Going Out to Work

I’d reached 18! I had officially survived childhood. Now I could go out into the world and be an adult … except, of course, it’s not as easy as that. I thought I was more mature than I really was, like most teenagers do, but I was not ready for everything the adult world had to offer.

I’d finished my A-Levels and got better grades than I was expecting. I also had two years work experience under my belt, working Saturdays and occasional Sundays at a supermarket. Those two experiences together told me that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career, except that retail was not going to feature in that career.

I loved writing – a lot – but I never realised that being an author was a viable career option; I thought it was something that happened to other people. To be fair, it requires a lot of income to make it viable, but still – I didn’t know know that I could try. I wish I had known differently back then, but there you have it.

I don’t recall thinking about my career path very hard; at the time, I had no life experience and certainly no work experience outside retail. So whilst it was time for me to branch out on my own, I only had so much on my CV. I didn’t know what to apply for.

Retail was something I knew; it was familiar, even if it didn’t form part of my career ambitions. I wanted a new job, and ASDA were just about to open a new store in my area. I decided to try out for a job and perhaps make some more money if I succeeded.

ASDA had a lot of vacancies; they were starting from the ground up, and so I suspect the bar for entry was pretty low – at least in my case. I applied for a shop floor assistant role, filling shelves and helping customers (not the tills – please, not again), and I got through the interview (in a soulless office block) easily enough. Given that this was the first job interview I’d ever been to where it wasn’t on the basis that they knew my mum, I coped manfully.

They clearly liked me enough to hire me, and I was to work 24 hours per week. That was quite a nice amount; given that I had now left school, I had more free time and, given that my wages had gone up, I would do well financially (I had very limited overheads, given that I was still living with my mum and dad). I reported to the store a week before it opened to the public, intrigued to see what I would encounter.

The first week was nice enough; there weren’t any customers, and I was mostly responsible for stocking up the frozen foods aisles. Not much intellectual strain there. My manager was frustrating; a 20-something cocksure supervisor who was determined to make his mark on the store and rise up through the ranks. His team was there to make him look good.

I went along with the flow at first; I wasn’t interested in socialising with the ambitious high flyers, and I never felt part of a social circle – cliques were already forming, and I wasn’t a part of any of them. Fine by me.

The shop opened, and was immediately a hit. The job wasn’t interesting, but I was being paid reasonably well for my age and the late 90s, so I was willing to put up with a lot. On one particular day, three weeks into my job, I was approached by my manager. This was unusual in itself; he was a distant figure who only talked to people like me when he wanted something. He did; he wanted to know if I would do some overtime.

I wasn’t averse to that – it would mean some extra money – and so asked for the details. I was to finish work at 6pm that evening, he explained, then come back at 10pm and work through to 6am. After that, I could have a couple of hours rest, then work a day shift from 8am to 4pm.

I burst out laughing; it was a good joke, or so I thought. His deadpan expression told me that it wasn’t a joke. He repeated himself, and I said no without any further hesitation. The manager looked rather taken aback; I don’t think he was used to people saying no to him. I explained that I wasn’t overly keen on working so many hours all in one go, and he challenged me to just do it. I said no. He said yes. I laughed and said that I would be going home at six and coming in the following day as usual. The manager got rather shirty with me and walked away.

So I quit. I went home that night, wrote my letter of resignation, and left it on my manager’s desk the following day. It was strangely pleasant; after only three weeks, I’d quit the second job I’d had that year. The manager concerned was furious; furious to the point that he wouldn’t speak to me any more. I worked for one more week and then walked out, happily ensconsed in the knowledge that I was free of a rather barren, boring job and from a manager concerned only with his own status. I might not have had a job to go to, but that didn’t matter to me at that stage.

I learnt an important lesson that day, something that I’d never forget – that no job would be more important than my mental health. I wanted to enjoy the work I did, and I would never tolerate any nonsense whenever I encountered it. Idiots or stupid procedures would be something I come across a lot in the intervening years, and I have always tried to speak up. I might not have always succeeded – in fact, I know I didn’t on every occasion – but I have always been determined to improve the situation. It’s ironic that I was inspired to do that by a part-time job I held only for four weeks.,

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