just the same as you. Just because they’re spending their Saturday morning helping you instead of driving their kids to a soccer game or out for a fun drive with their kids doesn’t mean they’re less than anyone else. They are working through the struggles and situations their own lives have presented them and doing what they need to do to provide for their family, make ends meet and eventually get to a point of achieving their dreams. Just like you did. Their lives have maybe taken a few different turns than your has, but it’s still their life. God loves them and sent His son to die for them just like He did for you. They are doing their best. They all have their story.
Spend six months getting to know the people who provide the services you, as a successful professional adult enjoy, and you’ll have a different appreciation for the stories. They become more than just the nametags that aren’t quite understanding what it is you want to drink. They become human beings who are as valuable as everyone else. They’re there to help you, making the luxuries you’re enjoying possible.
This may not be feasible. I know it’s not. But if you think about what that would entail, what it would mean for you to move away from your current job and start working part-time for a few months at the age of 35 or 40 or 50 or whatever you might be, you might look at the person who’s handing you the burritos you just ordered through a mobile app with a bit more empathy and compassion. They’re not just there to serve you, they’re working to make the best of their lives, just like you.