Over the past few weeks at work we have been doing "staff retreat" days -- these are days when we attempt to get our staff out of the office/store and out doing fun team-building exercises. One of the things we did was watch an inspirational video about the employees at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. The basic concept (so easy to forget as the days get hectic) is to have fun every single day at work. When the staff started to follow the basic principles of having fun, doing their best to make their customer's day, actually "being there" and choosing to have a positive attitude, they went from a drab fish market to world famous. (You can actually watch a live web cam feed of this unique workplace as well as short video clips on their website -- if you hate your job and don't like where you work, check it out - it's inspirational)
I was, of course, inspired by the video. I got to watch it four times, and each time I watched it, I gleaned something new from it. Also, each time I watched it, it was with a different set of people, so I also got to learn a lot from them as well as get to know many of the staff members that I don't regularly get a chance to interact with much better.
But also, watching the video and chatting with staff members, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have chosen the field that I did. Yeah, sure, I've spent the past 15 years working in retail -- but I'm actually working in retail heaven. Ever since I was rather young, I knew that I wanted to write. (Okay, before that I really wanted to be a Stunt Man but my fear of heights made jumping off tall buildings a little more difficult). So in 1992 when I got a part-time job at Coles The Book People in Ottawa, the magic started happening. I connected my love of books with where I was earning a living.
I mean, wow, I get to hang out surrounded by books, and interacting (mostly) with people who love books. Let's look at the down side: yes, for most of these past 15 years, I was barely earning a living and often had to work two or more jobs just to keep my head above water. Working in retail doesn't pay so nicely (when I was an assistant manager in Ottawa not more than 10 years ago, I was making 16,000 per year working 50+ hour work weeks); you have to work weekends and evenings and working in a service role for customers can sometimes be painful.
But on the flip side I have the two greatest things I could ask for in my day to day life: books and people. I love them.
Yes, I'm now earning a decent living and able to pay the mortgage and keep food on our table. But it has never been about the money. To me, the rewards are internal -- a fun, challenging job that I can maintain an interest in. From 1999 to 2006 I did work at Chapters/Indigo's head office in a mostly IT role -- so I wasn't as close to books and the cool people I worked with weren't customers, but publishers and my team mates and other fun head office folks. I did develop a passion for data (maybe because the data was mostly books, music and video data) and I loved the job. But when the opportunity to work in Hamilton at the McMaster University Bookstore (Titles) came up last summer, it was like a dream come true. I get to do a job that I love (sell books), I get to be involved in some IT/data projects, I get to interact with vendors and publishers and I get to serve customers. (Oh, and I earn a salary that is NOT below the poverty line)
There is something extremely rewarding about helping a customer who comes into our store looking for something, chatting with them, determining what they need, and helping them out. My greatest satisfaction is helping recommend a book to a customer or hearing a customer rave about some book I'd never heard of, but there is a really phenomenal thing that happens in September when first year students are here looking for their textbook and classroom supplies -- they need a lot of help and guidance, and the sheer volume of them is staggering (imagine Tickle-Me-Elmo or Cabbage Patch Doll or even Harry Potter types of line-ups and crowds), but every single interaction with these students -- looking at their class registration, helping them find their textbooks, advising them on what to buy now, what not to buy and what to wait on or pointing out the cheaper used textbooks we offer, and sending them on their way -- is fulfilling and rewarding. And it makes me feel young. A fourteen hour day working the floor during "Rush" (that's what we call the first 3 weeks of September) is definitely a rush and is so enjoyable that it feels like merely a few hours. Except of course for the fact that at the end of the day I'm exhausted.
So this week I'm counting the fact that I am privileged to work in such a rewarding and fulfilling job.