Fresh out of college I landed a management position in a classy women’s specialty store. I was stoked and ready to rule the mall! I soon learned however that in order to effectively manage a specialty store you need mad multitasking skills. There are very few positions that allow you to be a sales person, coach, visual merchandiser, HR manager, inventory specialist, customer resolutions expert, and a metrics analyst all in one day.
My district manager was sharp as blades and a die-hard for the retail world. She also had started right out of college and worked her way up the ranks, filling in for Regional manager and other corporate positions when the company needed her. She had been with this particular company her entire career.
You can imagine my disappointment when my direct manager told me the DM was hesitant to promote me since I lacked “floor presence.” WHAT!! I run my ass off and customers love me. I went hours without eating or drinking because the store needed me. Was it because I wasn’t a crazy loud person when a client walked in the store? Was it because I allowed employees to share their point of view or ideas? Or was it because I looked young so people didn’t take me as seriously as an old wrinkled up lady with heavy eyeliner and frizzy hair? How could she come in for a 2 hour visit every month and decide I don’t have presence? Luckily, my direct manage saw the diamond in me and encouraged me to continue. She coached me continuously and taught me how to “play the part” when the DM was around. And sure enough I got promoted!
The harsh reality was however, that in getting my own store, I still had her for a DM. She was a micro manager on the highest level and still thought I didn’t have presence and rarely valued my opinion. She would call me or my associates first thing in the morning quizzing us on our SMART action plan for the day. She’s was no-nonsense lady and micro-manged on every level. She pushed hard and expected everything. She didn’t care that I was single mom all alone in town where I knew no one, working 65 hours a week. She cared that we were staffed, that the store was visually excellent at all times, and that our sales goals were met. I worked hard for her. I liked the challenge. I loved my team and the customers that I developed relationships with. I was great at coaching behaviors and reading numbers. Having high energy on a daily basis was hard for me, but me being an ambivert; I adapted.
In our district meetings, my DM would always provide self-development material. One year, she laid of bunch of affirmation rocks on a table for a little exercise. There in front of were the words, “EVOLVE.” I’m not sure why, but I took that little rock home with me.
It laid on my desk at home for years. When I moved, it went with me. – with the word always in the back of my mind. I always had dreams of being the best in my field, getting the recognition of my peers and colleague, and especially my district manager. I saw how she treated the other manager that “had it together” and I wanted that look; that approval.
Unfortunately, during my time with this company, I experienced a personal tragedy that completely changed my emotional and mental state. Handling multiple hats, being constantly pulled in different directions, and having my every decision critiqued, started to take a huge tole on me. I was struggling just to get out of bed and smile every day and not break down. I never told her about my tragedy because I was afraid she would find me weak.
I’m an incredibly stubborn and strong-willed person. I often use it to prove people wrong; I suppose this is why my drive to succeed in my position was so important. I wanted to show her I had it in me. For 5 years, I tried to prove to myself I was ok and that I could get past it.
Finally, it all came to a head. The store was suffering, I was suffering, and my son was suffering. I had to look in the mirror and realize I couldn’t do it anymore. It was too much. I couldn’t handle the long hours, high demands, stress, and the amount of time I was missing with my son. After investing 10 years of myself into this company and career, I called it quits.
I vividly remember my last day. There were no good-byes or good lucks from my peers; even the ones I thought I had developed a close relationship with. I realized that by me not sharing the personal trauma I had been trying to overcome, I had allowed a different type of rumor to be spread and it had been decided I was lazy, unorganized, and incompetent. While I can see the point of view, unfortunately, the reality was I was doing the best I could with my mental state at the time. It was a huge blow to my pride. I was so ashamed that I had “failed” and scared of what to now do as a single mom who no longer had a decent paying job or great benefits. I was angry, hurt, and exhausted.
As I walked toward the door to leave, I looked back and the most unreal sense of sadness and loneliness overcame me. This store had been my life. It was my baby. I watched it grow and evolve for 10 years. I knew its innermost secrets and it knew mine. It was there when I moved into a new location and it saw the pride on my face. It was there as I cried in my office when I realized I was exhausted and facing defeat. Memories of laughter and late night visual moves poured into my mind like the Niagara Falls. Faces of my associates danced in my head. With each memory I felt myself slipping away from a life I had known for so long.
I lived off my 401k for 1 year until I learned the commission world of jewelry sales to make ends meat. After priding myself on being with the same company for 10 years, I switched jobs several times in a short couple years. I had no idea what direction I was headed or what I wanted. The retail career I had known for so long felt foreign and more of a burden than a blessing at this point. I was tired of selling, tired of always having a smile on my face, and tired of people treating a retail job like it was nothing. I felt lost and with each job change fell deeper and deeper into desperation of finding myself and my passion again. The sense of failure loomed over me like a huge black cloud.
Little did I know, the rough path I had taken, was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Allowing myself to “fail,” and feel vulnerable, really allowed me to focus on my priorities gave me encouragement to move forward. After all, I had failed once and survived, I could do it again. This thought process gave me the confidence to be uncomfortable and put myself in awkward situations, knowing, it will be OK and that I could get past anything.
There was an incredible sense of freedom I experienced once I took fear by the horns and that little rock that sat on my nightstand every day became more and more ingrained in my mind…EVOLVE. What did that mean to me? How was I evolving as a person? How was I improving the world?
That rock has been with me for over 10 years. It’s gone from my desk to my nightstand to my work desk – right in front of me encouraging and pushing me to step out of my comfort zone and EVOLVE.
Evolving is a process. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it. The only failure is if I don’t try, grow, or learn from an experience – and that’s where I’m at today, growing and trying new things every day. The word EVOLVE is no longer just a word on a rock. It’s a part of me, my motto, my action verb. It’s what I’m about and what I live for.