Re-Post: Sacrifice Self for Service

Originally Posted: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2016

I spent the last six years working for a large electronics retailer and most of that time was as a Store Manager. In the last year I worked there they changed the title to Store Leader to try to infuse some ownership or enthusiasm into the role. The company was constantly changing terms, role definitions and performance evaluation standards in an effort to create impactful "cultural" changes but it mostly led to inconsistency and confusion. Frequently redefining evaluative tools, job descriptions and philosophies indicates a lack of central vision and understanding of psychology. Ambiguity and inconsistency muddy the waters of an organization's central goals and frustrates managers.

While I can go on about this company as a whole it was really the day to day operations and interactions with customers and the corporate structure that weighed on me year after year slowly but surely embittering me toward retail in general.

One of the main reasons I left was a growing feeling of stagnation and sometimes regression. A few years into my time there they created a leadership scoring system from 0-5, where 0 was about the be fired and 5 was about to be promoted to district manager, but the language for determining these levels was too broad and could be interpreted in different ways and it ended up being confusing and dis-empowering. By the end of the first year of implementation I had scrambled my way to level 3 which seemed appropriate and at least meant I was progressing and getting some kind of acknowledgement for my success and commitment.

I made it through the holiday season that year, made a ton of money for the company and worked extra hours with a new team. I had a few anxiety attacks as well as developing a general depression due to the stress and by the end of the year, like past years, I resolved to find something new as soon as possible. When the new year came around I found that I was starting over on the leadership system. I was back to level one and trying to reestablish the basics. Fine. But even after many months and conversations with my district manager I was not progressing. Was I really a lesser manager than the year before? Around this time I started seeing a therapist and when every conversation was about work I realized it couldn't last much longer.

My frustration with the system was leading to poor customer service on my part and after a few conversations with my district manager about it I felt like I was starting over every day. I had lost any enthusiasm for helping people and forgot what I was doing there. Then, one day, I remembered that we sold video games and my store was crushing sales goals. I sold entertainment to people and it should be fun so why did I feel so bad? I realized that the direction and perspective that my superior was offering me was not only demeaning but was simply wrong. I realized that when left to my own style of management my customers, my staff and my self were happier and more effective. I lost respect for the corporate system all together and accepted that it was not going to change and therefore I had to change.

Another reason I was getting fed up with my work was dealing with low-lifes and thieves. My store was essentially a pawn shop and operated under local second hand laws. Many of the customers that would try to sell their property were normal, intelligent people who didn't mind waiting to examine things and would accept the offer prescribed by the computer. Then there were the douchebags. People with brand new controllers that had never been touched and who didn't care that they were losing 60% value because everything is profit when it is stolen. Or people who just take their dirty, stinky stuff out from under their TV and bring it in all wrapped up in wires and wonder why it isn't worth much because it is covered in soda and old stickers.

Shop lifters and scammers were a constant issue and three days before my official last day I had my first snatch and grab. This 20 something white kid comes in and asks to buy two systems and some games. I was stupid enough the put the systems on the counter which is completely my fault. Then, when I ask him for an ID, he grabs the two systems and tries to run out. He fell backwards, dropping them on the floor and created a huge mess. I ran out from the counter and by then he was grabbing one of them and ran outside to a waiting SUV in the parking lot. He only got the one item but it was still very shocking. I should have never had the expensive items within arms reach but in six years I never thought it would happen to me. During my last two shifts I couldn't help but imagine every young man as a threat.

Dealing with the police was always pleasant enough but having to accept obviously stolen property because of discrimination policies was frustrating. I understand why they exist but sometimes it would have been nice to tell someone to fuck off and never come back. My boss would say, "What would you do if you owned your store?" and I can say I would have done things a bit differently. Such as getting rid of certain customers and using payroll more flexibly but I always tried to do what they wanted.

 Before I decided to quit I looked into the future and only saw myself becoming more and more bitter and depressed. The money was good but I was still living month to month, barely saving anything and it certainly wasn't worth the stress and lack of fulfillment. The longer I live and the more I listen to wizened elders I think that fulfillment in one's life and a feeling of accomplishment will lead to more self-esteem and happiness. Finding something that is self directed, creates value, allows for freedom of expression and is personally worth while is not easy but I don't think everyone needs a dream or calling to be successful. They just need a chance.

I think that sometimes taking a risk and venturing into the unknown is the only way to take the power back from those that would use you for your hard work and loyalty without truly caring about who you are. Feeling like an easily replaceable cog in a bloated corporate machine is a great way to sacrifice self for service but I wanted more. Maybe I'm delusional or narcissistic but there has to be more to life than selling video games for shareholders.

So, I quit. If I had stayed I would have had the biggest bonus to date, $1000 or more in free gaming swag and been given two awards for beating sales goals. But would it have been worth another holiday season? Another Black Friday and after Christmas sales? Would it have been worth the frustration and stress of trying to do everything I was told like a good manager? I don't think so. Nothing is worth feeling terrible when I have the luxury of choice and the knowledge that time is all I have. It wasn't a bad job and the company wasn't a bad company but it wasn't for me.

My brother offered me his garage and I moved in with him and his family a few weeks ago.  We are starting a business in media production and I miss my friends already. I moved far from the home I made in Eugene but I'm excited to learn something new, work hard, and try doing something creative and valuable. I am starting over and I don't know exactly what my future holds but I'm doing something for myself for a change and that is proving to be supremely liberating. I don't miss working there for a second.

Thanks for reading!