Retail Envy

There’s a point in every adjunct’s life when she or he gets retail envy.

I don’t know this to be true, but I know I’m not the only one.

It’s not that I really think retail workers have it better than me, although some do. For example, if you’ve ever visited a Container Store, notice how happy the employees are – even during the holiday season. It’s great to work there. But I’ve been into many stores where the workers are miserable, and I have students who work in stores where they are treated much like an adjunct with significantly less freedom and pay.

The envy comes from thinking it’s easy. In retail, you clock in and do your job; you clock out and are no longer at work. Teachers don’t get to do this. We take work home with us; we carry it with us everywhere we go. If we’re not grading, we’re thinking of new assignments and activities to make the classroom more exciting and engaging. A teacher’s work is never done.

In retail, the brain has to work, but not too deeply. One must be attentive, one must know the products and remember the prices, one must be able to engage courteously with the customers. But in retail, it’s not necessary to remember why Napoleon was a notorious leader while also juggling the qualities of Romantic painting and trying to figure out the best ways to make that knowledge accessible to a group of young adults. The brain-work in teaching is demanding. The retail envy is the brain’s way of longing for a break.

My plan is to start looking for a job after the first summer session ends and I get grades turned in. I’ll spend a week recuperating from the hectic summer and working on my resumé. Then I’ll start the job search. At first, I plan to seek entry-level office jobs, preferably in the non-profit industry. If enough time goes by with no luck, well, I’m not above looking into retail. It may be that I seize the opportunity to get in as a seasonal worker and hope to transition that into a full-time gig.

I want to work in a small boutique store, a card store or something along those lines. I won’t work at a big-box store; I believe it was a giant big-box corporation that wrote the book on labor exploitation. But if I can get a full-time position at a small boutique, selling greeting cards and trinkets, I think I’d be happy. I’m sure I’d be much happier than I am now.

I imagine future me, working at the card store, showing up at work, tired and unaccustomed to punching a time clock. I imagine that I’d spend downtime getting familiar with the layout of the store, doing research about the products, learning the store’s history. When a customer needs help, I’d feel rewarded to be able to help. I imagine that the day would be light and easy and I’d clock out. And I’d be off. At home, there would be time and energy to write. Maybe there would be time to do volunteer work. There would be time to have a life.

I have a PhD in Humanities from an accredited university. I have been teaching college for about 15 years. And I dream of working at Hallmark.



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