Four Years of Part-Time Retail Work

I’d always considered retail and part-time jobs as something of a career way station. Shift-based work for the shiftless. Jobs parents make their idle teenagers do to keep themselves out of trouble; something college students to do in-between classes for some spending money; something clothes horses do on the weekends to get a discount. The usual narrative, where you graduate from college and you get a full-time job never to work retail again, persists. But that narrative is increasingly false—for many, temporary work is no longer temporary.

I should know. I spent four years doing it.

I went to college and I graduated early, excited for for a career. But within a few months I went from feeling proud of graduating to feeling like a total failure because I couldn’t get a “real” job. The economy had crashed. There were no jobs for new graduates. But there were part-time retail jobs, shifts here and there, and that’s where I went. I was ashamed, but I had advantages that others didn’t. I had my parents’ support and no college loans; I had my degree and a hope for a future. I had to recalibrate my expectations. The temporary work was only meant for a short time. It took four years, some of them in grad school, before I landed a full-time job. In the interim, I was a part-time retail worker.